WHAT VENUE COULD be better for a bar mitzvah celebration than a former synagogue? Very few, if that venue is a beautiful 19th century building on Manhattan's Lower East Side, notes David Turk, president of New York-based Indiana Market & Catering, which provided event planning and catering for a February bar mitzvah at the site. The synagogue, purchased in 1986 by artist Angel Orensanz and now overseen by his foundation, was inspired by the famed Cologne cathedral. “It's a spectacular space — it provides a blank canvas for event design,” says Turk, who recommended the site to his client, the bar mitzvah boy's mother, for the 160-guest event.
The expansive venue was also perfect for the “Club X” theme, inspired by the guest of honor's love of music and the initial of his first name. Turk brought on New York-based event designer Liz Sanzo, CSEP, to transform the building into a chic nightclub. “The client and I walked through the synagogue — the venue is very old and worn, very authentic,” Sanzo says. “She really wanted the feel of a club, and I told her that a club is going to have some great things to see, but it's the atmosphere that's really cool.”
To create that cool atmosphere, Sanzo designed distinct spaces for guests to move through during the evening. An upstairs balcony rimming the perimeter of the synagogue was turned into a “Club Blu” area using bold lighting that included a blue “water wash” — an undulating effect that simulated ocean waves — on the walls. “With a smaller budget, what I've learned is that when you can't include every detail,” she says. “You have to use very strong elements like the [lighting] that transformed this scene.”
Following the reception, guests moved downstairs for dinner and dancing. The venue's main space housed a dance floor and dining tables for the adults, who dined on an elegant three-course meal. On both sides of the main room, separate areas gave the young guests their own places to party. On one side, long sofas and ottomans created a cool lounge area, while a huge plasma screen TV and smoothie bar provided entertainment and refreshments. On the other side of the room, a “cafe” with a pasta station, fajita bar and dessert bar offered kid-friendly fare. Music from a live band, X-shaped gobos and pulsing red lights added to the club vibe.
At the end of the evening, the late-night revelers were given mini boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and copies of the New York Times — another detail that helped make the event a success, Turk says. “This was not the bar mitzvah budget to end all bar mitzvah budgets — a lot of this event used some clever ideas that appeared to cost a lot more than they did.”