I forget that it is Fleet Week until I walk into the Coral
Room. But once there I am quickly reminded that New York is
crawling with sailors looking to party, meet women and sample all that
the city has to offer. For those whose love of the sea brought
them to the navy in the first place, ending up at this mermaid themed
establishment must seem like the ultimate in shore leaves.
The mermaid on duty tonight is Marigny Lee, a lithe blond
originally from New Orleans. When I arrive she is perched on a coral shelf in the huge fish
tank that sits behind the bar. I watch as she blows a kiss to the
sailors crowding around to see the performance before going up for
air. Seconds later she is down again kicking her tail and leaving
a trail of long blond hair and bubbles in her wake. Marigny has
told me that her visiting parents, and their spouses, will be in
attendance and that I should look for them when I arrive. So I push
past the navy men and make my way towards the banquettes that line the
wall in search of the family that spawned a fish.
The Coral Room is the brainchild of Chris Ventura who with his
wife Suzy had built exhibits for city aquariums around the world and
rattles off Lisbon, Shanghai, Berlin, Beijing and Rotterdam as just a
few of the sites of their previous projects. Inspired by these
endeavors the couple decided to try their hand at the bar scene. After
locating a space that could accommodate a 10,000 gallon salt water
aquarium, they began the search for women in tails to fill it.
Finding obliging mermaids didn�t present much of a challenge.
Friends in the arts sent dancers and performance artists like the
well known Julie Atlas Muz and Jaiko their way. The rest Chris
says, �Came from the sea.�
Marigny�s arrival was born of nautical childhood dreams. She
explains, �I loved The Little Mermaid and
I was a kid, and I had daydreams of being
such a fantastic creature. I�d
seen the girls at the Coral Room swim a couple of times and, like
everyone else, I was completely spellbound. So
I called them up and asked what I had to do to be one.� The
answer was: audition in front of a packed bar at 11 o�clock
on a Friday night.
I asked Chris what made a mermaid and how a girl could land the
gig. He explained, �We have auditioned plenty of additional
mermaids. Most people think it just takes a good swimmer. It�s
true that a mermaid needs to be comfortable swimming. More importantly
they need to be performers and enjoy playing to a crowd.� Hence
the primetime tryouts.
On the night I am there Marigny, long past the audition stage, is
solidly working a room she can�t see through the haze of glass and
salt water. I slide into a booth with her extended clan and sit
next to Lucy, the mother of the Coral Room�s newest fish. From our
vantage point we have a perfect view of tail and tresses. But
Lucy is so enthused about her daughter�s feats that she urges me to
follow her to the bar where we can get an even better look. We crowd up
as Marigny dips and twirls managing to avoid both the tropical fish as
well as the structural beams that are invisible to the audience but
which sit just above the surface of the tank and have been know to clock
many an unwitting mermaid on the head.
Lucy reminisces, �She always loved the water.
I think she had green hair every summer as a kid from spending so
much time in swimming pools.�
Later Marigny tells me that though her mother is proud of her
other accomplishments, she is particularly excited about these aquatic
undertakings. �I only moonlight as a mermaid.
I�m also the marketing coordinator for
�s Summer Stage, and I�m enrolled at the Art Student's League.
But, I think my mother's favorite topic of conversation is her
mermaid daughter and being �a mer-mom�! I kind of like how
into it she is, though. She even helped me make most of my
After her latest set, Marigny joins us at the table. Her
hair is damp and hangs midway down the back of her black dress
(�It�s actually my nightgown,� she whispers), leaving a dark wet
mark. Lucy hugs her daughter and beams at the group. Marigny
asks to see the pictures on her father's digital camera. I sip my
wine and wonder aloud at the sensation of squeezing into something that
must feel like a big wet sock. A sailor approaches and Lucy
introduces him to Marigny. He shyly tells her, �You�re amazing
in there.� Aside from him, no one else seems to realize that the
petite blond sitting at the next table over is the same girl who only
minutes ago was flirting shamelessly from the tank and flipping her tail
with an impressive grace.
Apparently, it is true that once a mermaid grows legs she loses
her mystique. But, this doesn't seem to bother Marigny, who when
not mermaiding, needs those legs to carry her to her day job, peddle a
rickety two-speed around Manhattan, and dance amongst the unsuspecting
Coral Room patrons who will be watching her swim again in only a few