Angry couples go out on houseware-smashing dates in anger rooms

Penelope Green, a reporter, takes a metal bat to a television at the Wrecking Club in New York.
Penelope Green, a reporter, takes a metal bat to a television at the Wrecking Club in New York. PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTimes) - Smashing things may not seem at first blush to be a winning idea to wrap a business around. Since March, however, nearly 1,500 people have shown up to break housewares, electronics and furniture at the Wrecking Club, two reinforced rooms in the basement of a building in the garment district of Manhattan.

Many of this number are couples looking for something more piquant than the usual date-night fare, said Mr Tom Daly, the Wrecking Club's proprietor. But rage is not confined to matrimony and other romantic unions, as he has also found.

"That's the cool thing about addressing an instinct," he said on a recent steamy afternoon. "Everyone's got it."

The Wrecking Club is not the first rage-based enterprise. Last autumn, politics drove the business at the Anger Room, which opened in Dallas in 2008. Clients showed up by the hundreds to batter human effigies of Mrs Hillary Clinton and Mr Donald Trump. Three Trump mannequins and two Clintons were utterly destroyed, according to the owner, Ms Donna Alexander, and had to be replaced.

The Rage Room, which first opened in Toronto in 2015, now has licensees in Budapest, Singapore, Australia and Britain. "We've helped a lot of angry couples," said Mr Stephen Shew, the owner. (His date-night package, US$70 for two electronic devices and 20 items of crockery, from lawn gnomes to ceramic vases, is wildly popular on Valentine's Day.)

For those who would rather act out at home, the online marketplace presents an armory's worth of what are known as therapy tools. Foam anger bats, for example, start at US$10. At the high end, a pair of well-padded, cherry-red canvas, German-made, jumbo encounter bats cost about US$210 and look like something performance artist Leigh Bowery might have designed as a special kind of eveningwear.

There is no such cosseting at the Wrecking Club. The bats and crowbars are solid metal. A starter session costs US$30 for 30 minutes with two or three electronic devices and a bucket of dishes. A menu of add-ons - advertised on a white board like daily specials at a restaurant - includes boxes of dishes (US$20 for one box; two for US$35); laptops (US$15); computer monitors (US$20); cellphones (US$5); and large-screen TVs (US$25). The most requested items are laptops, monitors, printers and extra dishes. (Daly estimates he runs through about 60 to 70 electronic devices each week.)

Finding these materials is one of his biggest challenges. Companies going out of business are an irregular source. Sometimes people donate things, Mr Daly said, adding that everything smashed at the Wrecking Club is properly recycled.

A year or so ago, Mr Daly, 29, was bored with his finance job in Stamford, Connecticut. He quit before it was too late, he said, "to do something really cool". A cheerful, fresh-faced guy wearing a backward black baseball cap, blue polo shirt and blue linen pants, he has happy memories of demolishing a swing set in his parents' backyard, at their request, after he and his siblings had left home, and these sparked his imagination. "It was more fun than playing on the swing set," he said. "The memory stayed with me and that's what made me think about breaking things."

The vibe and aesthetic of the Wrecking Club is part CBGB's basement circa 1977, part Stasi interrogation room. Each room is clad in pocked cement and plywood for maximum "smash effect", as Mr Daly put it. Drywall, he pointed out, wouldn't be hard enough to break stuff against. Hanging on an entry wall is a still photograph from the cult turn-of-the-millennium movie Office Space: the beloved printer-smashing scene.

The rooms have been lightly embellished in black and orange spray paint by Derrick Gutierrez, a graffiti artist who is also Mr Daly's FedEx delivery guy. "He tagged the place as if it were a bridge," Mr Daly said admiringly. "I wanted it to have a Brooklyn-in-the-1990s vibe. I think he crushed it."

There were some early setbacks, like the time a couple destroyed Mr Daly's laptop. He had left it in the room after showing the two a safety video and did not think to tell them it wasn't part of their package. "All I can say is, 'Thank God for the Cloud,'" he said, shaking his head. "I didn't tell the customers what they'd done, because I didn't want them to feel bad."

But new customers will see that some areas and objects in the rooms are now marked with an X for "Please don't smash". Daly is keeping the building's location a secret (after you sign up for a session online, your confirmation email contains the address): not to protect his landlords, but to maintain the atmosphere of a speakeasy.

Close-toed shoes are required, and long pants and long sleeves suggested. Customers who are visibly drunk or stoned will be turned away and their deposit forfeited. Mr Daly provides safety goggles, hard hats, work gloves and black nylon smocks.

He has learned a thing or two about human nature in the last few months.

"From my very humble and limited education, I think that part of what's going on here is that breaking stuff gives people back their edge," he said. "It lets people take their power back. Imagine getting fired. It sucks. It's defeating. Or you got dumped, or you didn't get into the college you wanted, or imagine whatever it is that makes you feel weak. This is a place where you can get back your power."