For the past two years, on (almost) every fourth Saturday of the month, our apartment turns into a part-time restaurant. Sixteen to 20 people show up at our gate over by the Domino Sugar Factory, tucked under the Williamsburg Bridge, to eat with people they've never met. We call it Neighbor.
The first dinner was nerve wracking. We spent all week preparing. We went through the schedule over and over and over and over again. We worried about everything. Who would come? Will they think it's weird? Will they like the food? Miraculously, 12 of our friends and their friends showed up. We served mushroom toast, hazelnut & chard ravioli with butternut squash croutons, brick chicken with brown sage butter and root vegetables, and meyer lemon ice with shortbreads. We screwed up a few things. We definitely didn't give a few people knives, and probably didn't refill glasses enough. Small things that we just forgot. But they didn't matter. People were meeting, talking, laughing and sharing. By the time we dropped that last dessert plate, it all felt perfect.
There's something about opening up your home for a meal that makes people fast friends; something people seem to gravitate towards when they're in our house. Maybe that's because we're doing something that's normally reserved for close friends. People offer to help us cook. They ask if they can help do dishes. They stay talking with us hours after the meal is done. Being that friendly and open, especially in a city like New York where people don't usually hang out in their homes, makes people feel welcome.
One of our friends brought someone named Andrew to that first meal. Within the first hour of meeting him, he shared all the things he wanted to do in life. Over the past two years, we've seen him do them. He ended up coming to our wedding.
A girl named Jennifer showed up one meal. Some people walk through the door, and we have no idea what they're going to think. It's not like they're going to a restaurant. There's a cat running around. A motorcycle in the living room. It's a home. We worry about everyone enjoying it, but she was ecstatic. A year later, we got to make a four-course birthday dinner for her and 15 of her closest friends, one of whom came to the following dinner, and brought three of her friends. And one of those just signed up for the meal this month.
Then there's Ryan. He's not only been to more meals you can count on your hands, he's even tended bar at some. He's the guy who comes up to the kitchen not just to tell you his favorite dish, but his least favorite, and why. Yet, he keeps coming back. He's even shot the photographs for this article.
Every fourth Saturday, we meet a few new neighbors. One day we'll do it everyday.
On April 27, 2013, host a Neighborday party. Join this global celebration and follow the conversation at good.is/neighboring.
Original photos courtesy of Ryan Patterson