Living in New York City for these past 13 years has allowed me to see the city evolve up close. The five boroughs’ evolution, or at least some components, happens much quicker than some may think. One of those rapidly changing landscapes has been the cannabis scene.
The city continues to embrace the plant in all its forms further, that is unless you are an unlicensed shop. The predominantly warm welcome from the city certainly stems from its share of social equity and restorative justice advocates. But a significant chunk of the support comes from those who see the revenue in legalization. Sales make up just a chunk of what cannabis can bring to the city and state. Tourism is booming already, with a flurry of underground events and places to take in. Legal experiences are also taking shape, not just in one-off or pop-up varieties.
The House of Cannabis (THC NYC), a three-story immersive cannabis experience, aims to be the city’s next tourism fixture. Spanning across 30,000 square feet of a historic building overlooking SoHo, THC NYC is the co-creation of Las Vegas nightclub leader Robert Frey, Co-founder Marcelle Frey, and Creative Director Dan Kough.
I was invited to check out the place before its launch on April 7th. After living in New York all these years, I was intrigued to find out if The House of Cannabis would be another flash-in-the-pan tourist exhibit or if it could become the next unique city sight to take in.
Would tourists start seeing cannabis as a must-see stop while in town? And even more importantly, would this appeal to the cannabis community? There’s only on way to find out.
What to Expect at The House of Cannabis
The first thing I noticed about The House of Cannabis was that its signature was loud and proud on the first floor of the building. Like many unlicensed cannabis shops, this was another example of New York’s stepping out of the cannabis closet with full force. One minor drawback I noticed soon after stepping in was that THC NYC isn’t on the first floor. Instead, it required a five-floor walk-up to start the journey. There may have been an elevator, but I was told to walk up.
Heads up, pot enthusiasts, weed isn’t sold at THC NYC, nor is consumption allowed. So be sure to smoke up before stepping inside.
Kough, a seven-year veteran at Disney and decades in entertainment, headed up the project’s design. As part of operating in a historic building, he and the creative team were tasked with conceiving an immersive experience that could not affect the historic walls or otherwise impact the building structure. To do so, the team built THC NYC’s walls inside the historic frame without touching the structure’s existing walls.
“That’s when we decided to build the building within the building,” Kough explained. He added that the solution helped create an effect on guests.
From there, the crew spent months assembling visuals for guests. They also created a striking reminder for folks walking by at night. The outer hallway walls are painted in a pot lime green and illuminated by matching lights each night, creating an ever-glowing green presence through the windows.
The Journey Begins
Spread across three floors, the tour’s first stop is The Disorientation Room, where you’re surrounded by bright green as media plays out on a massive projector spanning the long history of the plant and its impact on culture. This is when my persisting thought begins to take shape: I wish I had done psychedelics before coming here.
The desire for psychedelics grew more powerful in the next room. As we head into The Euphorium, guests run into a giant rotating record as LED lights above pulse to the sounds of a silent disco. Guests are encouraged to sit up or lay down on the rotating record while listening to the silent disco. This room made me concerned about what was ahead. While it could be a fun experience for some, I felt like a piece of rotisserie looking up at the ceiling while slowly spinning. But maybe that’s just me. Thankfully, that was the only time I felt iffy about the experience.
The later rooms on the floor cover the social and criminal justice impact the plant has had in recent years. The Forum, guided by the assistance of the Drug Policy Alliance, uses sleek audio techniques to highlight the impact the drug wars had on five different individuals. When standing under sound cones, you hear the person’s first-hand account. When stepping out from under the cones, their stories blend to represent the drug war’s collective impact on society.
“They’re real people telling real stories of how they’ve been affected by cannabis laws,” Kough said.
The final room on the floor was The Joint, which covered the world of sneakers. The group brought in works from a current art exhibit from Culver City, California, The Art of Sneakers, featuring a range of artists putting sneakers to use in various unique ways. Artists featured in The House of Cannabis include Freehand Profit, Christophe Roberts and many more.
Kough said that the plan is to feature art for six months before bringing in a new exhibit for the space.
The Plant – A 6000-Year Journey
Heading down to the third floor takes visitors to an up-close grow experience, or at least that is the plan when things start. Once the venue officially opens to the public, the space will feature a three-room urban grow to give visitors a first-hand look at pot cultivation. No mature plants or seedlings were present during the tour.
The plant education continues in The Microverse, where photographer Chris Romaine of Kandid Kush, takes visitors deep into the plant with striking photography. In the Olfactory, we learn about terpenes. Featuring six of the most common sensations associated with cannabis–lost, laughter, energy, sleep, creativity and calm–guests are surrounded by colors are aromas associated with each compound. To experience more, guests can push a button to take in a terpene’s aroma. It wasn’t set up that day, but a drop-down curtain is expected to be installed, providing additional immersion into a terpene’s fragrance. Rounding out the room was additional art, including a several-foot-tall nug dangling from the middle of the room.
The last stop on this floor featured a collaboration with hip-hop musician Curren$y. A custom poem from the artist is projected onto an LED screen where guests can step onto the screen and see the words wrapped around them.
Kough said it was important to “Celebrate the poetry of cannabis in our lives” while allowing guests to feel like they’ve become part of the artist’s words.
The Journey Crescendos
The final floor on the journey at The House of Cannabis features just two stops but is likely to be crowd-pleasers. They’re certainly two places I’d like to be in as the shrooms kick in.
The Spot is a massive green tree installation with roots running across the floor, serving as seats and tables.
“The great thing about cannabis is the sense of community it organically creates,” Kough said.
For me, The Spot took me back to my kindergarten days, when we’d all gather under the tree at recess and play tag. That is until we discovered a bunch of invasive moths had taken over the tree. Thankfully, no moths were seen at The House of Cannabis.
The last stop on the tour is The Hypnodrome. Created by visual artist, composer and programmer Benjamin Gordon, guests sit back on soft lounge chairs as a psychedelic video of Gordon’s brain waves unfolds on the ceiling and walls around you. The AI-based art display stood as the most psychedelic room and the place where I’d most likely want to be during a psychedelic experience.
Will The House of Cannabis in New York Last?
Overall, THC NYC was a fun, educational experience. If you’re already adequately versed in cannabis, none of what’s presented will come as new information. But this is the kind of place educated pot fans can take their friends for a memorable day out. They may even learn a few things about cultivation, culture, criminal justice and how the plant affects us.
“It’s celebrating cannabis culture and inviting people in,” Kough said of the experience. He added that THC NYC aims to help normalize the plant rather than targeting the ardent pot supporters.
“They can come in and see it’s not scary,” he said.
And I’m willing to bet you can still have a good time even if you’re well-versed in pot. With ample art displays and high-quality immersion from Kough and the team, guests get to take in plant knowledge that’s much more interpretive than you would at a museum cannabis exhibit.
Kough said his decades in entertainment compels him to create works that aren’t directly educational.
“With a topic like cannabis that’s so complex and so interesting and so magical, you can’t do it without throwing a little sauce on it,” he said, adding that the goal is to draw people into the wonders of the cannabis plant.
That said, do I think The House of Cannabis could last the entire 10-year run as planned? It’s entirely possible. Kough said the plan is to “change and mutate and grow” the space as cannabis evolves. And if they can adequately keep pace with mainstream America’s pot interests, they surely can hold an audience of at least tourists and casual enthusiasts.
In its current form, I wonder how much of the deeply educated or underground crowd The House of Cannabis attracts. It certainly has the names and organizations attached to provide credibility, but with legal spaces still in their infancy, all bets are off as to what will stick. THC NYC could be right up there in a few years with the nearly decade-old boob bounce house at the Museum of Sex. Or it may fall off. Only time will tell. So, check it out for yourself