New York's Rosé Mansion Is Exactly the Dystopian Instagram Trap You'd Expect
Photo by Mettie Ostrowski.

New York's Rosé Mansion Is Exactly the Dystopian Instagram Trap You'd Expect

September 17, 2018, 6:00pm

On a gray Sunday afternoon in Manhattan, I trail behind a gaggle of women tottering along the rain-slicked pavement in chunky heels toward a sign that reads THIS WAY ROSÉ. The decibel and estrogen levels soar as I step inside the two-story magenta door. At the bar, there’s a twentysomething blonde in a satiny pink party dress with pearls, a pair of boomer ladies with heart-shaped sunnies puckering up for a selfie, and a rowdy bachelorette crew in matching headdresses. Summer may be grinding to a halt and the rosé-themed cruise may have docked until next year, but on 5th Avenue the Rosé Mansion, an “immersive wine-tasting experience,” will linger on into October.

Photo by Mary Costa.

“We’re so happy to have you here! Why, you could say we’re tickled pink!” a man in square-rimmed glasses and a purple jacket enthuses as I enter the first exhibit room. After a well-rehearsed beat for sputtered giggles, he instructs us to grab a branded plastic glass containing a set of purple polka dot stickers. We have exactly two minutes to “capture some moments” on our smartphones while attaching the stickers to white walls and furniture that already resemble a Yayoi Kusama knock-off.

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski.

“If this looks like your hip friend’s Brooklyn backyard patio, that’s not a coincidence!” our host for the room cries. This is because New Yorkers—especially those hip Brooklynites—really like to drink rosé.

Declaring the impending demise of the ubiquitous pink beverage has become something of an annual tradition among journalists. Last summer, _The Washington Pos_t asked rhetorically whether the “utter basicness of rosé may eventually turn it into the Pokémon Go of wines,” while this year The New York Post quotes Gennaro Pecchia wondering, “Would rosé even drink rosé?”

And yet, here we are. Summer sales in the States shot up 60 percent from 2016 to ‘17, and another 25 percent this year. In New York, the liquor stores showcase a spectrum of bottles from blush to sunset, the brunch glasses overfloweth, and the Rosé Mansion has been packing in roughly 5,000 visitors a week since it opened in July. As of writing this, there are 8,915 photos on Instagram tagged #rosemansion, with another 7,000 and change under either #rosewinemansion or #rosémansion. Most of these depict carefully coiffed women swinging from a sequined chandelier, lolling on a golden throne, or trapped in the Sisyphean loop of a boomerang shimmy in front of a wall that commands NO STANDING, ONLY DANCING.

Photo by Mary Costa.

The Rosé Mansion is hardly the first pop-up attraction to capitalize on our collective need to do it for the ‘gram. It follows in the footsteps of the Museum of Ice Cream, which launched in New York in 2016 and is still going strong, despite environmentalists decrying its plastic sprinkle pit as an eco-hazard. There’s also a string of imitators including the Color Factory, The Egg House, and Happy Place, as well as the forthcoming Cheat Day Land, where visitors will pose with calorie-free, plastic renditions of doughnuts and burgers because they “deserve to have their Cheat Day now.”

“Honestly, I saw the very first Museum of Ice Cream and was just like, done,” says Morgan First, who co-founded the Rosé Mansion with Tyler Balliet. The duo ran a company that hosted tasting events targeted at wine-swilling millennials for a decade prior to their full-on foray into rosé. “I’d been trying to convince my business partner to do something like this for years. In January and February, I put together a financial model of three of the other different experiences and was like, ‘No, look at how much money they do.’”

Photo by Mary Costa.

Do they ever. Although the Museum of Ice Cream hasn’t released official figures, MarketWatch estimates it’s hauled in around $20 million since its debut. Entrance to the Museum of Pizza, which rolls into town next month, costs roughly 10 times as much as an actual New York slice. For $45 a head (or $35, if day-drinking on a weekday before 4:30 PM sounds like your jam), guests at the Rosé Mansion get the equivalent of two glasses meted out in eight tasting pours, plus an opportunity at the end to purchase additional rosé at the bar and swag like a salmon-hued T-shirt that reads “Rosé and Tacos.”

“Hey, at least here, you get a few drinks. Happy Place gave me nothing,” says one visitor with a shrug. When I ask what brought her here, she says a combination of curiosity and market research. “It’s brilliant. They rent out these spaces and fill them with Party City decorations and charge 45 bucks. How do I get in on that?”

Touché. Since the spot currently hosting the pop-up was previously a women’s retail store, much of the set-up was already there, including the gold-trimmed railings and that Barbie-esque door. It took just over a month and some furniture from eBay to transform the physical space. More than anything, the Rosé Mansion consists of buckets of paint used to doll up former employee bathrooms and plaster slogans—ROSÉ & SLAY—and informative tidbits—HISTORICALLY SPEAKING… SWEET WINES ARE LIKE A REALLY BIG DEAL—all over the walls. The latter is part of a room in which the tasting pour comes paired with a fancy grapefruit-flavored gummy bear. In another room, a smiling staff member introduces a South African wine.

“It means ‘delicious,’ but colloquially can also be used to mean ‘cool’ or ‘awesome,’” he says, cheerfully mispronouncing the word lekker. “So you could say that we’re drinking awesomeness!”

Despite a copywriter’s valiant attempts to jazz up historical anecdotes with phrases about how the ancient Romans drank “Like, a LOT of wine” or Julius Caesar liked to bring brachetto to his “bae Cleopatra,” no one seems to be paying much attention to the educational components. The #yeswayrose fervor is no more about regional varietals than bottomless brunch is about eggs Benedict blanketed in congealed hollandaise.

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski

“In other countries, day-drinking is just a thing that happens, but in the U.S., it’s either condoned or condemned. Wine drunk is classy drunk. Vodka day-drunk, less classy,” First says. And while no one is getting wasted on two glasses of wine, by the second half of the 14-room Mansion, the combination of the booze, the setting, and a whiff of placebo effect have definitely loosened everyone’s inhibitions.

“All of a sudden you have brunch at the same time as millennial pink at the same time as the idea that it’s classy to drink wine,” she says. "It’s just like this perfect storm of trends.”

As the crowd gets sloppier, employees grow increasingly vigilant to keep the human flow moving. A bored looking man with a stopwatch stands guard outside a ball pit, making sure no one gets more than their requisite two minutes inside. In order to maximize their time, women plunge backwards into the pit with manic grins plastered to their faces in rapid succession. For a bathtub filled with fake rose petals, we have just 30 seconds to nab the perfect shot.

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski

“Are you sure you don’t want your picture taken?” a woman asks me kindly. As I clamber awkwardly into the tub, I can’t help but feel like a buzzkill, a party-crasher at a drunk sorority birthday bash. By now, I’ve been drafted into photographer duty more than once by packs of women who, it must be said, all appear to be having a bang-up time and are friendly to the lone grouch dressed in black.

“What I think we’re selling is fun at the end of the day,” First says. “You see all these memes about adulting and how everyone’s like, ugh, I don’t wanna be an adult. Here, you get to disappear from adulting for an hour and not worry about taxes.”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get the appeal. Outside, every push notification from the various news outlets on my phone is enough to induce heart palpitations, but here in this coral-colored cocoon, nothing seems to matter. As I exit the final room and descend towards the bar, the joint is even more mobbed than when I arrived. One table of four is already sorting out filters on their phones. Two women are chatting animatedly while their boyfriends are chugging away like their cups hold salvation.

When a woman from my group asks me to admit that I had fun, I say I suppose I did, and when she asks if I’d like to stay for more drinks, the truth is I would. Instead, I decline. As I head down the sidewalk of the drenched city, I cast a glance back at the pink doors receding into the gloom.