In the canvas tote that is graciously given out to VIP attendees of The Jazz Age Lawn Party on New York City’s Governors Island, there are two items of note: a crystal mini bottle of St-Germain, and a paperback copy of The Great Gatsby. Neither of these party favors comes as much of a surprise—the event is sponsored by the spirit brand and the modern point of reference for almost anything 1920s-related is the novel lauded by Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley as “the American masterwork.”
The Jazz Age Lawn Party is the brainchild of Michael Arenella of the Dreamland Orchestra. Arenella himself is truly an authentic purveyor of nostalgia. Nine years ago, he hosted the original prohibition-themed picnic for about 50 of his friends, providing the music and even making sandwiches for the guests himself. Since then, not only has he nurtured the Lawn Party to its current incarnation, but he has also established himself as a professional host, performer and creator of Jazz Age events all over the world. “Ever since I was a child, I just had an affinity with the past—the music, the culture, the dancing, the cars—and I also was lucky enough to be born with a gift for music,” he told DuJour. “All of those things just sort of combined, and, as the years went by, it evolved and metamorphosed into what you see right here.” Now, for two weekends out of the summer, 4,000 guests board the ferries to Governors Island, arriving at the leafy islet in suspenders, straw boat hats, flapper frocks and swinging ropes of pearls.
There is certainly something to be said for the ambiance of the operation. As you walk along the tree-lined pathways, the notes of a Gershwin riff grow louder and partygoers near you skip a little, spinning their paper parasols with giddy anticipation. When you step out onto the picketed lawn filled with vendors and picnickers decked out to the dapper nines, the Dreamland Follies dancing barefoot across the stage, it does—for a brief, mirage-like moment—feel as if you’ve been ferried to the past.
And then, it passes. Inevitably, you find yourself ducking under someone holding up their iPad to record the dancers doing the Charleston, you play hopscotch between the picnic blankets of selfie-takers and then you juggle the five iPhones belonging to your own group to make sure you all get some good shots for Instagram while your feather headpieces are still intact.
NEXT: A modern-day visitation of The Great Gatsby