The Dalloway Woolfs it Down
ABOVE: KIM STOLZ (LEFT) AND AMANDA LEIGH DUNN. IMAGE COURTESY OF MELISSA HOM
The Dalloway, a new restaurant tucked away on Broome Street in Soho, is the sort of place you could stumble into and feel like you’d made a discovery. The space is polished but cozy, hip but inviting: lots of Edison bulbs, a gray crystal chandelier in one corner, bookshelves on the walls. The menu is likewise familiar, but elevated: caramelized Brussels sprouts, egg on cocotte, braised short rib. After dinner, wander downstairs into the lounge and chances are good you’ll find a party: there’s plenty of room for mingling, a cheeky neon sign proclaiming “i’m dry” behind the bar—and, you might happen to notice, an unusually high ratio of women to men.
“If you walked in here off the street at first glance, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m in a great restaurant, a great bar,'” co-owner Kim Stolz says. “If you look a little deeper, there’s definitely a lot of lesbians.” Stolz, who competed in the fifth season of America’s Next Top Model and is currently a vice-president at Citigroup, is openly gay, as is her partner in the business, Amanda Leigh Dunn, who until The Dalloway was working in music licensing and PR. (She was also a cast member on The Real L Word.)
When Stolz and Dunn conceived of The Dalloway, they sought to create a hub for the city’s cool lesbians—and their straight friends, or, as the case may be, grandparents. “My girlfriend brought her grandmother here the other night,” Dunn says.
So far, they seem to be succeeding. When we met the ladies for a drink last week, the restaurant could already count some patrons as regulars—despite being open only a week. As Dunn explained, straight-faced: “People come over and over again.”
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: So, how has your first week been? You look surprisingly well rested.
KIM STOLZ: That’s amazing, because I have definitely not gotten more than five hours of sleep in probably three months. Our first week was really great—I think it was a real team effort; we have a great staff behind us. We’ve actually managed to throw a couple of really great parties this week.
SYMONDS: Can we back up to the very beginning—how did you guys meet each other; how did The Dalloway first get started?
STOLZ: Amanda and I met when I was a news anchor at MTV, and she was immersed in the music community; we met through a mutual friend. We became good friends pretty quickly, and talked on and off for a number of years. Then this past year, we both spent the whole spring—individually, not knowing about each other [thinking the same thing]—thinking the lesbian scene in the city feels like it’s dying. It doesn’t feel like there are these great well-rounded places to go anymore. We had both spent some time thinking about that, and we met up at a party in July and started talking about what we were each up to; I work in finance, and Amanda was doing her own thing. And I was like, “You know what, let’s just do this. This is something we both want to do, let’s combine forces, why not?” That was in July, and this place opened, obviously, a couple weeks ago.
AMANDA LEIGH DUNN: It was pretty fast. And the transition was literally from us just having a conversation to—like, we had each individually looked at places, and we didn’t even know that we were both looking at places. We just were talking about it, and we were like, “This is stupid, why don’t we look together?”
STOLZ: It seems that the primary focus of a lot of LGBT, and especially lesbian, places in the city is drinking and hooking up. And I wanted to create somewhere, and Amanda wanted to create somewhere, where that wasn’t the primary focus—yes, it can be at times, but we also want people to socialize and have a community, and we want the lesbians to feel like they have a home base. Yes, we also want everybody else to come—we have people who are from the straight community who love it, we have people who are my friends who are in banking who love to come here. It’s such a diverse crowd, and it serves so many needs.
SYMONDS: What did this space look like when you first discovered it?
DUNN: [laughs] A tiki bar.
STOLZ: It was a Hawaiian-themed restaurant: very light-colored wood; there was green and red wallpaper everywhere; there was a huge monstrosity of shelves on that wall; there were a lot of bamboo plants. There were so many plants, we had a plant sale.
DUNN: Yeah, there were probably over 100 plants.
STOLZ: We didn’t really sell any, we sold basically none.
DUNN: It was so funny: we did a plant sale-slash-open call for staff.
STOLZ: Everything was so fast. We were trying to hire staff the same time we were trying to sell the plants, so people would come in and we’d be like, “Plants or a job?”
DUNN: We’re like, “Okay, you can take a plant home with you.” They were like, “No thanks.”
SYMONDS: [laughs] It does seem like this came together faster than most venues do. When you were assembling your team, what were you looking for, in terms of who would help you design the space and the menu?
STOLZ: Well Amanda designed the space so we had no hope—no help in that regard. [laughs]
DUNN: Amanda designed it, so we had hope whatsoever. [laughs]
STOLZ: No, we didn’t need any help in that regard, is what I meant to say. I kind of helped her, but it was her vision; she really designed the space. And as for the staff, what we knew is that we needed people that knew a lot about restaurants, because neither of us do. I go to a lot of restaurants—actually, not anymore, I just come here—but I used to. My fiancée actually used to run a few different restaurants in the city, so we hired her to be the operations manager, which has been great. Everything just kind of happened; people were ready to leave their jobs right when we needed to hire them.
We had originally thought we were just going to open a bar—that was the first vision that we had. And then we found this space, and we loved it, but it seemed too big for a bar. It’s really big—were you downstairs?—it’s a lot of people, that’s a lot of lesbians. We weren’t sure if we should take this space; we loved it, but it seemed too big. And then I met [executive chef] Vanessa [Miller]. We were originally just thinking bar food, small plates, whatever… She said to me, “Let me just do a tasting for you guys,” and I was like, “Why would I reject a free tasting?” The second she finished the tasting, I was like, “Amanda, we need to change our vision; this needs to be a restaurant.”
DUNN: There was no question at all, between the two of us.
STOLZ: It felt right. I didn’t really want to open just a bar, I wanted to open an amazing restaurant that my parents would want to come to and my friends would all congregate at. And I think what’s great about this place is that you come in for dinner, go downstairs and dance, and then at the end of the night, when you want that kind of late-night meal, you can come right back upstairs, have drinks around the table with your friends, and have a bite. Our kitchen’s open until we close.
SYMONDS: Vanessa’s super young, too, right?
STOLZ: Yeah, she’s the youngest female executive chef in the country, is what we’ve heard.
DUNN: That’s what we think. [laughs]
STOLZ: And she’s gay.
SYMONDS: How old is she?
STOLZ: She’s 24.
DUNN: She’s amazing. And she’s never taken a cooking class in her life… A lot of people say if you work in a restaurant or are surrounded by a certain type of food all the time, you just don’t want to eat it anymore, and me and Kim eat here like every night.
STOLZ: I literally eat here every night.
SYMONDS: You mentioned feeling like there was a hole in the scene you wanted to fill—is there a particular lesbian-nightlife heyday that you were trying to call back to?
STOLZ: There used to be more places; we used to have Meow, Clit Club, Cattyshack—I still think the primary focus of those places was drinking and hooking up. I think Rubyfruit tried, but I don’t think it succeeded. You can take your girlfriend here, as much as you can take your parents here, as much as you can take your kid here, as much as you can take your grandmother here, as much as you can take your boss here. That’s what’s so special about this place. It’s sort of like the name—unless you really look into it, you don’t realize it’s a Virginia Woolf reference, or most people don’t.
SYMONDS: You’ve talked a little bit about how the restaurant fills a niche, or differs from the average lesbian bar in the city— what about in your own lives? How do you undo the ordinary or escape routine?
STOLZ: I work as an equity derivative sales trader at a big investment bank from about 6 am to 5 pm every day. The hours outside of that are either spent here or doing press or working on the end of my book. Well, I finished my book—it’s being published in June.
SYMONDS: Oh, wow, congratulations. When is it out?
STOLZ: That’s the other thing I do, and then I’m getting married. It’s being published by Rodale; it comes out in June and it’s called Can’t Stop: Why We’re Obsessed With Social Media and What To Do About It. It’s kind of on the impact of social media, smartphones and reality television; our generation, and the ways it’s changed our personalities, our ability to pay attention in conversations, our ability to stay loyal in relationships: just kind of the general way our personalities have changed. So it’s about that, it’s about a lot of the negative and how you can find a happy medium. Between that and this and getting married and the job, it’s tough to have a routine, because I just don’t sleep.
STOLZ: Can I say one thing? Take a look at that table over there. There are three clearly successful, very fashionable older lesbians. When are you going to see them any other day at any other lesbian spots in the city that exist now? You wouldn’t. And they’re here to have a nice dinner with each other, hanging out, talking about their jobs, whatever they’re doing—that makes me so happy. They were probably going to straight places for dinner before, and now they’ve got this to go to. It’s awesome.
THE DALLOWAY IS NOW OPEN TUESDAY THROUGH SUNDAY AT 525 BROOME STREET. FOR MORE ON THE RESTAURANT, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.
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