I tried GRIT BXING, the open gym in New York
Neon halos hanging from the ceiling in the foyer GRIT BXNG The room was bathed in the kind of icy blue light that characterizes a Vegas ice vodka bar more than a Manhattan fitness studio. White walls, a white ceiling, and bleacher-like white seats amplify the nightclub effect—as do the flashy punching bag in the front window and the staircase leading to the basement locker rooms, topped with a sign that says “GRIT,” in case you forgot where you were. and music. Oh my god the music.
I wait before class, I’m in millennial nostalgia heaven, the underage drinking version. “One Step, Two Steps” transitions into “Party in the States,” and before I know it, I’ve caught myself swaying to Flo Rida. But the thing that makes GRIT BXNG feel more like a club is, of course, the full-service liquor bar, stocked with sparklers and shotskys. At 5:45 p.m. Thursday, I arrived at this party-themed workout haven feeling nervous and relatively resolute in my resolve to keep my first dry January since 2020. I left around 9:00, head cloudy of prosecco and something called “prosecco.” Electrocuted Margarita.”
According to GRIT BXNG co-founder Ediva Zanker, the concept is as simple as it sounds: It’s an exercise class with a bar, designed to connect people who are passionate about both. “We were following people from exercise classes, and we saw that they were going to lunch with their friends, and they were going to get mimosas or drinks after a workout,” she said. “So why don’t we just own the place and have people hang out and meet here?” I’m about 80 times more likely to be at a bar on a Thursday night than with boxing gloves, but I was still ripped—the few I know about serious fitness seem to say that drinking post-workout defeats the purpose of exercising in the first place. Will my appetite for partying completely negate the benefits of sweating it out in a room full of strangers?
When GRIT BXNG opened in 2019, the workout studio offered boxing-oriented 50-minute high-intensity interval training classes, as well as the bar as a space for socializing after class. (For the record, it’s pronounced “Grit Boxing,” though the longer I linger after class, the more I find myself asking someone what they like about “Grit Bang,” which is the pronunciation I chose in my mind.) The studio also hosts corporate events and holiday parties. Birthdays and theme nights like Après-Ski. They also provide occasional benefits to members, such as a masseuse for after-class massages. Recently, the studio took a hit when Leah Gosby said, Unveiling the talents of the deranged TikToks, he tweeted a screen recording of an advertisement for a HIIT class, which plugged into the studio as a place for single people to meet that special someone who works out but also “goes down on the weekends.” “Nothing worse in the literal sense of the word could be imagined,” wrote Gosby.
Before I got to GRIT BXNG, I could definitely imagine things worse than post-workout drinks—I actually got the same Instagram ad recently, and I thought it was hilarious. However, I expected the experience to be horrible. This will be my second post-pandemic fitness class, but only because I took a yoga class the day before in preparation. I even invited a friend, eager for company in an unfamiliar area. I worried about getting my muscles tight, I worried about appearing in a crowd fitter than me, and I worried about what to wear from my wardrobe agonizingly devoid of bland workout clothes. In short, I was anxious, walking around in a place that seemed like something out The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City It didn’t do wonders for my nerves.
The crowd in my 6:30 p.m. The only guy I spoke to before class described the workout as “If Barry’s Bootcamp and Rumble had a baby,” a phrase that makes no sense to me. He works as a salesperson at a bank, and he told me he brings leads to GRIT BXNG with him for ten cents from his employer. “People have families, they don’t want to go out until 2 a.m. on a weeknight,” he said. “This way, we’re doing something fun, but not too crazy.” “Oh, cool, like mad men? I said. He frowned at the comparison.
A few minutes before class, our instructor, David Pegram, strolled down the hallway introducing himself to everyone with a firm handshake and a smile that looked brighter in the nightclub lighting. I learned after class that Pegram himself is sober, but he values space and the connections it fosters. He said, “It was fun—I came in here and said, ‘What the hell is this place?'” “But once I started working here and saw the sense of community it fosters, I was kind of blown away. Here’s the truth: a lot of people think this place, you come here, you shit your face, and then a box. It’s the other way around. You square, then half of the people don’t drink. And the people who do — I’ve never seen people leave so sloppy, but I’ve seen people make friends. People will come here, make four friends, and then come back with those four friends, and that’s the fire.”
There were about 50 students, and we took our positions in a studio lit by the same glowing halo lights, which during rehearsal cycled through different shades of gem, red, purple, green, and blue. There were three giant screens: two showing instructional videos of boxers and class members working with weights on the floor, and one, behind our trainer, to express emotions. Where there was no screen or mirror—because, come on, of course there were mirrors—dark foam material lined the walls, like the soundproofing of a booth in a recording studio. Then, with a few lines of instructions from Pegram, I got started.
The class was divided into sections—boxing, weights, and walking, alternating—so the fifty minutes went by faster than I feared they would. As a first-time boxer, the exercise was objectively difficult: I spent more time trying to remember the difference between a hook and an uppercut than drinking at the scene. Pegram left the stage and walked between the punching bags, making vague but reassuring comments such as “Okay!” and “Let’s go!” When he reached for me, I couldn’t even stop to look at him, lest I lose my grip completely. In brief flashes of lucidity, my main thought was that the experience reminded me of the room in which Will Ferrell’s evil fashion designer Ben Stiller washes in Zoolander— an impression that set in when the screen behind Pegram exploded in digital flames in order to encourage us to do more crunches or something.
After a short cooldown, Pegram gave each sweaty participant a friendly fist, and we entered the lobby. Vic Russo, bartender and “mood manager” at GRIT BXNG, served everyone a tray of shots of the aforementioned milky blue margarita. Behind the bar, he filled champagne flutes between his teeth and grinned as he fainted at the small group of women who had gathered around the bar to watch him. After a few minutes, he pulled me into a tight embrace, tilted my chin, and laughed as he poured a bottle of Prosecco down my throat before moving on to his next target. Later, he points out my friend and I waiting for a shotsky, mercifully filled with prosecco instead of liquor. Did I already mention that I felt like in The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City?
When I pulled Russo aside during a lull in the action, he told me the atmosphere around the bar was his creation, as were the drinks: sugar-free, low-juice, high in electrolytes, for recovery purposes. He started out as a waiter at his family’s Lower East Side restaurant, and has applied that, as well as his penchant for drawing people to his job at GRIT BXNG, since opening. Tall, muscular, and soon to be shirtless, he was easy to believe. “It’s about the environment – meeting people, dancing, smiling, having a good time,” he said. “How would I describe the atmosphere? It’s phenomenal. Unique. It’s the only place like this in the world. People love it.”
away from Corps Work harder, party harder Afraid of the Adonises, the crowd was unnervingly normal and friendly—people who live in Manhattan and work for the kind of company that spends money on team-building exercises for their employees, the kind I’d expect to meet at a network happy hour. Mimi and Sam, two of my shotski buddies, said they found GRIT BXNG through friends before the pandemic and put together a group that attends at least one class each week, with dinner afterward. “The people who work here are very nice,” said Sam. “Although it can be scary at first, everyone is so warm and supportive of each other.” “And you still get your drinks, but you feel better about it because you worked!” Their friend Sylvia added.
As the night wore on, second-rate attendees of GRIT BXNG poured into the lobby, and the party atmosphere increased slightly. Fresh sweat mingled with the bums from my class, myself included, as more people lingered at the bar, lining up for the free drinks than heading downstairs and throwing their heavy winter coats over the exercise equipment. My interview style has become, in short, loose. Soon my conversation with two recent NYU graduates, Brett and Milo, slipped from the world of journalism into an impassioned discussion about the recent nursing strike. Zanker, the co-founder, shoved a GRIT BXNG-lined tote bag into my hand as the room squeaked, which I accepted with wild enthusiasm and then ran downstairs for things in my locker. Music beats, and people take selfies in the smart motivational mirror. Russo stepped into the middle of the room with a handful of lighted bulbs, channeling the mood as he basked in the glow of dozens of iPhone cameras, blinking, as onlookers recorded his antics. I knew it was time to go home when I seriously considered ordering a second margarita. Feeling the rush of comrades, I hugged Zanker goodbye.
When I woke up the next morning, the physical consequences were more of a night out than a workout. My body was aching less than I expected it to be, but the mental stress of going through a series of semi-anonymous conversations and flickering lights in my memory felt familiar. I had a few new followers on Instagram (including Rosso) and a message from the friend I dragged to class with me, thanking me for the invitation. All that said, a classic morning after. I don’t know if I fully buy into the idea that drinking and fitness are a healthy combination – but I know a good time when I see one, and when I looked at GRIT BXNG I saw a room full of people having their own version of fun.