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September 23, 2015 |  216 Views
A New York Supper Club: ‘Symposium’
By Evan Kanarakis

Symposium
noun, plural symposiums, symposia  [sim-poh-zee-uh]


1.    A social gathering at which there is a free interchange of ideas on any given subject or topic.


2.    A convivial meeting (as in ancient Greece and Rome), usually following a dinner, for drinking, music and intellectual conversation.


3.    Discussion.


For some, the notion of a ‘supper club’ undoubtedly musters thoughts of their grandmother’s potluck gatherings of old (and the inevitable indigestion that followed). At the contrasting end of the spectrum, others perhaps think instead of exclusive dining clubs that host a limited number of hard-to-get-into events each year demanding an assortment of secret passwords, who-you-know connections and, of course, hefty wallets to secure entry. But of course, like any organization, a supper club can be as relaxed, formal and elaborate as dictated by the wishes of its membership. Or, in the case of New York’s ‘Symposium’ supper club, it can grow unexpectedly and organically in almost two short years from a simple gathering of three close friends to a standing weekly commitment that has entertained over forty different guests at sixty different restaurants.

 

 

Also ReadDate Night in New York: Dinner for Two… At Home

 


For founding members Ed (an Aussie writer), Tom (an Aussie banker) and Mark (a New Jersey native also working in the finance industry),* the inception for Symposium came easily back in 2013. A conversation over beers ventured to the subject of whether they were each enjoying and exploring the city to the fullest. The old friends soon came to the conclusion that they were really only ever experiencing the New York dining scene while out on all-too-rare special occasions or via work dinners. Most of the time they’d simply catch up for drinks or an occasional bite within the confines of their Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, and while those local bars and eateries were favorites for good reason, they weren’t stretching or presenting them with new experiences (and neighborhoods) in one of the world’s great culinary centers. Furthermore, there were huge sections of New York that they had never visited (nor had the impetus to visit), and using good food and conversation as a means to explore would only help them further in laying claim to having lived a ‘true’ New York experience wherein they actually got to know even the farthest reaches of their city.


And so it was: after a random Wednesday dinner that brought all three men together at Hell’s Kitchen’s Mamasita Mexican restaurant, they opted to meet again for dinner the following week, but this time feasting on ribs and grits at nearby Southern Hospitality. Seven days later came the Korean fried chicken fare of Hell’s Kitchen, then gastropub Brickyard and next the sushi joint Ageha. Soon enough, other parts of the city –and other boroughs - beckoned (their first venture out of Hell’s Kitchen was to the Georgian restaurant Oda House in the East Village where the khachapuri came highly recommended) and within another handful of visits they had decided to make this now-supper club official and give it a name – Symposium.


The title was inspired by the ancient Greek social institution of the same name where men would gather for food, wine and entertainment while engaging in an exchange of ideas (so long as the wine hadn’t flowed all too freely). While the intent wasn’t to replicate any of the overt aristocratic exclusivity (and sexism) of Greek symposia, the three friends agreed that determinedly adding an element of intellectual discourse into the mix of dining and drinking could help to elevate their evenings into something more unique and special than ‘mere meal’. This would particularly be aided by the introduction of guests who could bring with them a fresh topic of conversation to lead the evening – if so inclined. The choice of guest would be driven by the group’s desire to promote stimulating dialogue with people that in some way mirrored their own love and affinity for New York (they might disagree on countless other matters like politics, sports and culture – but bring such debate on!). In a city as big as New York, it can be hard to expand one’s social group, views and experiences, but by inviting new faces along most weeks perhaps they might bridge that gap. Ed even printed up a set of business cards that the three friends began to use as a means of inviting potential attendees in the coming weeks and months. 


Symposium’s founding members soon agreed on a loose ‘constitution’ of sorts:
•    To meet every Wednesday for dinner (with obvious exceptions allowed due to intervening family, work and other such commitments that might arise)
•    To never eat the same cuisine in two consecutive weeks.
•    To not dine at the same restaurant within any three-month period.
•    To not dine within the same neighborhood more than twice in a month.
•    To eat in a different New York borough at least once a month.
•    Symposium’s members take turns each week choosing a new restaurant.
•    To remain open to sampling any cuisine, but be respectful of any members’ requests to keep things more reasonable in price over more lavish options in any given week.
•    To convene for an ‘Annual General Meeting’ always at a Michelin Star Restaurant.
•    In the middle of each year, Symposium to invite their favorite guests back for an ‘All Star Dinner’ celebration.

    
Friends of Symposium like to ask how it is they can continue to meet each week and maintain such a commitment. But Ed, Tim and Mark happily dismiss such questions with the simple assurance that maintaining a commitment one truly looks forward is an easy ask. Symposium has opened the three friends up to a truly rich contrast of dining experiences: highlights have spanned such cuisines as soul food (Red Roster and Amy Ruth’s in Harlem), modern American (The Smile in NoHo and Do or Dine in Bedford Stuyvesant), French (SoHo’s Lucky Strike), modern Mexican (Toloache in the Theater District), Spanish (La Nacional in Chelsea), seafood (The Boil on the Lower East Side and Maison Premiere in Williamsburg), German (Edi & The Wolf in the East Village), Polish (Lomzynianka in Greenpoint), comfort food (Jacob’s Pickles in the Upper West Side and The Marshall in Hell’s Kitchen), and iconic New York (Katz’s Delicatessen, Peter Luger’s, the Grand Central Oyster Bar) to name but a few.

 

 

Also ReadFirst Date Dining in New York City

 


But beyond such varied fare, the greatest impact on Symposium’s membership has been the personality, good spirit and conversation of their countless guests. Some attendees have simply been longtime friends who were welcome dining partners for their sheer love of old stories. Others have truly shone for their sheer enthusiasm in staying true to Symposium’s ideals. One guest –an executive in the fashion industry- shared her experiences in that world. Another visitor was a Fulbright Scholar from Switzerland intensely engaged in studying the works and life of Cezanne. On yet another occasion, Symposium actually reunited Mark with a long lost pal he’d experienced a falling out with some years earlier. And, a year on, the three members still talk fondly of the guest who went so far as to bring some of his Polish grandfather’s World War II memorabilia (photos, service medals and cavalry riding spurs inclusive!) along to their dinner at Lomyznianka.


At publication, Symposium has now visited exactly fifty-eight different restaurants and hosted forty-four different guests. In the time since their first gathering at Mamasita in 2013, the trio of Ed, Tom and Mark have sampled some of the best cuisine New York has to offer, they have visited the farthest reaches of all five boroughs, and have spent hours engaging in spirited conversation with an assortment of welcome guests. Whichever way you look at it, Symposium is no mere ‘supper club’. True enough, it has enriched the New York lives of its membership and guests to the very fullest.


*Pseudonyms have been used in this article at the request of Symposium’s membership.

 

_____________________________

 

Evan Kanarakis is an Australian writer whose fiction and non-fiction work has been published around the world. He is also founder of the skateboard design company Devil Street Decks.

 

Evan Kanarakis

 

evan kanarakis

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