I might paint myself as sort of a lame if I say this, but I was slightly, completely terrified of what was going to transpire at the most recent iteration of an event that fell into my pipe (you could say) through the social media supply chain. You see, word on the street was this wasn’t just any underground comedy show on a rooftop in Bushwick, but a “#420 infused” vegan supper club and local standup showcase where you could pay $30 to feast on thoughtfully prepared food and specialty cocktails that you won’t find in any bar in the city (at least, not on the menu).
It’s probably a good idea to keep this under wraps because– jazz grass being a beloved substance– an event of this sort might prove to be so popular that it gets blown up by more than just weed enthusiasts (if you catch my drift). So let me direct your attention this way, to something we should all be suspicious of in the name of national security: that dude from Ukraine who’s trying to make Fire Ants, something inherently American, into something rather un-American by re-naming them “Spicy Boys.” Crazy, right? And possibly illegal, no?
Ok, now that we’ve gotten rid of the fuzz, I can continue…
A Brooklyn resident who we’ll simply refer to by her first name, Kate, is the one running the show here. Because of the somewhat dubious legality of what she does, Kate asked us not to print her full name, and the same goes for a few more details about exact location and other participants.
You might be wondering– why all the fear and apprehension on my part? What’s the big deal? After all, even children eat special brownies and grow up to be fully functioning adults as opposed to tall glasses of orange juice. Was I simply afraid of getting caught by the fun police? Or even the real police? Not really– there are plenty of 420 supper clubs in New York (where weed is not legal– yet) that have seen the limelight. Some of them have pretty well-known chefs who do the cooking, too.
No, something else was gnawing at me. The sad truth is that I haven’t partaken in edibles for the better part of a decade. That’s right– no magic gummy bears, no THC baked goods, not even a “goober ball” or whatever it was that put me in a grave all those years ago at Hash Bash (embarrassing, I know– but gimme a break, I was 16).
But I remember all too clearly the last couple of times I did dine on jazz grass fare. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I don’t recall much of anything save for the awful consequences of “winging it” with a pot brownie recipe around 2006 and cooking up some much too powerful weed oil that did to my brain what Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party. I can’t blame the background for my horrible experience either–The O.C. was in its third and most hilarious season, I still had youthful, hormone-clogged blood coursing through my teenaged veins, no rent to pay, and leftover revenue from a job at a ski “resort” (i.e. a few rope tows dragging Mennonite girls in snow-skirts and their watchful-eyed brothers to the top of a landfill covered in snow both real and fake).
In short, I was so parched that I felt like a sun-dried fig, but with fewer motor skills. My vision became blurry and confused before I passed out, and when I woke up the next morning I had the same distorted vision, only now I had words to describe it– no doubt about it, I was cross-eyed. As in, permanently seeing double. It took me another 24 hours to return to baseline.
After this experience, I was prepared to never eat edibles of my own making again. But what scared me completely away from weed food was my one and only trip to Amsterdam. After soaking up some serious
culture weed in the coffee shops on day one, I decided that I still hadn’t had enough of this stuff called marijuana, so I split a piece of so-called “Space Cake” with my freshman-year dormmate. As the product’s name implied, I left this world altogether– like, bye bye world.
Actually, I didn’t even get a chance to say farewell, I just dropped dead (well, alive) onto the grounds of some park somewhere. I couldn’t tell you where. All I know is that I came-to in a strange shower (made even stranger because we weren’t exactly in the business of staying in places with showers, let alone beds or walls during most of the trip). Initially, I panicked, thinking I’d broken into someone’s home to use their shower. Turned out, it belonged to a friend of a friend, but the point is, yes, it’s possible to completely black out on weed.
It was with these experiences in mind– and the strong conviction that I was cursed with a hyper-sensitivity to marijuana edibles in the same way that Hannah Horvath can’t handle dope of any kind in Girls– that I signed up for this 420 supper club. I was nervous, but in the name of speaking truth to power and all that, I decided to join in– reasoning that it was probably not going to be a DEA-led stoner sweep or a “Nigerian Prince” kind of scam, and that I was way more likely to have a meh time than a totally tragic and embarrassing one. Or maybe I was simply lying to myself.
Either way, I smothered my anxiety like it was an obnoxious baby on the train, searched for my chakra glasses (no luck, sadly) and actual baby clothing (in this case it was a drawstring overalls suit, which I did find) to make for as comfortable a journey as possible, and set out for the wilds of post-industrial Bushwick where I’d be fed mysterious substances and wait for death like a stoned, sitting duck.
The anonymous Instagram account I’d been communicating with about the event put me sorta at ease– this person (who I’d later find out was a person named Kate) seemed nice enough, and anyway was very open to having me there, as long as I played by the rules of journalistic integrity and promised not to out anyone unless they consented. And on the way to the secret location immediately off the Jefferson stop (announced morning-of), in the light of early evening, that corner of Bushwick was bustling with activity. Me and two friends passed tons of brightly-colored murals and slicked-down, formerly industrial buildings now home to well-manicured shops and a booming, just-opened restaurant and sprawling newish bar.
My current roommate said that she had no idea where we were, before realizing that were were just blocks away from where she lived four years ago. There was only one, but very distinct, point of blight in the area– the former home of Northeast Kingdom. Since the restaurant closed back in May, the once busy patio has been gathering graffiti, trash, and dust– it’s especially ironic given that New York magazine wrote in 2006, the year the place opened, that Northeast Kingdom was one of the few culinary bright spots around a “bleak Bushwick intersection.”
In our follow-up chat, Kate recalled her friends having a similar impression. “When people arrived at the show, the first thing they noticed— some of them [former residents who] hadn’t been in the neighborhood for a while— was that Northeast Kingdom was closed and a giant new place across the street was open and somebody said that a shitty band was playing, ‘Walking in Memphis’ or something terrible, and people were just jamming,” she laughed. “It’s a very different place than it used to be when I first got there– you didn’t have people taxiing in from Manhattan for anything.”
Reaching the building, we buzzed in and climbed our way up the stairs, knocking on the door at the unit we were told to find. We turned around to find a guy on his way back in to the apartment and something about him walking right past us without saying anything seemed like he was on a mission to deflect randos and maybe even people who weren’t fully committed to the mission. At first he hinted, but didn’t insist, that we were in the wrong location. He was about to shut the door and then re-flung it open, welcoming us in. “She’s always an hour behind,” he told us, indicating that the chef, who was nowhere to be found, was running late.
Everything else was kind of a blur– the guy was rushing around so speedily that he seemed beyond just hyper. I noticed his wobbly legs and tendency to dip and whirl like a cross between a drunk dancer and one of those collapsing animal toys. Something about his movement reminded me of those unfortunate spasms an unlucky few get when they consume, ahem, very high doses of cough syrup. As he was rattling off “flight instructions” at maybe a million syllables a second, those unpleasant fight-or-flight instincts started to burble up inside of me, and I started plotting the best way to escape what definitely seemed like it was gonna be some crazy drug fest (those days are behind me) without a) offending anyone b) losing the story or c) jumping off the roof. “Where’s the bathroom?” I asked. Ho, ho, ho– he laughed. That made things more complicated. “Someone’s not a very good listener,” he teased.
But our flight attendant graciously led me out of the room, and after scurrying down the hall and knocking on another door, he deposited me inside a stranger’s apartment where no one seemed to be home. I peed and talked myself down a bit. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, for one– I could pass out while taking a selfie teetering on the edge of the rooftop. I could dry up like some sad, gross piece of jerky or just sorta melt like a half-eaten Slim Jim in the backseat of a car. Or, I could simply embarrass myself with, like, craaaazy laughter and wild behavior or something. But then I decided, you know what? It’s go time bb. I threw open the bathroom door, bounded over a large pup who was letting out pathetic but progressively louder protective barks, and dashed toward the roof.
I climbed a shaky, completely upright ladder and reached the festivities up top that were beginning just in time for the sun to set over a really stellar view of the city. People were just arriving. There were 40 in attendance, including the comedians (“Most of them eat after their sets,” Kate confirmed)– 26 people dined on the food, and the rest BYOB’d. My heart was still sorta pounding as I looked around. How on earth did everyone look totally calm/content, excited, even? I wondered. They all must be insane people who chomp Space Cake for lunch and fill up on bowls full of bud in place of cereal every morning. It also happened to be Pride Weekend, so that might have had something to do with the general sense of elation. I spoke with one fellow with a perfectly honed beard who’d been painted by the resident face painter, a very talented guy who’d made this man look like a cross between Aladdin Sane and those blue creatures from Avatar. My friend shamelessly sputtered that she’d been staring at his abs. “They’re not real,” he assured us.
The beautiful painted creature pointed us toward a tiny table where a woman was serving up Club Mate and some strange looking booze drinks, all of them infused with weed. The addition of Club Mate’s potent energy jolt seemed to explain our wobbly-legged greeter, but I cowered when faced with the opportunity to sip. Just then, my pal arrived with the wine and I decided to linger in the kiddy pool, so to speak, a little bit longer before I pushed out into the chronic-laced abyss. I kind of regretted my decision when, later on, Kate explained the reason she pairs weed-laced food with pot-booze. “Because the alcohol enters your bloodstream more quickly, you get a more immediate high in the same way that you take a hit,” she said. “The alcohol, if you take a sip, literally within less than a minute you’ll start feeling that. We try to create a balance so people can gauge where they’re at a little bit and get the high that they’re looking for.”
After a brief time on the roof, the flight attendant burst up from the ladder and told us all to skiddadle. “Get the fuck off the roof.” Now. “They can hear every single foot step,” he exclaimed, making fun of the sensitive neighbors below. Everyone did as they were told, picking up a few candles and other accoutrements as they went, and speeding down the wobbly ladder. It was probably for the best, actually, and lucky for us there was an alternative.
We found ourselves in a sort of ratty, but really very charming backyard. It seemed worlds away from the outside and was more the hidden refuge I needed in order to feel like it was time to dive in. A common, hilarious refrain I kept hearing from guests until the food was served, was, “Who’s running this thing?”
Darkness fell and my residual feelings of vertigo/mortal terror finally subsided, and I felt I was ready to chomp down on the weed food. Kate and some helpers passed out the neatly packed little cardboard boxes with our meals. The courses consisted of two sliders, one containing a pickled beet with clementine, arugula, and homemade cashew herb cheese. The fromage had been aging in Kate’s fridge for three weeks. “It was the first show where I actually had some fear that I was going to poison people,” she laughed. “But so far, so good.” Another slider featured a chewy, amazing homemade slab of fennel sage seitan, lemon aioli, Brussels-sprout relish, pickled mustard seed, and onion jam on pumpernickel-rye bread. The third course acted as sort of an in-betweener palate cleanser, it was a supremely herby celery dill soup, served cold.
I said a little prayer (the last time I did this I was about to go under for wisdom teeth removal) and chomped down on the squishy, delicious seitan. To me, everything tasted supremely weedy. One of my pals, Alex, seemed to disagree. Then again, she smokes way more weed on the reg than I do, and I recently quit smoking cigarettes– both of which, I think, contributed to my hyperawareness of the delicate Mary Jane aromas.
I nibbled on the meal, imitating those itty bitty waif boy-men I’ve seen “eating” at Dimes, and, little by little, started to feel more and more elated. I could hear my friend giggling as the face painter tickled her forehead with a paintbrush, leaving an Illuminati-inspired all-seeing eye behind. I also started chuckling, imagining a giant, sorta pervy quill pen covering his mouth with a gloved hand and tickling her with his feathery behind. Heh. I couldn’t be stoned already? Eventually, I found myself jabbering away about… something– a sure sign I was, as they say, feeling it. It could have been an adrenaline rush, but all the same it was just in time for the comedy show to start.
The comedians had a sort of rawness and energy I’ve rarely seen anywhere else. Everyone sat cross-legged and crouched on the concrete patio, inches away from the small garden and overgrow, and a makeshift “stage” was cordoned off with a small Persian area rug, which I spewed tiny pieces of burger bun onto when I scream-laughed. I was hella stoned by now, but still had about half my meal left to go. Since the comedians were getting great feedback from a spellbound and very stoned audience (including myself– I was straight-up cackling at this point), they weren’t holding anything back at all. Standups are always freaks, let’s be real, but for some reason they were more physically involved and screeching right along with us. (Or maybe that’s the weed talking?)
I was particularly taken by a comic with long, flowing red hair. She was whipping around like crazy, tossing her hair about and recalling her life as a theater kid in high school. When her mom found out that she and her performer friends had been doing cocaine, she surprised her daughter by declaring her “a cliché.” When the garage door at the back of the lot where the weed party was convened began going up, everyone seemed to be holding their breath. A truck with a lengthy trailer– one unmistakably made for pulling horses– entered the parking lot and came to a stop. The vehicle sat in perfect stillness as the show continued, until the comic suggested that the show ponies had finally arrived. “Unleash the ponies!” For a second, I believed that mini-horses were actually going to emerge. Um, none did– to everyone’s disappointment.
Other than the lack of show ponies, I had an absolute blast, I daresay a magical time. I had no idea that weed food could feel this wonderful– in the absence of those pesky side effects I occasionally suffer from smoking it, and have always suffered from eating eat, it’s a much more enjoyable substance, in my view. Instead of cloudy brained, I was clear headed– able to process the jokes and find them deeply funny, twisted, tragic, and moving. Physically, it was all very similar to lounging on a floaty bed, pleasantly bobbing up, down, and around a pool while occasionally getting splashed, dunked, and slapped with a wet noodle. I wasn’t stoned enough to be bleary-eyed and stupid (thank heavens), but I was still super, super up. For the first time in recent memory, I didn’t feel buried-in-the-ground stoned, but light and airy– giving real meaning to the phrase “getting high.”
As I found out later from speaking with Kate, that’s kind of the aim. “A lot of people have some nervousness before coming,” she assured me during our follow-up interview. “But it’s not quite the brownies that you ate in college kind of experience.” As a chef by trade and “former performer” herself who’s been throwing these things for the last three years or so with the help of friends and a rotating cast of stand-ups from the city’s bottomless pool of comedic talent, Kate knows what she’s doing.
The very first iteration, which took place in Kate’s Bushwick loft, was inspired by a dream (yes, an actual dream), a standup comic friend, and the High Times Cannabis Cookbook. “As someone who does not make enough money in this city to afford the psychiatrist that we all need, laughter is my favorite medicine— in addition to weed and biking,” she explained. Kate might have been very much into weed before this whole thing came about, but I was surprised to find out that when the #420infused event first got underway, she wasn’t even close to being a chef, let alone a weed-food expert. She and her friends did the cooking, but it was more out of necessity than anything else. Kate learned the tricks of the illicit trade as she went along, hence the help from High Times, which she praised as “actually a really good resource to get started.”
The same went for the comedy aspect of the show– as someone who studied theater in college, Kate said she “has an enormous appreciation for the courage it takes to be a performer,” but really fell in love with comedy only in the last few years. “For me, it’s a way to give back to performers, too,” she explained of the event. “It’s nice to have an audience that’s willing to put themselves in a slightly dangerous position with you, because that’s what you’re doing by getting up in front of everyone and talking about your tragedies so that they’ll laugh at you.” The whole thing is kind of crazy brave when you think about it– for Kate, starting this supper-club-cum-comedy-show was sorta like someone who enjoys going to the beach, one day deciding it would be a good idea not only to start a historic-ship company, but to take people around on tours and host SCUBA diving lessons. You know– except in Kate’s case, weed food doesn’t exactly present as great a possibility of death.
For a long time, the event was popping off monthly and drawing from a loose network of pals– including “anyone who was interested in experimenting with us.” It continues to happen with the same host and an alternating lineup of stand-ups performing at different locations each time, including apartments, backyards, coffee shops, even bookstores after-hours. “For the longest time, it was such a quiet event,” Kate explained. “And it still is.”
But the audience grew a bit larger over the years, and things changed even more when Kate made it a little more “out in the open” by throwing discreet invites up on Instagram and welcoming in people beyond the reach of word-of-mouth. “It’s great to bring more people into it accidentally,” she said. What was once an event run solely by Kate and “whatever friends were free” is now a much more organized production. “We have so many people who work the day-of to pull it off, from our host, to the DJ, small business sponsors, and face painters,” she explained. The food went from vegetarian “comfort food” (she laughed as she recalled that the first menu involved “a lot of cheese”) to beautifully rendered vegan fare. “We’re getting to new places, it’s nice to feel like you’re progressing with the show.”
Kate eventually left the neighborhood and her schedule became increasingly packed with work-related obligations, but even if it’s happening less often, her event has continued to transpire within Bushwick’s borders. More importantly, even as the food has become much more epicurean, the show’s maintained its original DIY spirit and approachability.
So what was in that cute little food container? Where, exactly, was the weed?
“I streamlined this one a little bit, since I had so little time to prepare with work,” Kate admitted. “But we infused grapeseed oil.” For those who don’t know, grapeseed oil is particularly bud-friendly because of its very high smoke point: 420 degrees, to be precise (yep, seriously). “We decarb at a very low temperature and keep all the cannabinoids intact, so we’re not creating too many sleep feelings”– hence my delicate, high-quality THC experience without the less-than-stellar side effects. Kate used the cannabinoid-rich grapeseed oil to make the seitan and the lemon aioli. It went right into the soup base, too, and she brushed it on to the bread for good measure. That’s it. There weren’t any floating pot leaves in the soup, as I’d suspected, not even a bud-crystal “salt” rim for the alcohol. As Kate explained, it’s all about balance and moderation. “We try to keep the show good for everyone, including the performers and that means having a very alert audience.”
As for the weed-infused alcohol, it’s there for an “immediate hit” while people wait for the food to kick in, which has a slightly lower weed content and takes longer to feel, allowing people to “coast” through the evening, Kate explained. “No one’s ever had a bad experience in terms of dosing. We’ve always tried to make sure everyone stays very light.” There was one incident, however, involving a warm 420 drink that was a bit too warm. “It kind of put everyone into a slightly more sleepy place, and that was not the best for the performers,” she recalled.
All of this took some time to perfect, of course. “It’s been very experimental, but that’s kind of the theme of the show anyway,” she explained. “It’s an opportunity for me to experiment with food, for the performers to experiment with their own art form, and for the audience to experiment with their own bodies.”
I was happy to discover that some people in this world aren’t all about blazing Sour Diesel heady-heady kush-kush tulip blunts until there’s nothing left of reality but LOLz, a piece of sandpaper in place of your tongue, and eyeballs dryer than a stack of Saltine crackers. “We just wanted to create a space that was fun, and for people to come and feel safe getting high together and engaging in this private performance for people into comedy,” Kate said. It was also great to be reminded that Bushwick hasn’t become completely devoid of underground happenings and just-for-fun causes that bring strangers together for reasons that don’t fit neatly into boxes carved out by party promoters, restauranteurs, and real estate magnates– you just have to do the work to find it or make it happen, and support the people who are doing the work for us.
Kate lived in Bushwick for about seven years before she moved to another Brooklyn neighborhood and, like everyone else, she acknowledges that the changes here have been dramatic. “But the show itself is really about stepping outside of everyday life in so many ways,” she said. “It’s very difficult to do something like this, on some level, because of the fear that you’re constantly dealing with. But we do our best to create a very safe space for people to come and do dangerous things and to come and live life as they choose to live it, without fear or risk of being affected by the powers that be. We’d like to continue to move forward in that direction. It’s obvious what we’re up against, but we’d like to not have to hide forever. But an underground event is always exciting in its own way.”