Chicago-born Danika Druttman grew up in Sydney and London. With her NYC-based company, Mira Muse, she designs and produces bespoke cultural programs and activations for hotel brands. In this edition of Faces of AWNY, Danika shares all the reasons New York is her spiritual home and the nostalgic influence of her Aussie childhood.
Tell us about yourself: where are you from and what brought you to NYC?
I moved to New York from London 11 years ago. I was born in Chicago and soon after my parents moved to Sydney. When I was 12 they moved to London where my family still live. When I was 23, with a US passport, blessed with naïve enthusiasm and a set of deliciously supportive parents, I moved to New York. I have such a loving place in my heart for Sydney, London is my emotional anchorage, but New York is my spiritual home. It’s where I started my business, met my husband, and collected so many dear friends and formative experiences.
How did you get into your job in NYC?
I’ve been working in New York at the cross-section of the arts and hospitality for about 9 years. I got my feet wet at a gorgeous little arts hotel in Midtown, Roger Smith. I have long been struck by artist’s ability to be such a powerful philosophical and aesthetic influence on both a space and a community.
Two years ago I started a company called Mira Muse. We produce arts and cultural programs for hotels. We dream up the stuff that takes a hotel from beautiful space into a true cultural experience. I love the transformative potential in taking the arts out of the traditional context of a gallery, museum, theater or school.
If you didn’t have a home in NYC, at which hotel would you stay the night?
This is a great question! Considering what I do, I have spent surprisingly little amount of time sleeping in fabulous hotels in this city!
The Freehand Hotel opened earlier this year in Gramercy. I’d roll into town with some girlfriends, get one of their bunk rooms and have a plan to just exist in that hotel. It’s unpretentious and outrageously cool. It’s stacked with art and books, quiet mid century modern furniture and funky textiles. The restaurants and bars provide good vibes, as do the plethora of indoor plants. I am a sucker for all of these especially when they are combined.
On the other hand, I could also easily go for all-out-classic-New York-fabulous. In that case I’d head to The Carlyle on the Upper East Side. For me, it epitomizes a romantic, lavish version of this city where you get such a sense of the story of a New York past. Their piano bar, Bemelmans has the most magnificent and iconic mural by Ludwig Bemelmans, the writer and illustrator of my favorite childhood books, Madeline. I can see myself at the end of a day of solo adventure, sat at the bar for a quiet moment, surrounded by such loveliness, martini in hand. When I am done I just roll upstairs to my decadent suite to bed. Now that’s the way to end an evening.
Where are your favorite spots in NYC to get a culture fix?
My current question is, “what can I do in a lunch hour that is easy and satisfying?”.
Mmuseumm in Chinatown is the coolest, smallest museum I have ever been too. It offers a sort of ultra concise but insanely meaty history of modern day told through objects. I find it so unbelievably clever and novel, and a visit always has been tickled pink.
If I am in Midtown and have a little free time to myself I will potter over to MoMA. Their art collection is out of this world, it’s also huge and overwhelming. My ultimate luxury is to go and spend 15 minutes with just one piece of work, most recently Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, and be on my way. Isn’t it unreal that one can do that!?
I am a book-buying fiend. There are few things more pleasurable to me than pottering listlessly through the shelves and stacks at The Strand Bookstore. Not only is it an excellent place to actually buy books, its visitors are a constantly shifting coalition of locals, tourists, students, young & old, highbrow & lowbrow, academic, creative and just curious. The people-watching is mesmerizing.
What is your undiscovered gem of the city?
The Elizabeth Street Garden is a quirky little community garden in NoLita. It has little New York gloss but all of the charm. I am often down there during the week and if it’s a pretty day I’ll grab a falafel sandwich from Taïm and eat lunch amongst the motley crew of sculptures and wild greenery. It’s one of my favorite, odd little New York moments I occasionally carve out for myself.
Where is your favorite NYC spot for a drink?
Last week my husband, John, and I took the commuter ferry from 34th Street to South Williamsburg to get to dinner. We had a glass of wine and sat on the top deck at dusk. It really is a magical way to get from A to B, with the added bonus of win. It was a nostalgic moment because I grew up in Sydney and I remember as a kid my dad taking the ferry between Doubly Bay Pier and Circular Quay, back and forth from work. It was the biggest treat to pick him up from the pier at the end of the day, let alone ride the ferry with him.
What are your favorite ways to connect with Aussie culture in NYC?
I got married in Spain earlier this summer. In advance of the festivities, my husband and I went to City Hall to get the legal part done. Afterwards we went to Two Hands, an Aussie spot in Tribeca. We had a very Aussie brunch and a lot of champagne surrounded by stunning photographs of Bondi Beach and the Breakers. There I saw two of my worlds, so far apart in the passage of time and literal distance, nuzzled up to each other in such a quiet and joyful way. It was a special day.
I love my podcasts and there are some great ones coming out of Australia. I listen to Chat 10 Looks 3 religiously. The hilarious chit chat between Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales is a great cultural touch point for me. I am also hooked on The Teacher’s Pet at the moment. It’s a true crime investigation by The Australian that basically is unfolding week by week in real-time. I find it utterly engrossing.
What’s your ‘only in New York’ moment?
About 5 years ago I was living in a studio in the East Village. One uneventful summer evening the carbon monoxide alarm randomly set off. I called 911 and within minutes 6 gorgeous, fully kitted firemen piled into my matchbox sized apartment. The 7 of us stood like sardines while they did their checks. It was just a faulty detector. It was both mortifying yet quite delightful.
What advice do you have for people moving to NYC?
Take the alternative route. Buy great sneakers and do it on foot when you can. You’ll carve out your own extraordinary version of New York that way.