The SoHo Host Club, a group of chivalrous young men born out of AniMiniCon, a New York-based convention that brings together fans of anime, manga, and Asian culture, recently celebrated its first birthday. I first met the group and its founders, Alexandra Honigsberg and Kim Kindya – who are also the organizers of AniMiniCon – last fall. To celebrate the unique club’s anniversary, I am posting “The SoHo Host Club Wants to See You Smile,” which was first published on Examiner.com in October 2010.
Alexandra Honigsberg and Kim Kindya wanted butlers. It’s only fair, right? The epiphany hit the longtime friends at last year’s New York Anime Festival, when they checked out the Maid Cafe and wondered why there were no men serving the majority female demographic at one of the largest pop culture festivals on the planet. Sure, girls wearing French maid costumes and speaking Japanese niceties to their “masters” was a nice idea, but what about something for the “mistresses”?
Honigsberg and Kindya weren’t looking for boy toys. No, it was about manners – chivalry and politeness – more than anything else. They became serious about forming a group this January. Kindya, the Assistant Director of the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art, had been organizing musical concerts at the gallery when her boss, John Ordorver, suggested they put together a three-day event, a convention of sorts. Kindya, who has a long-standing affinity for science fiction and Japanese animation – “I’ve been a fan of anime since there was only one Mobile Suit Gundam,” she says – developed AniMiniCon SoHo.
Meanwhile, Honigsberg, a classically trained musician who toured with the American Symphony Orchestra, had been teaching herself orchestral versions of anime soundtracks. Although Honigsberg had previously shunned anime, within the last few years she started appreciating Ouran High School Host Club, a series that features a poor, smart girl attending a high school with rich, good-looking young men who are members of a club that entertains female clients. During a late-night web surfing session, Honigsberg asked herself, “Why don’t we have a host club like that?” She composed an ad and placed it on Craigslist with the goal of having a group of men serve tea and mingle with guests at AniMiniCon SoHo. Honigsberg noticed that too many people at gallery openings and art shows were standing alone and not engaging with each other. She wanted to create a group that would start conversations with people and bring them out of their shells.
- Five minutes after Honigsberg placed the ad, Alex Tenshi was the first to answer. An actor who admits to being shy, Alex thought participating in a host club would help him be more social.
- Andy Seto, an architect who appreciates the design and structure of Japanese anime, also answered the ad because he believes we need more gentlemen and well mannered people in the world.
- Kindya recruited her younger brother, Christian Kindya, a hairdresser, stylist, and “ball of energy” who lives in Connecticut.
- Honigsberg knew Kennie G. from St. John’s University, where she’s an ethics professor. Ken noticed Honigsberg’s messenger bag was emblazoned with Hitsugaya, a character from the Japanese anime Bleach. After the two discussed anime, Honigsberg brought Kennie into the fold.
Thus, the SoHo Host Club was born.
- The club debuted at Kindya’s AniMiniCon in late July . At the well attended three-day event celebrating Japanese anime, manga, and culture Salvatore Torres showed up at the request of a friend, and he quickly became the fourth member of the host club.
- Daven Peng attended the AniMiniCon’s tea party to “test the grounds.” The aspiring model and dancer decided the club would be a good way “to get your face out there,” and he was intrigued by the idea that the club’s events are generally centered around the arts and fashion.
- Honigsberg’s Bleach bag reeled in another host after she literally ran into Mason Taylor at a Starbucks. Mason, a singer-songwriter and keyboardist for the alternative rock band a’tris, is a native of Charlottesville, Virginia, and learned proper manners at cotillion school.
The concept of “host clubs” in Japan conjures up a slightly negative picture of after-hours bars where women, who are typically hostesses or work in Japan’s sex industry, pay men to pour them drinks and keep them company. This, Honigsberg stresses, is not what the SoHo Host Club is about. Instead, the group serves tea (Harney and Sons Fine Teas is a corporate supporter) on fine china and engages in the fine art of conversation.
Alexandra Honigsberg and Kim Kindya wanted butlers. When they formed the SoHo Host Club, the selling point was “we love to see our guests smile.” They had no idea how much they’d be smiling, too.
Since that first article, the SoHo Host Club held and attended a variety of events around New York, welcomed Timothy Focking Floro into the fold this spring, and now boasts more than one thousand friends on Facebook.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of entering the SoHo Host Club’s world of beauty, the upcoming AniMiniCon on August 12 through 14 is the perfect opportunity. The second annual, three-day extravaganza features anime screenings, a cosplay party, and guest speakers Lizbeth Jimenez and Brian Mah, who will hold a manga drawing demonstration and an animation cel workshop, respectively. SoHo Host Club president Honigsberg will perform on viola to anime clips at a concert Saturday night. Doing what they do best, the gentlemen of the SoHo Host Club will serve tea and snacks at the Gothic, Lolita, Steampunk, Victorian, and Cosplay Tea Party on the final day of the con.
To see the complete schedule of AniMiniCon and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.animiniconsoho.com/