The creator and boss behind Hot Rabbit–one of New York nightlife’s most popular and inclusive brands of kiki–Emily Maresca balances business, pleasure and family life like few others in this field can. And this Pride Month will be one of the Rabbit’s most prolific and fun AF yet!
Thotyssey: Hello Emily! It’s summertime, which means both fun times and crazy stress are about to go down! How are you processing it all this time around?
Emily Maresca: I’m thrilled it’s Pride month, and we’re finally hitting a summer where we only have to worry about silly things like rain and (hopefully!) not any more global pandemics! Fingers crossed!
All the way crossed! Your queer party brand Hot Rabbit always has so many major events every year… it must have been incredibly awful to have all that stop for a year and a half during lockdown! Did you try to do any sort of HR digital content during that time?
We did, and mostly we did a few smaller things for fun or for charitable causes… but honestly, I found the virtual party space to be a bit lonely. I applaud what many others did in creating new ideas to supplant the need for gathering that we all had in that dark time, and I think some did it really successfully — like my friend Vito Fun. But for me, trying to recreate the very visceral thing that we do at Hot Rabbit on a virtual platform felt artificial — even impossible — and eventually we just went on a hiatus for a while until we could reopen live. It was a very challenging time for us, and for everyone who makes their living full time in nightlife.
Well thank goodness we’re on the other side of that… for now, at least! Since the reopenings, Hot Rabbit’s reclaimed many of its old rabbit holes while acquiring new venues for branded events. We’ll get to the specifics of those in a bit, but what’s your process like in finding new spaces? Is it a word of mouth thing, lots of research, hitting the pavement with an open mind, et cetera?
NYC seems to be going through a new venue boom, which is amazing! Especially considering how many independent venues were shut down over the past 20 years. I’m here for it! We’re so lucky to be back with our faves Lot 45 Bushwick (second Saturdays for our vogue party “Bad Habit”) and Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg (third Saturdays for our “Hot Honey” party with Honey Burlesque).
Finding good venues that are the right size, in a transit friendly location, that an audience will love, and that are willing to work out mutually beneficial deals with promoters is as I always say “the hardest part of my job.” Thankfully, it’s been getting easier. Yes I do, a ton of research… and I literally have hundreds of stars on my Google Maps. But also, venues hear about our events and reach out to us wanting to do LGBTQ events in their spaces… which is always a really great sign of a place that will be a good partner.
Unlike most nightlife folks, you actually have a family… as in, a spouse and children! How challenging is it to juggle the bizarre demands of this business with day to day family stuff… especially since you live out of the city now?
You know my secrets, lol! No, I’m kidding… I’m very open about having a family, it’s the best part of my life. I moved out of the city in 2018 when we had our first kid, and luckily that turned out to be a great decision and didn’t affect my ability to keep doing nightlife at all. It did cut back on my ability to go out and network and see new performers and DJs as much as I used to, which is the one thing I miss (so please, keep reaching out to me! I love getting booking requests from talent). But having a family is the best thing I ever did, and I really owe it all to my wife for doing the hard part of actually giving birth! I will be doing whatever she tells me to do for the rest of my life in return.
So let’s backtrack a bit to the beginning: where are you from originally, and how did you ultimately find yourself in the nightlife biz?
I grew up in the Hartford area, and came to the city often as a kid with my father who is an abstract painter. He took me to many galleries and concerts, and I was a “music head” through college. After college I moved to the city and stayed for 15 years, and I’ll always consider it my real home. I started throwing house parties in 2006, and would just invite random people I would meet out to make friends. I did that for years, and in 2010 I moved to a new a building that didn’t appreciate those parties so much. So I decided to throw my first event in a bar, which was a “confession” themed event at Mission Dolores with DJ TRX where we would read peoples confessions aloud between tracks. Then in 2011, I started Hot Rabbit at Heathers in the East Village, and things just grew from there.
What was the “mission statement” of Hot Rabbit then, and how did the party evolve as a scene over the years?
Well, when I started Hot Rabbit I wanted to create a place for groups of friends of all genders to go out together and all feel safe and comfortable in one environment, where anyone could walk in the room and feel like they belong. So there was always a specific intention about diversity when it came to the talent we booked and the messaging we put out. Other events at that time served as the inspiration for that as well, like “Hey Queen” and “That’s My Jam.”
A lot of the queer scene was built in Brooklyn, and we have eventually found our home their too… but we intentionally made inroads in the West Village when it used to feel more segregated. We were given the opportunity to produce Hot Rabbit at Nowhere Bar and Monster when they had been extremely male-dominated spaces, and I think that helped us grow into the reputation we sought as an “everybody” space… and hopefully expanded the mindset of the people who normally occupied those spaces, too.
A lot of venues and event producers think they are doing the right thing and being inclusive with their talent and their audiences, but Hot Rabbit is one of the few brands that’s is often accredited for actually getting it right! That must require a lot of close observation of what’s going down at your events, and in the world.
It means so much to hear things like that, thank you! It’s been honestly blood, sweat, and tears to make the vision happen… but it’s been a group effort. We have regular people who work with us for years like some of our emcees, photographers, door people, and management staff. And then we have had a cast of hundreds of different performers, DJs, dancers, and artists who have not only brought their friends and audiences to our shows, but also spread the word to other talent to seek us out. It’s this networking through nightlife and a commitment to making sure every one of our lineups over the years represents diversity that has made us successful. That, and some perseverance through the rough times.
I do think producers especially hold a responsibility to prioritize a wider representation of gender and race in their event lineups, and I’d really like to see more of that all across the nightlife scene. And in awards shows, too! Hopefully the people who need to hear this get past the boring suburban mom part of this interview!
This will be a challenge, but do you have an all-time favorite Hot Rabbit moment or memory from all these years?
Omg, that is too hard! My first thought is when somebody proposed at Hot Rabbit to their partner, but that wasn’t a personal moment for me. It definitely has to be World Pride 2019, when I was on the mezzanine with [Hot Rabbit photographer] Grace Chu in a unicorn costume, and she was making me jump up and down over and over again to try to get a photo of me in the air. And then we were looking down over the railing at the stage, and all sixteen of our dancers and performers were on stage doing a finale for the night at the same time, and everyone was vibing so hard and [Hot Rabbit emcee] Andrew Barret Cox was singing… and it was such an epic moment of family and love and togetherness. It makes my heart swell!
I love that! Well, let’s talk about June stuff. First up, I understand you’re collaborating with Dave’s Lesbian Bar for an event in Brooklyn on June 11!
Yes, we’re very excited to expand our annual Brooklyn Pride party at Lot 45 into a night of music, vogue, beauty, and all around queer fabulousness with Dave’s! Dave’s has been producing pop-up outdoor music events to raise money to eventually open a brick and mortar lesbian bar in Queens, and they’ll be producing the first part of the night featuring the bands MONTE, Lily Mao and The Resonators, and THEMME from 6pm to 10pm. Then we’ll be producing [a dance party] from 10pm to 4am with DJs Boston Chery, Chaotic, and MEDUUSA, vogue by the Houses of Oricci and Babylon, and performances by Ash B, Brandon Looney, and more! We’ll also have a cute beauty table in the garden by the new beauty company GirlBoy Beauty. I’m so psyched for this event!
Later in the month on NYC Pride Friday, the Hot Rabbit gang will be at 42 D’Or in midtown!
It’s our first time at 42 D’Or, which is the former XL Nightclub and Playboy Club. We’re excited to be there! This is also our only Manhattan event for the weekend, right near Times Square. We’re bringing a huge crew of talent including DJ Mary Mac (who, did we mention, opens for Madonna!?), DJ Monstar, performances by Sevn, Cain, Saint, Scarlett Snow, and of course our famed emcee Andrew Barret Cox. We’ll also have free haircuts by Hairrari Barbershop and other fun queer vendors in the front lounges. It’s an amazing four room venue and we’re planning lots of surprises and free giveaways!
Then on Pride Saturday, you’ll be at 3 Dollar Bill in Brooklyn for Bad Habit Pride!
Yes, it’s our annual Dyke March After Party starting at 11pm, indoors and outdoors in their giant backyard! All genders welcome, of course! We collaborate with the NYC Dyke March to provide free entry for the dyke marshals, and donate a portion of proceeds as well. We have a stacked lineup for the night including L.A.’s DJ Les Ortiz and NYC’s DJs Illexxandra and Kandylion, performances by Vanity Q, Honey Burlesque, and World Beatboxing Champion HerShe… and of course gogo and vogue-go dancers all night! This event always sells out early, and it’s such an amazing queer venue! We’ll be partying late, ’til 5am!
And finally on Pride Sunday you’ll be at Elsewhere in Brooklyn!
Our first ever Pride Sunday event! We’re thrilled to work with Elsewhere for the first time. We’ll be chillin’ on the rooftop (or inside the main hall if it rains) all day from 3 to 10pm with some incredible DJs, dancers, and performers including L.A.’s DJ Tatiana, NYC’s Roze Royze and Natural State, Miz Jade, Jayse Vegas and many more! It’s the “Triple Crown” to a very packed Pride weekend!
Wonderful! So aside from your two prior-mentioned monthlies in Brooklyn, is there anything else you wanna tell the children about?
I feel like I have gone on and on, lol! Sure, I’ll also mention to save the date for our Brooklyn Beach Bash at 3 Dollar Bill, Saturday August 13th! It’s a daytime party in the backyard where we bring out astroturf, a dozen inflatable swimming pools, giant beer pong, cornhole, other fun games, drink frosé, and just have a wet n’ wild time!
Fun! Okay, lastly: what’s your best advice for baby queers experiencing their first Pride this year?
Oooh, good one. Well safety first! Have a buddy system, and make sure you know your friends get home at the end of the night! Travel light, don’t bring big bags with you… keep it simple. Buy your tickets early (like, now)! They are cheaper, and the best events will sell out!
If you’ve never done Pride, it will feel epic… but it is also a long haul of many incredible events, so pace yourself and make sure you get to enjoy absolutely everything… because there is so much fun and joy to be shared with your fellow queers! Happy Pride, Bunnyfuckas!
Happy Pride, Emily!
Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Hot Rabbit’s upcoming events. Follow Emily Maresca on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Follow Hot Rabbit on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and their website; get tickets to their events here.