I hate to admit it, but I have a soft spot for hard-drinking, blindly confident straight men. I’ve lived with them, I’ve been best friends with them, I’ve slept with them, and yes, a couple of them have fallen in love with me, too. And so of course I was intrigued when I heard about a gang of TikTok bros in their mid-20s who have decided to call themselves the “East Villains.” You’re probably not aware of them, but maybe you know the type. The East Villains spend their days posting tenderhearted video diaries of their charmed lives in New York City with captions like “Weekend in the Life of a 26 Year Old in NYC,” in which they show themselves getting dressed (important because, you know, they start out undressed), meandering about downtown, going to work at their tech or fashion-adjacent jobs, skateboarding (shirtless), wearing overalls (shirtless), getting tatted, and getting drunk. They live on the Lower East Side or in the East Village and hail from places like Minneapolis, Hartford, and Jacksonville Beach. Think what you will about their Harry Styles–lite fashion sense, but something about their soft masculinity, silly outfits (see: cowboy hats, bandannas, bleached hair, silk scarves, painted nails, sleeveless tops, statement necklaces), and bulging arms and thighs full of patchwork tattoos really does it for me.
So on Friday night, I met up with the East Villains, who told me their name was originally that of their group chat, but then it supposedly caught on down at, you guessed it, Ray’s. (They love to start and end sentences with “Last weekend at Flower Shop …” or “… at Ray’s.”) “We’re all regular. We’re all nine-to-five. We’re all gabagool,” Villain Nigel Roxbury told me when I met them in … the East Village. As the group “joke” goes, “We don’t get recognized in Brooklyn.”
Really, I know better than to swoon.
8:22 p.m. | Of all the places you might consider for pregaming in the East Village, San Marzano, an Italian joint on Second Avenue perhaps most popular for feeding NYU students on a budget, is where the boys ask me to meet them. It is unbelievably loud inside, packed with 20-somethings slurping well-past–al dente pasta at tables heavily segregated by sex. I find my seven boys — plus a couple of good-time girls along for the ride, which probably isn’t a bad idea — at a long table in the back. They’re as sweet as they are cocky. On the other hand, they all keep screaming “GABAGOOL” and “CHEF-BOY-AR-GEE,” and I’m afraid it’s going to last all night.
9:00 p.m. | Okay, a few pitchers of sangria in and it’s time to figure out what’s really going on here. Who’s going to black out first tonight, I ask? They all point to Nigel Roxbury, a strangely charming boy in a soccer jersey sitting next to me, who clarifies that he only “browns out.” Who’s going to pick up a girl first? Also Nigel Roxbury (his nickname, they tell me, is “Phantom Smoocher”; his real name is Chris Murch). He also has the biggest … following. When I ask who is the least hetero, however, they all look stumped — never mind the fact that Mr. Roxbury just made a joke about smooching me at the club later and posted a TikTok last week about the history behind “America’s first ever gay bar.” (He also has two Keith Haring tattoos.) They ask me who I think is the best dressed. I pick at random.
9:21 p.m. | We chew on stale bread, drink more sangria, and eventually get to talking about relationships. Most of the boys are single or wrapped up in “situationships” (one apparently with Bob Dylan’s granddaughter), and they all agree that “TikTok is actually the best dating app in New York City.” One of the ladies-in-waiting at the table tells a story about a bad first date at … the Oculus with an anti-vaxxer. I think about a bad date I once had at this very restaurant. Most of the boys can’t seem to comprehend the idea of a “bad date.” (“You’ve been on more than one bad date?!”) It must be nice to be a straight boy on TikTok. Speaking of: Codey No. 1 (there are two of them; let me present to you the first: shirtless Codey James) informs the group that he made it “official” with his girlfriend last weekend. Everybody wants to know why he withheld the big news, but he just shrugs. Straight boys don’t talk to each other about such things, I guess.
9:34 p.m. | Cody No. 2 (shirtless Cody Blanc) is taking one of his sickly-sweet videos to post later, with the caption “Moving to New York was the best decision of my entire life. It’s a beautiful summer night, I’m at dinner with the most amazing friends I’ve ever met in this city, we are being interviewed by the New York magazine, and everything just feels so right. I live for moments like these.” At the actual table, it’s “demon time,” per Nigel Roxbury. “Everybody drink water right now!”
10:15 p.m. | With dinner paid for — “Who wants credit-card points?” — we head down the block to Blue & Gold, which the Villain in a cowboy hat, Matt (so @parttimecowboy_), says is “the one spot” they don’t post about, as if the bar were their divey little secret. (It’s been around since this neighborhood was Little Ukraine; also, Nigel has posted about it at least twice.) Sipping whiskey-gingers at the bar, Raphael, who is the only native New Yorker and (coincidentally?) is not on TikTok, tells me he loves his transplant friends. “The Statue of Liberty is all about not gatekeeping,” he says. One of the girls tells me why she likes these boys: “They’re easy targets.” Respect.
10:21 p.m. | Cowboy smells nice, and he tells me it’s Byredo but he’s “a slut for vanilla-tobacco Tom Ford.” Some of the others sit down at a sticky table to flip a bottle top and play “Fuck, Marry, Kill” with the Jennifers. The consensus is: F Aniston, M Love Hewitt, and K Lawrence. I feel like it’s freshman year again.
10:55 p.m. | One drink and we’re off to the Georgia Room, a Georgia O’Keeffe–inspired club (meaning it’s sort of sapphic and southwestern but only in terms of décor) that opened at the Freehand Hotel last year by the same “vibe curators” behind Ray’s and Pebble Bar and where Cody No. 2 is “hosting” tonight. The club is a little over a mile uptown, but the boys are game to walk, even though Codey No. 1’s new girlfriend just joined us and, like me, she’s in uncomfortable shoes: “I feel like a carriage horse. This is against union rules. A horse can’t walk this long.” En route, Nigel begins to make moves — a playful push, a hand on the waist, an arm across the shoulder — on a petite brunette named Becky wearing an oversize button-up and whom some of the Villains are apparently crushing on. It’s unclear why she’s giving in to Nigel, but one of the other girls helps me understand: “I get it, his dick is like five feet long.”
10:59 p.m. | It’s probably a bad idea to let one of these guys tattoo me, right? Codey No. 1 says he does it for a six-pack of beer and Chipotle.
11:19 p.m. | “We’re rolling deep tonight. This always happens,” says the hottest Villain, Dylan (he has a French bulldog by the way), when we arrive at the Georgia Room and join the crowd waiting outside. A few of the boys throw on some sunglasses — “They always come out” — and another, Toussaint (also not on TikTok!), asks if his silk neck scarf looks okay. Then he asks if I’ve listened to the new Beyoncé album. I appreciate a man who knows the limits of his masculinity.
11:45 p.m. | Inside the Georgia Room, we wait somewhat impatientiently at Cody No. 2’s table for the bottle service to arrive. “It’s always good to have a friend that ‘promotes,’” says Becky. A blonde with big Bette Davis eyes who’s just joined us seems to be here at the table for the same reason: “I’m on my New Jersey wave. I need to get obliterated.” Meanwhile, the boys all dance kind of lamely to “More Than a Woman”; at the same time, I suppose they do have better rhythm than most straight guys I know. Codey No. 1 tells me, “The last time I was here, I got kicked out for dancing on the couches.”
11:50 p.m. | The first bottle of tequila is empty. Touissant tells me, “I’m drunk enough I’ll do anything.” Unfortunately, he’s talking about his dance moves.
12:40 a.m. | Overheard in the restroom: “You’re literally so hot, and he’s SO INTO YOU. The other thing is like … men love bitches. If he wants to pursue you, he’ll pursue you.” Back on the dance floor, the pursuit is on. “She’s hot. I thought I got friend-zoned. We’ll see if everything’s working down there later,” Nigel tells me, moving toward Becky. I sit down on a couch with Codey No. 1’s new girlfriend, who tells me she’s new to town and met her beau when she “thirst commented” on one of his TikToks. (“But I have, like, double the amount of followers he has on Instagram because I’m a white girl, duhh,” she informs me.) She begged her girlfriends to come join us tonight with the promise that “we’re going out and trying to kiss all of the East Villains,” but none of them took the bait. I congratulate her on her new relationship, but apparently she didn’t get the notice that it’s official. She’s very excited about this revelation. The boys take a fair amount of flash-on video footage which, embarrassingly for me, ends up online.
1:24 a.m. | In some other, earlier eras of New York, you could walk into a club and brush shoulders with real, living, breathing, sparkling celebrity, but these days that role seems to be occupied by boys like these. “Everyone wants to fuck them,” says one of the girls they’re not fucking. “Everybody and their mother is trying to talk to him,” gripes Becky, pointing to Nigel, who is surrounded on both sides by a boozy, basic girl vying for his attention. Unfortunately, I feel the need to play matchmaker for these lost straight people and tell her she has nothing to worry about, he obviously likes her, or, at the very least, definitely wants to sleep with her, maybe even tonight. Then a dowdy girl approaches me and asks, “Are you an East Villain?” Apparently, she’s a fan and anxious to get close to Nigel. “This happens all the time,” Nigel tells me before spinning around to entertain her for a few minutes. I think it’s sweet of him, but also, then again, maybe it’s just like taking a shot of ego or something. When he’s done talking to the stranger, she presses me again: “Are you an East Villain?” This time, I just tell her yes because, honestly, she’s desperate for it.
2:00 a.m. | Another bottle arrives, and the TikTok virgin Raphael gushes, “Is this TikTok?! I don’t know what TikTok is but if this is it …” Outside, smoking a cigarette, Toussaint shares that he’s newish to this friend group but is willing to defend its honor: “Yes, they bring home girls. But they’re not assholes. I wouldn’t be friends with them.”
2:48 a.m. | Back inside the club, a few of the now drunk and bumbling boys decide to head home, and after obliterating myself on the free-flowing tequila, I decide to do the same. Outside, I run into Becky, Nigel-less, who has a few last words about the Villains. “I’m gonna be really honest here: I guess I had a preconceived notion about them, which is that they’re just these TikTok boys that are all into themselves. It comes off as a lot of self-promotion. But then I really got to talk to them individually, and I think the majority of them — I wouldn’t say all of them — are sweet.” The next morning, I text Cody No. 2 and apologize for blacking out and Irish exiting. He responds, “That’s usually how the night ends for everyone. Party until you can’t stand.” To quote something I heard Codey No. 1 once say online, “It was so cool.”
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