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magazine | Gatherings | Dinner Parties
How to Build a Creative Community According to the Spring Street Social Society Co-Founders
Dylan Essertier
by Dylan Essertier



If there are two people we trust to advise us on building an incredible creative community, it’s the co-founders of Spring Street Social Society Patrick Janelle and Amy Virginia Buchanan. Since the society’s launch in spring of  2012, the creative couple has been offering immersive dinner club events throughout New York that never fail to make us swoon, whether that’s dinner in a former New York subway station or in the marbled lobby of an abandoned bank in the Financial District.

Recently, we visited the duo in their new offices in Chinatown, where high above the open-air fish markets, hole-in-wall restaurants, and entertaining souvenir shops they are in the midst of settling into a serene, industrial-chic space perfect for dreaming up their next batch of creative magic. Read on to discover Patrick and Amy’s tips and tricks on everything from how to build a creative community to how to throw a one-of-a-kind dinner party.

 




Can you share a little bit about your background and how you met? 

Patrick: Our best ideas actually come from shared beverages. Like True New Yorkers, coffee brought us together. 

Amy: Yes, our drink is a cortado from Gasoline Alley. 

Patrick: So we actually met through a barista at a birthday party. My background is in visual arts and graphic design. In 2012, I had just moved to New York and was working at Bon Appétit  magazine as a graphic designer, but had a strong background in hospitality as I had also worked at the Ritz Carlton for a while, as well as done some work as a restaurant server. Throughout my life I dabbled in theater as well, so my world was very much visual design with a foundation in theater and hospitality. 

Amy: My background is in theater. I studied theater in college and then I went to clown school before coming to New York. When Patrick and I met I was very much a typical performance artist in New York, who was working four jobs and doing avant garde downtown performances and a lot of immersive theater experiences. I had also worked in retail as well as catering, so the hospitality and food world was really my day job. The night we met we were introduced as ‘Amy who is the clown meet Patrick who is the graphic designer at Bon Appétit. You’re both creative and will get along.’

Patrick: The one thing that was on my mind when we met was I have this backyard in SoHo and I want to put on a show there. 

Amy: At the time, Patrick had this beautiful backyard on Spring Street. You know when you meet someone at a party and you’re like wouldn’t it be so cool, if…? And then you never do it? Patrick is not that person. At the party we both had our iPhones out and were in the notes section planning the event. People would come over to try to talk to us because we’re both like cute and fun and having this great conversation and we’re just like sorry we’re really busy right now. 

Patrick: We were open to anyone who was willing to contribute to the event, but if they were there just to have a drink with us we had business to tend to. 

Amy: After that we dove in head first without really thinking about if it was a good idea. That was five years ago. We had two weeks to plan the show. We got clip lights, and this big white tarp. Patrick had done an incredible job turning his backyard from a tragic situation into something curated and beautiful with a deck that looked like a stage. We had our friend host it. The show was super lovely. The next morning we got up and went back to Gasoline Alley to talk about what could be better. To discuss what worked and what didn’t work, and to figure out when the next show would be.  






So from that moment you knew it was going to be an ongoing series?

Patrick: No it wasn’t a series at that point, but at the end of the night we both knew it was cool and that we wanted to do something again. And at that point we had called it Spring Street Social Society because we didn’t want to call it Patrick’s Backyard.

Amy: And Patrick being the incredible designer he is, created a logo for us.


So how did it grow from a single gathering in Patrick’s backyard to what it is today?

Patrick: So our first venue was my backyard and then it just got too cold. Amy pulled some strings and suggested we do a cabaret in the bookstore where she was working at the time.

Amy: My manager was like Daria but scarier, while being absolutely so lovable. She was so game, which was cool because there was so much space and so many more people could join in.

Patrick: That was the first time we really thought about holding it in other places than by backyard.

Amy: At the time I had a friend who hosted all of these shows in random spaces, mostly in Brooklyn. She suggested a bunch of incredible venues in Brooklyn where we could host but Patrick insisted that the dinners had to be in Manhattan. I was like, are you kidding me? {laughs}. This is where you’re really going to see the beauty of our relationship because Patrick will say ‘this how it it has to be’. And I’ll be like why? And he’ll be like ‘because it just has to be this way’.

Patrick: From my perspective, in 2012 Brooklyn had become a thing. It was a place where you would expect a bunch of rag tag performers to put on a show in a unique space. For me, I just had this strong feeling that Manhattan was always what drew me here for its culture and community of artists, playwrights, and authors. That’s what I wanted to emulate. And I convinced Amy to emulate that with me. We did our first dinner at Old Bowery Station. A few years later we instituted a membership because it was called the society and we found there were people that were regularly attending the events and we wanted to create some structure around that. So now we have a membership of 275 people in New York and we hold events once a month for them.





What type of events do members get access to?

Patrick: It’s a mix. We do our Secret Suppers: the large scale dining events with large tables with performances that dot the evening in t special places we find. We do Camp Cabaret which is the original thing we did in my backyard which happens once a year, and we do something called Club Confidential. The original idea for Club Confidential was a speakeasy, but we’ve realized it’s now more of a speakeasy dance party. We also have the Parlor Party, which is always held in someone’s home. It’s a salon in the classic sense of the salon, where people host in domestic spaces. At the Parlor Party, the entertainment really comes from the participation of the guests. Membership is $600 annually and then there’s a separate cost for each of event we put on.
 

What makes SSSS events so special? Any entertaining tips?

Patrick: Our goal is that we spend a lot of time making sure the people who are becoming members are really excited and interested in being there. We curate events but we also curate the audience in the sense that audience is going to be the most wonderful people to receive anything share with them.

Amy: I think we are very individual in the sense that we don’t do name cards, we don’t assign seats. We have full confidence that people are going to find their seat on their own. It’s amazing to watch. Some people are so autonomous and brave and sit wherever. At the end of the day, we provide so much to facilitate your success at socializing but we leave it up to you to be an active participant. You have to show up totally game. You really have to be the master of your own social fate.





How can someone become a member of SSSS?

Patrick: Once a year membership opens, and then we have a secret board of current members who help us vet the applications.

Amy: The committee is ruthless. We tell them to think about their selection in terms of who they would want to sit next to for two hours.
 

When creating your events do you start with a point of inspiration?

Amy: There can be just about any point of inspiration. Often, it’s the person. Or we’ll see a show. Or a space.

Patrick: It can really be any of the creative points.





How do you divide tasks?

Patrick: Honestly, it’s very intuitive. Based on the person we’re working with we understand who needs to deal with who. Our duties tend to vary.

Amy: We take into account what our skill sets are, what we like to do, and what we don’t like to do. In the moment we kind of know who needs to do what. We know that if the person needs fancy it’s Patrick.

Patrick: And if they need the warmest midwestern hug it’s Amy!

Amy: It’s funny because we have these versions of ourselves that people see. We use all the resources we have to make the most magic possible. Whenever people ask about collaboration and how we function together I feel like I always say find someone with similar interests and a different skill set. We both see the world differently and process information differently, but that makes for a very dynamic relationship that is both positive and negative. No matter what, we take care of each other. Over the years we’ve gotten very good at balancing the personal with the professional.

Patrick: I think what’s most important is that ultimately we have the same goal. Not just in a vague sense, but there’s a lot of specificity in our goals. For example, we both care about the quality of the food, we both care about the person who is making that food. We want the audience to be surprised. We might go about achieving these things in different ways, but the end goal is always the same. If there’s ever conflict it’s because we see getting to the end goal in different ways.

Amy: Having these goals has made it easier for us to welcome people to our team.

 




How many members of the team do you have now? How big do you see the team getting?

Patrick: There are six of us that are full-time right now, and then we have a photographer who is on retainer and visually telling the stories of our lives. I never pictured a huge team. We love bringing people into the fold who are great at what they do. Part of the reason our team has grown is because the people we’ve brought in can work across the various companies. We’re actually building a new agency called Untitled Secret, which means the team will not only be working across brands internally, they will be executing for our clients as well. It’s important to us that all of the brands really support each other and are proof of concept of what we can do.



Photography: Sam Ortiz


Last but not least, who's your dream dinner guest?

Amy: I honestly don’t have a single guest. I have an ideal type of person that I like to have dinner with and that is someone who likes to ask questions and be asked questions. Someone who likes to engage in what is shared between just us. I don’t want to just have small talk. I want to bond with someone over a meal and a bottle of wine and actually take the time to find out what we have in common.

Patrick: I’m a very inquisitive person, especially when I’m meeting someone for the first time. I hate talking about myself. Finding someone who is truly interested in connecting with you is actually a really strong thing, so I agree with Amy on that point. But if I had to pick, I would say I would love to have dinner with a person—and maybe this is idealized version of someone who doesn’t actually exist—but with someone who has lived in New York for sixty years and has developed close relationships with creatives. This person might not have a name but they can tell the stories of the environments and the people and all these incredible moments shared by creatives that I idolize.

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