Brooklyn’s newest underground speakeasy is one of those places we all look for in a dining spot/drinking hole: a place you can feel at home. The Hester is an underground, word-of-mouth music café and lounge in Brooklyn. It fuses local food, great music and, best of all, Jewish conversation. The venue was once a Brooklyn home, and has since been revamped into an inviting supper club with a warm atmosphere. This homey hotspot has quickly become a hub of Jewish nightlife and mingling. We reached out to founder Itta Werdiger Roth to find out why this mixture of gourmet kosher food with soulful music seems to be sparking a new love for Jewish culture, as well as a few love connections on the side!
JDate: Tell us about The Hester.
Itta Werdiger Roth: The Hester is a monthly restaurant with live music. We call it a speakeasy because there is a secretive element to it as it is a home transformed into a bar. Two bands play at each event, and at least one of the bands always has a Jewish connection. The food and the kitchen are always kosher, to the highest standard. Most of the crowd (if not everyone) is Jewish, but with a very large and diverse mixture in terms background, age, religious level and affiliation.
JDate: Why did you feel there was a need for a place like The Hester in Brooklyn’s Jewish community?
Itta Werdiger Roth: I had always dreamed of going to a place where I could listen to great live music and eat really good food. I didn’t know that I would (or even could) make it happen though. I had no idea what city it would be in, but moving to New York in 2007, and living here since, has definitely helped a lot. This city somehow makes you feel that you can do anything. It was also obvious to me that there was a need for it. I used to work at a restaurant that had the most creative and amazing food, but with the same iPod® playlist on repeat every single day for more than a year.
Music-wise, we’re in New York! There’s a bunch of high-end Jazz clubs, like The Blue Note for example, and there are countless bars that offer live music and food, but where can you go and eat if you’re kosher? And I’m not just talking about a packet of chips from the corner bodega at midnight because you’ve got the munchies and there’s nothing else. I’m talking about gorgeous menus and delicious food that I shop for and prepare with a lot of love.
JDate: We hear The Hester is helping young Jewish singles connect! Tell us about that.
Itta Werdiger Roth: Most of the crowd is Jewish, and most of the crowd is young, and many of them are single. At a conventional kosher restaurant there is no space, or very little space, for people to mingle and meet each other. Plus, in a regular bar it’s often all about meeting other people, but the odds are, they’re probably not Jewish. Jewish singles events can sometimes be too purposeful and a conference, or some other event through a Jewish organization, might also be a great place to meet, but there won’t be dim lighting, lots of booze and candles on the tables. The Hester certainly creates an optimal space for Jewish singles to meet and mingle comfortably.
JDate: When you set out to create The Hester, did you ever think it would serve as a sort of matchmaker service as well?
Itta Werdiger Roth: Not at all. Even though I do personally love to dabble in matchmaking, there were so many other things on my mind when I created The Hester. I had to decide what sort of music to feature, how to set up the kitchen, set up a PA system, and purchase tables, chairs, and lots of wine glasses! It is definitely not a matchmaking service, but the other night there was a couple who arranged to meet here. I don’t know if they had just started dating, but they were sitting out in the front with a candle in between them well after everybody left. We had already turned the lights and music off. It was about 3 AM when I reached my head out as I was locking the door and said, “You two just stay out here as long as you want!” Then, I went to sleep smiling.
JDate: Why do you think The Hester could be a place for young Jewish singles to meet?
Itta Werdiger Roth: It’s a relaxed atmosphere. There are couples and friends hanging out. There are older people who just want to sit with our cheese plate and sip wine. The music is the main feature, but you can also move away to a quieter place to have a conversation. It’s not an obvious place for singles to meet so it’s not awkward or contrived at all, and there are often people who happen to know each other and a lot of casual introductions happen effortlessly.
JDate: From your experience so far, do you have any words of advice for JDaters®?
Itta Werdiger Roth: Hmm… I’m not an authority on the matter, but keep your spirits up and always stay positive, with dating, and with life in general. There is someone out there for everyone.
JDate: The Hester is also helping young Jewish singles connect in another way, by getting involved with the 2012 ROI Summit this year. The ROI Community connects dynamic Jewish leaders from around the globe. Why do you feel it’s important for Jewish innovators to connect?
Itta Werdiger Roth: To share and learn from each other. We live in an age where networking can be as simple as a click on a mouse and a few taps on a keyboard. The world feels small sometimes, but also impersonal so it’s really special to be able to meet people, real people, in the flesh and blood, and get to know them face to face. People are working on different projects all over the world and all the energy that comes together must be amazing. Lynn Schusterman (the founder of ROI) obviously wants to change the world because I can’t think of a more powerful way to do it.
My own project makes me so excited about the future and the potential of it. Sometimes I’m so high on energy at the end of an event that I can’t even focus on cleaning up, and other practical things, because my mind is spinning with adrenaline, thinking about the potential of my little idea. Imagine more than 150 people with projects that make their heart beat stronger and their blood pump faster, sharing the same space and talking for four days straight. All I can say is, wow!