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Rachel Bachrach

It’s that time of year again, when hundreds of eligible young men are released onto the rosters of eager shadchanim. While these new daters get their feet wet in some of the most popular shidduch spots, how do the yeshivishe dating rituals look to the non-Jewish waiters and restaurant managers who provide the backdrop for those intense two hours? We snuck into some of New York City’s top dating venues to find out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Walk into The Lounge at the Marriott Hotel in Brooklynon any given weeknight, and you feel like you’re stumbling into an alternate universe. It’s one where all of the frum boys wear suits and hats and all of the girls wear black, and couples sit at tables engaging in small talk while sipping drinks demurely.

On this Monday night, five of the seven tables lining the room’s periphery are hosting shidduch dates. To be sure, there’s some variation. One of the girls wears a bold gray; two aren’t wearing heels. Among the boys, there are the hat-on-the-heads, the no-hatters, and the token brought-my-hat-but-took-it-off-and-placed-it-on-the-ledge guy. The girls, save one, are leaning back, and the guys are bending forward (they all need to work on their posture). Some play with the napkin under their water, others with the straw in their glass of Diet Coke.

This is nothing, according to the bartender, who says the night is just beginning. After 8:30 is prime time for shidduch dates, and over the course of the night, they’ll get 10, 20, sometimes even 30 couples — so many that it seems they’re literally streaming in.

“What kind of couples?” a female regular wants to know.

The bartender gestures. “Jewish. Ya know?”

“Like Mormon?” the girl asks.

“Like Hasids,” the bartender answers, nodding sagely.

All around the city and beyond, young men and women are entering different lounges and restaurants, ready to embark on several hours of conversation, drinks, and if it’s far enough into the dating series, a meal. There’s the Hilton Garden Inn across the Verrazano. The Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park. My Most Favorite Food on the Upper West Side. In midtown, there’s Abigael’s on Broadway, with the Marriott Marquis down the block. These venues, among others, have become increasingly popular among frum daters over the years, and staffers and frequent patrons can spot them as soon as they walk in.

“You see this all the time — it’s like this every night,” says another guy at the bar, who fancies himself a maven.

“You’re here often?” asks the girl.

“Yeah. And he told me,” the maven answers, nodding at the bartender. The Marriott, he elaborates, is both classy and convenient because of its proximity to the local Orthodox community.

Soon, the girl and the maven are discussing the system.

“Their families set them up,” explains the maven. “This? It’s an interview process.”

“Speed dating?” she wants to know.

“Something like that, but they don’t rotate. They talk to each other the whole time,” the maven answers.

Or not. While three couples are chatting animatedly, one is a bit more reserved and one is sitting in awkward silence. The Lounge isn’t that large, so the tables are close enough that you can hear from one to the other, which is good for the couple that ran out of conversation half an hour ago. As the boy hears snippets of other conversations, he valiantly attempts to get his own going again.

Marriott administrators say they see these “courting couples” all the time. But because there’s minimal interaction between the couples and the staff, all they know is that frum daters spend a nice amount of time getting to know each other and it’s relatively low-key.

Restaurant staffers, on the other hand, converse a little more with diners, and at Abigael’s they say they know exactly who these couples are and where they’re holding.

“You can spot them,” Jigi Mathew, the affable director of operations, says with a grin. “When we see them, the whole staff knows they’re going to be here for a long time.”

Angel Sanchez, the host, explains that frum dates stay longer than other diners. The restaurant usually assumes two hours per reservation, but shidduch dates can and do sit longer. “Sometimes they’re even here for three hours,” he says. “It doesn’t bother us. We know what they’re here for.”


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