Wild Ones: Steven Rojas & Zelda
The New York City digital director and man about town’s best girl is an adventurous English Bulldog-Boston Terrier who has ran, hiked, and kayaked her way across the country.
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Steven Rojas may not know every single person, place, and thing that keeps New York City a lively, happening place, but his where’s-waldo ubiquity in nightlife coverage and social media sure does make it look that way. Born and raised in NYC, Rojas came up in the early-’00s DJ scene, playing glam and underground hipster parties in New York, then LA, London, and Paris. He kept his connections as he pivoted into an extremely visible and active life as the face, digital ambassador, or event consultant for several Ian Schrager hotels and a few of the city’s other luxury brands. Today, Rojas has New York City life wired better than anyone you’re likely to meet. Which makes his choice of a five-year-old English Bulldog-Boston Terrier for a running mate especially noteworthy.
How’d you first partner up with Zelda?
I saw this guy at the gym who had a cute, chunky bulldog, who just flopped around and hung out, and it clicked. I was like, “I want one of these around!” I’m kind of like that. Next thing, my then-girlfriend Page and I were driving back from Appledore, Ohio with a little hand-sized Zelda in the car, hustling so I could get back in time to do the New York City marathon.
What, right after the drive? How’d you do?
Well, I finished...not with the greatest time. Sitting in a car in that position for so long wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But I felt like putting a puppy on a plane was, I dunno, kinda mean. But now, she’s adventure pup — we’ve gone everywhere in America.
What do you mean by everywhere?
Mount Zion, the PCH from California to Oregon, Big Sur, Oneonta Gorge — hiking around all those places. We’ve also driven out to hike near Seattle, Olympia, Maine, New Hampshire. Thousands of hikes in upstate New York— Bear Mountain, Sam Point’s Reserve — we go all the time. Minnewaska State Park and Catskills Falls because she also loves swimming, whitewater rafting, kayaking.
Does she kayak in the bow or stern?
She jumps in to sit in front of me and we go. We go a lot, enough that I had to buy her a flotation vest by Ruffwear. Actually, Ruffwear also made the rock-climbing harness we use. Zelda’s a really strong rock-climber — she only does small boulders but I’ve seen her claw her way up a six-foot wall. When I’m rock-climbing with my buddies, we’ll just belay her up.
Dang, that is an adventure pup!
I’m telling you. I’m part of the Brooklyn Track Club and I clocked Zelda at seven-and-a-quarter-minute mile. She can get a bit naughty in the city but when we go trail running, which is often, she’s usually off leash. She always sticks right by me and responds. I admit that I was terrified the first night we went camping: What if she runs away? But you start building a tent and making a fire and they kind of just hang out with you. It’s probably an instinct that’s millions of years old.
What are your spots in the city?
Zelda and I like to go to Ray’s Bar, on Chrystie Street, which is very dog friendly. I also bring her to work all the time. One thing: she can always tell immediately when I'm, like, hitting on a girl. I don’t know how — maybe she smells it, like dogs smell fear — but her attitude changes. She starts barking at them, humping their leg, trying to establish dominance. My ex-girlfriend tells me the same thing happens when she brings a guy over when Zelda is there. She gets all upset and they’re like, “Ok, I gotta go.”
How does Zelda help when things are quiet?
When the pandemic hit, I was programming director at the Equinox Hotels and they had to let us go. I knew people who committed suicide, who were doing a lot of drugs, who mentally couldn’t cope with being alone and turned to something negative. But at the same time, I knew party people who just became really calm and self-aware. You spend your entire life in New York rushing to this party, that dinner, this date, that person, and COVID put all that on pause. I was just home with Zelda. I live pretty near Central Park, so we’d go up there and run trails, walk around, just keep each other company. It was calming and during this time, I launched my own company, S Rojas Consulting, and handle some hotels and other really cool, luxury clients.
Is a client’s dog-friendliness important to you?
Of course. It’s the same as with people. I’ve met girls who are not dog-friendly and I can’t even deal with it now: How can you not like a dog? Have you no soul? So if I go into a business that’s not dog friendly, if a guy’s like, “Oh, you can’t bring a dog in here,” I’m like, “alright, I get it.” And I’ll just leave.
Do you see your old scene mates around much now?
It’s funny, most of those people have moved on. Got married, or had kids. I’ve just got my dog!
Chris Norris is a writer, reporter, author, and longtime companion to West Highland terrier Gus, recently departed but intensely loved. Chris Norris is has written for The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ, Details, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He lives in New York City with his wife and 8-year-old son.