Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »

Society Adventures: Cocktails in the Crypt

Lucky Chops Brass Band performing at the New York Obscura Society's Cocktails in the CryptLucky Chops Brass Band performing at the New York Obscura Society’s Cocktails in the Crypt (all photographs by Steven Acres, visit http://stevenacr.es to view more of his work)

Last weekend, the New York Obscura Society invited 100 guests to join us for an underground night of jazz music and Prohibition era-cocktails in a historic Harlem crypt. Guests braved the rain to journey to the Church of the Intercession, a towering gothic chapel bordering the uptown Trinity Cemetery, where they were guided down a series of stone steps into the beautiful, vaulted chambers of the crypt.

The beautiful Church of the Intercession of Harlem at nightThe beautiful Church of the Intercession of Harlem at night

Looking up the stairway from the crypt at Harlem's Church of the Intercession
Looking up the stairway from the crypt

Harlem’s Church of the Intercession was completed in 1915, at a time when the graveyards of Manhattan’s churches were literally overflowing and the city’s need for burial space was at a high. The crypt was included in the construction of the chapel as a holding place for the deceased prior to burial, and by 1920 the walls had been carved out to permanently house cremated remains, making the Church of the Intercession the first in the country with its own interior columbarium.

The side of the chapel as seen from Old Trinity CemeteryThe side of the chapel as seen from Trinity Cemetery

The candlelit columbarium in the church of the intercession in harlem
The candlelit columbarium

As a part of the New York Obscura Society’s ongoing mission to share some of our city’s hidden gems, we sought to highlight this incredible and unique space while also paying tribute to Harlem’s impressive history. A hotbed for creativity and talent during the “Roaring Twenties,” Harlem fostered a slew of incredible artists and musicians who completely changed the course of music. Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie all had their beginnings in the speakeasies and nightclubs of Jazz Age Harlem. To speak on this incredible period of musical growth, we invited Loren Schoenberg, the artistic director for the National Museum of Jazz in Harlem (and a top-notch jazz musician himself), to join us for the night and offer a welcoming speech to kick off the festivities.

Loren SchoenbergOur esteemed guest Loren Schoenberg discussing Harlem’s Prohibition Era Jazz Scene

The extremely talented Jesse Gelber shows us how it's done on the baby grand piano in the harlem church of the intercession
The extremely talented Jesse Gelber shows us how it’s done on the baby grand piano

We had a fantastic collection of local talent lined up, starting off with the incredible stride pianist Jesse Gelber on the baby grand, tickling the ivories and setting the mood for the night to come. Following his set, the Lucky Chops Brass Band took the floor and had the crowd up and dancing before the end of their first number.    

The Lucky Chops Brass Band takes the stage
The Lucky Chops Brass Band takes the stage

The Lucky Chops Brass Band
Lucky Chops captivating the crowd

The rest of the evening was a high energy, big band dance party with the Lucky Chops stealing the show. By the end of their second set they had us all utterly enthralled, literally leading the crowd out of the crypt Pied Piper-style when it came time for our grand affair to come to a close. We left our beautiful, subterranean jazz haunt in the early morning hours, having channeled the energy and elation of Harlem and the Roaring Twenties well into the night.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band in the church of the intercession crypt Cocktails in the Crypt in full swing

Here are a few more photographs from Steve Acres of the night’s festivities:

Atlas Obscura in Harlem's Church of the Intercession crypt

Atlas Obscura in Harlem's Church of the Intercession crypt

Atlas Obscura in Harlem's Church of the Intercession crypt

Atlas Obscura in Harlem's Church of the Intercession crypt

Atlas Obscura in Harlem's Church of the Intercession crypt

Atlas Obscura in Harlem's Church of the Intercession crypt

Obscura Society NYC’s Cocktails in the Crypt took place May 24, 2014 in the crypt of the Church of the Intercession in Harlem. 


article-image

The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!

All Upcoming Obscura Society Events