On Saturday, the High Line found another use for its sprawling public space—that is, other than as a cruising site or vantage point for watching the sun set over New Jersey. In an event called A Social Soup Experiment, Friends of the High Line teamed up with Eater, Edible Manhattan, Slow Food and The Green Table for their first ever communal meal.
The menu—hitting all the foodie catch-words (seasonal, sustainable, and locally sourced)—consisted of a bean and farro soup, Hot Bred Kitchen rye and persian flat breads, Organic Valley butter, and a crisp Golden Russet apple—which sounds like a potato, tastes like a Granny Smith and resembles an Asian Pear.
At 12:45, the 112 first-seating diners started gathering round the long row of picnic tables that put the Last Supper to shame. Brown paper signs—also likely locally grown and produced—hung on the back wall reading, “soup awakens & refines the appetite,” “eating is an agricultural act,” and “soup eliminates the tension of the day.” A lone guitarist played jazzy tunes in the background.
“Soup, in so many ways, is a first course, and so, this is our first meal on the High Line,” explained Director of Food and Revenue at the High Line Melina Shannon-DphodiPietro. “It is also a nourishing meal, and every culture has soup, and so to bring together this simple meal that every culture has felt to us like the right tone.”
Our spirits were positively warmed.
It may be no surprise, however, that the attendees of the event were mostly limited to varied shades of white. There were gray-bearded, fedora-wearing fathers with their LL Bean-clad children; a smattering of androgynous, tight-jeaned cool kids; and small groups of young-hearted middle-aged women redefining “ladies who lunch.”
Regardless, Ms. Shannon-DphodiPietro championed the event’s community-building focus: “One of the things that the High Line does is bring people together, and food is, of course, a traditional way of bringing people together. It’s a universal way of bringing people together.” Remarkably, people were quite friendly when it came down to divvying up one big bowl of healthy, hearty, nap-inducing soup. A social experiment indeed.
“We spent all of this time when we were creating the High Line focused on the design of the plantings and the stairs and how it looked, but really, ultimately, what makes this such a special space is the social dynamics of what happens up here—how people interact in it and have social experiences. So something like this is really sort of magical,” said co-founder of Friends of the High Line Joshua David of the event. But with just 45 minutes to sit and eat, no long lasting friendships were forged.
Still, people seemed to be enjoying themselves, and enjoying one another. “Great idea—everyone loves soup,” diner Jackie Morris said about her initial reaction to the event. “It would be so cute to eat with a bunch of people in New York on the High Line. It’s a very New York moment.” Having taken part in the event, stuffed with a bowl and a half of black beans, navy beans, Jacob’s cattle beans, pinto beans, and cannellini beans, “I feel warm inside,” she said.
Others, however, weren’t so satisfied. “I think the main thing I was hoping for was to get flashed while eating soup outside,” said her date, Joe Blankholm. “So I am really disappointed that there’s a lot of glare coming off the Standard Hotel right now, because it’s fucking with my total experience,” he lamented, referring to his front-row seat at Andre Balazs’s towering public peep show. “I was really hoping for some middle-aged full frontal.”