I was told there’d be a busker singing by the door, and that’s how I’d know which building to enter.
I arrived five minutes early — I’m not a born-and-bred New Yorker — and while I didn’t see anyone strumming a six-string, I did find a small huddle of fashionable people. The one in the magenta bowtie, I soon learned, was an editor at GQ. His partner, who smelled like Vetiver, was in finance. The girl in velvet t-strap heels worked for a tech startup, and her friend and her husband designed wallpaper (they had just finished a custom job for Lena Dunham). Soon, a bearded man in black slithered through the hefty bronze art deco door, cleared his throat, and filled Manhattan’s Financial District with his grave voice. The editor, the Vetiver man, the t-straps, the wallpaper designers and I walked into 20 Exchange Place, the now-vacant former City Bank-Farmers Trust offices.
The rest of the night was a soup of songs, dances, soliloquies, juggling acts, meat courses, salad courses, lively conversations, and filled glasses. This is typical of Spring Street Social Society (SSSS), an organization through which Patrick Janelle, who The New York Times calls a “professional Instagrammer,” and singer-songwriter Amy Virginia Buchanan throw one-of-a-kind dinners and performances in New York and Los Angeles.
Janelle and Buchanan are very upfront about the fact that SSSS would be nothing without the contributions of their friends. Well, they’re volunteers for the events, but they’ve all become true-blue friends. That’s how it works in Janelle and Buchanan’s world.
There’s design studio River Union’s Jessie Weaver and Anna Novak, who handle flowers and decorations; Diego Sanchez, a bartender at Dirty French, who creates and serves the cocktails; Josh Littlefield, a coffee educator at Irving Farm, who manages the servers and runs the coffee program; Zach Ligas, who works at critical darling Semilla restaurant and acts as the wine director for SSSS; food stylist Maggie Ruggiero, who is part of the society’s membership advisory committee; and The Brothers Mueller, twin brothers who call themselves “digital dandies,” since they’re partners in a digital creative firm and are never without a starched, trim-fit button-down shirt. Under Janelle and Buchanan’s guidance, this team, plus a rotating cast of chefs and performers, throw food and art-filled dinners so unique that The Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine magazine have taken note.
“Weird performance art rarely meets high-end design in a way that’s fun,” says Buchanan, who also went to clown school. “That’s what we’re trying to do, and there’s also something about us that’s very raw.”
Past SSSS events have included: brunch at the former New York Times headquarters penthouse, an immersive murder mystery dinner party at the Farley Post Office postmaster’s suite, and a full-length theatrical production titled Mermaidenon 2 Penn Plaza, in the shadow of Madison Square Garden — each one quite the production. When these volunteers get together on their own time, though, things look quite different. “When we host the Spring Street Social Society events, we’re working very hard,” says Janelle. “We enjoy what we’ve created, but we don’t often get to sit back and really enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
Boom! The cork from a bottle of sparkling Chenin blanc hits the whitewashed brick wall of Janelle’s apartment. Holding the bottle is a mustachioed Ligas in a thrifted silk women’s blouse, pouring drinks. This afternoon is the time that the SSSS crew will eat, drink, and be merry for themselves and themselves only.
While their “house party” is decidedly more casual than an SSSS dinner, they still can’t help themselves. Littlefield weighs out his fresh coffee grounds on digital scales before evenly distributing hot water — not too hot! — onto them. The Brothers Mueller are busy putting doughnuts through a waffle iron and glazing them with a bourbon and apple cider reduction. The River Union duo show up with a Santa-sized bag of linens and vintage service platters found in and around Hudson Valley.
Ruggiero mans the stove, calling the menu her gutsy brunch, “it’s a gutsy group, so I ran with it.” There are no eggs, but there are plenty of roasted seasonal vegetables, cornbread, and smoky, porky, lusty breakfast beans. “Half of what holds up the big sky of SSSS is Amy, who will always be my troubadour, my cat sitter, and my cowgirl,” says Ruggiero. “So those beans are inspired by those dilapidated cowboy boots of hers.” Plus, something’s got to anchor Sanchez’s beet and poblano pepper Bloody Mary. And there’s a lot of wine ahead.
Janelle makes a speech, Buchanan yodels a cheer, and glasses clink. It’s time for me to go and let the SSSS crew enjoy themselves without a writer scribbling their every move into her notebook.
“Why not spend your life making things that are magical and fun?” says Buchanan as she escorts me to the front door. “I always walk away from our events with the sense of ‘this is the world I want to live in, this is where I want to exist.'”
Photos by Brian Elledge