All Yesterday’s Media Parties

A celebration of Andrew Rice’s new book, The Year That Broke America, draws a crowd nostalgic for their turn of the millennium heyday

Shortly before noon on Thursday, March 3, New York contributing editor Andrew Rice was lugging a giant bag of Chex Mix through Montclair, New Jersey. He was on his way to a Manhattan-bound train for the book party he’d been looking forward to since 2019 when he first submitted the proposal for his new book, The Year That Broke America. Published on February 22, it argues that recent American history turns on the year 2000. It was a year whose media parties Rice remembered fondly, from the launch of to the New York Observer Christmas party at The Century Club. The Chex Mix was just one of many throwbacks, specifically to the Tile Bar in the East Village, which Rice and many of his guests had frequented as young reporters. “They had this special spicy pub mix that they would serve there. So I went and spent yesterday looking around to see if I could find the special mix,” he said. “My wife definitely somewhat questioned the reasonableness of my quest to find it.” It was worth it because he saw his party as an attempt to reignite a flame that had burned for him in the era he wrote about. “The media industry was a much larger and more vibrant thing during that time period,” he said. “Literally in the year 2000 if you were working in a place like The New York Observer, you could go to a media party every single night of the week if you wanted to.” All that nostalgia entails an accumulation of age. “I’m now nearing 50, so most of the parties I go to are pretty bad. Most of them involve multiple children melting down, occasionally total kid-related chaos,” Rice said while waiting for the train. “It’s been so long since I’ve actually been to a party like the one that I’m throwing — I didn’t have a lot of guideposts for how to throw one in the Covid age.”

As far as Rice could remember, the bar he’d chosen for his party didn’t exist in 2000. “I lived about a block away from where The Magician is now during the year 2000. In fact, I went to the laundromat across the street. If I remember correctly, it was still a kosher wine distribution warehouse,” he said, but it soon turned into a bar. Over time, it would grow its own mythology. “The Magician has a storied history of media parties,” said New York Times reporter Michael Grybaum. “I’ve been to lots of mixers here. There used to be a get-together called Hacks and Flacks, a lot of media reporters and a lot of PR people would get together for an off the record gathering. So this is a nice reminder of the before times and I’m hopeful to see that the tradition of the media and Manhattan media parties, may have another life left in it.” For some, The Magician’s pleasures were simpler. “I used to come to this bar twenty years ago,” said Andrew Goldman, a writer and host of Los Angeles magazine’s podcast The Originals. “It was the last bar, even after Bloomberg made smoking illegal, where you could still smoke cigarettes underneath the table.”

Rice managed to fill the back room of The Magician, hosting an open bar from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and laying out an array of empanadas in one corner. New York editor-in-chief David Haskell made an appearance, as did Times book critic Alexandra Jacobs. New York city editor Christopher Bonanos wandered around with an antique camera. Taking a few minutes for remarks, Rice spoke from a corner under a TV in the glow of a Reefer Madness neon sign about the process of writing the book. “I was thinking all along the reward at the end will be an opportunity for all of us to be together again and see each other,” he said. “I’m glad that it happened and I’m glad that we have an opportunity tonight to all see each other and I hope that maybe this will be a first small step in bringing back the good old fashioned media party culture that we all know and remember fondly from the time of the year 2000.”


Though Mayor Eric Adams would announce the following day that he was rolling back proof of vaccination requirements for bars and indoor dining in the city, Covid concerns still lingered over the party. “I’m absolutely 100 percent convinced that tonight is the night I finally get Covid,” Goldman said. “I’ve avoided it for two years and now I’m finally out maskless.” Asked how this party compared with the parties of old, New York editor-at-large Carl Swanson said, “one difference is we’re going to get Covid here, but otherwise everything’s the same.”

Robert Kolker, who lit up the internet with “Bad Art Friend” in October, had missed the chance to have his own book party when he published his most recent, Hidden Valley Road, in April 2020. “The last time I saw my editor in person, I ran into her at the Key Food in Brooklyn, in Park Slope, and I was like, ‘Do you think I’ll have a book party?’ And she was like, ‘I don’t know.’ And then a couple weeks later…” Despite the lack of book parties, the heavy pandemic period wasn’t the worst thing for his book’s release. “For everybody who had a book out they suddenly were exposed to way, way more people than they otherwise would be. They were all on Zoom all the time,” he said. Was it as satisfying as in-person events would have been? “No,” he said, “but it was exciting anyway.”

Rice mustered a sizeable contingent from media-heavy Montclair. Benjamin Wallace, a writer at New York, had come by boat. “When I do commute, which is not often, to go to New York magazine’s offices, I take New Jersey Transit to Hoboken and then I catch the ferry. It’s an amazing way to arrive at work,” he said. “I came in on the ferry today. It was glorious.” He was hoping to reengage with the media community. “It’s amazing, just in the last two years, how much the media business has further imploded,” he said, “so it’s just interesting to catch up with people and find out what they’ve been doing.” Montclair concerns followed him across the waters as he was drawn into a conversation about an escaped chicken on the loose in the suburb. “Wait, do you really have chickens?” Wallace asked. The owner of the flock welcomed The Fine Print to “the suburban chicken beat.”

But not all was chickens and scribes in the media suburbs. Most of the Jersey exiles had been around long enough to see who from their younger days would go Nazi. Insider investigations editor John Cook mentioned his ancient acquaintance, former New York Observer editor and Trump-pardon recipient Ken Kurson, who, like Cook, lives in Montclair’s rival suburb Maplewood. “I did, unfortunately, play in a band with Ken, but then I cut all ties and literally texted him and said, ‘I can’t play music with you anymore or hang out with you anymore because I think you’re advancing the cause of fascism.’ And he was like, ‘Okay, I get it. I get that a lot,’” Cook said. “I jog by his house every day.”

Not everybody experienced the early 2000s as a pure golden age. Some had enlisted as party reporters. “Sheelah, we used to do this,” New York Times Magazine contributing writer Suzy Hansen said to New Yorker staff writer Sheelah Kolhatkar when approached by The Fine Print. “We feel for you,” Kolhatkar said. Like many people in the room, they’d both worked at The New York Observer in that era. “We were in our 20s, we were working, we were doing what you’re doing,” Hansen said. “I still talk about being a party reporter because I teach journalism now and I tell students to think like a party reporter.” That wasn’t always a comfortable position to be in. “I think all literary and media parties were kind of a nightmare,” Kolhatkar said. To some Observer alumni in the room, Rice’s party felt like a signifier of an evolution. “We used to be the guys in the corner covering it,” said writer and former Off the Record columnist Sridhar Pappu. “Now we’re out here celebrating one of our own.”

Others were just too young to have seen that era, even as bystanders. “You can put me and Grynbaum in there as young people who still live on the island,” said New York writer Shawn McCreesh. “We’re not taking the fucking New Jersey Transit back.” Grynbaum, who couldn’t recall going to a media party since September’s Gawker re-launch at The Bowery Hotel, had walked from his home in the East Village. McCreesh had taken the 6 train down from the Upper East Side. “I feel like the East Side is cool again because you got Dimes Square on the East Side, you got McCreesh on the Upper East Side, Bemelman’s is a thing, and you have Andrew Rice’s book party on the Lower East Side,” Grynbaum observed, “not in Montclair.” He’d missed the more recent manifestations of media parties, and not just because he liked chatting with peers. “They are very good for reporting,” he said. “As a media reporter I must say, it does make it harder to do your job without the parties.” McCreesh concurred. “Once you meet someone in real life I just feel like they’re more likely to take your call,” he said. “It’s so different from being a nameless email in somebody’s inbox, rather than somebody that you had a Budweiser with.”

As the crowd started to thin after eight, Rice joined a circle by the bar. “What do we have on the agenda for the media push for this book?” Cook asked him. “I’ve already done a bunch of press last week. I was on Morning Joe,” Rice said. “You might have missed it because Putin invaded Ukraine, so possibly your morning routine was somewhat interrupted.” In some ways, Rice told The Fine Print, the war confirmed his thesis that everything going on now could be traced back to 2000: Putin had taken power in Russia on New Year’s Eve at the turn of the millennium. “I feel like there’s a lot of contemporary relevance to the book, but yeah, it is a little hard to get oxygen to express that contemporary relevance with a war going on and with everyone kind of doomscrolling the latest news from Kyiv,” he said. “Your book will last longer than the invasion of Ukraine,” Cook ventured. “It might be exactly coterminous,” Rice replied, “if the world ends as a result.”

McCreesh popped by the huddle to praise the host on his way out. “Parties are back, baby,” he said. “You’re the tempter. We needed this. We needed someone to say fuck it, get your asses down to the Lower East Side, this is happening.” Rice nodded. “I’m like that doughboy coming out of the trench,” he said. “You’re the canary in the fucked up coal mine,” said McCreesh. “I love it.”