Julia Ziegler-Haynes, an artist and former waitress at the Brooklyn restaurant Marlow & Sons, first took to cooking through a rather unusual art project: she researched the final meals of 24 death-row inmates, then prepared them and had them photographed. ‘‘That was the first time I ever really cooked for strangers,’’ she says. ‘‘I was cooking for ghosts.’’ The experience ‘‘broadened her relationship with food,’’ she says, and led her to create the Dinner Bell, a supper club held periodically at her Williamsburg house and, as of this summer, at her home on the North Fork of Long Island. The dinners are four-course affairs attended by about 15 guests who often don’t know each other; they hear of the club by word of mouth and contact Ziegler-Haynes through her Web site (the-dinner-bell.com). ‘‘I like being the chef and the hostess and the person who picks out the place settings and vacuums the rug,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m sharing this art piece with you. Come to my show.’’
For all present, the gathering was a welcome alternative to a typical runway show, prompting one editor to remark, “What a nice way to start the week — without all the gratuitous fashion frenzy.” Guests sat for dinner at eight round tables facing Bond and his band, an arrangement that felt more like a wedding than a fashion show. The three-course meal by Julia Ziegler-Haynes, the creator of the Brooklyn supper club the Dinner Bell, was lovingly prepared, highlighting the best of the early September harvest — a Red Russian kale salad, seared scallops in a sungold confit, shaved cucumbers and radishes, and a pancake cake laden with late-summer fruit accompanied by a glass of Scotch, neat. Before each course, the models walked while the designer looked on from a middle table and Bond crooned covers of songs by Kate Bush, Julie London and the Cure. Comey’s latest pieces were dominated by neutral earth tones, with some tender little dresses and new forays into exotic skins among the standouts. Somewhere between dinner and dessert, a shaggy dog joined the festivities. “Any show with a dog is all right in my book,” a guest remarked.
For Lena’s project, part of which was photographed at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, I knew right away who I had to call: the fabulous Julia Ziegler-Haynes. A Maine native (hip hip!), Julia just gets it. She single-handedly runs a beautiful supper club called, The Dinner Bell, and doesn’t usually cater unless it’s something she’s really feeling. I was glad that my friend was into our project. She said YES from the very beginning (I love it when that happens).
I asked Julia to create a week of homemade breakfasts, warm lunches and reasonable snacks, all on a tight budget. She dove in and what she came up with was just incredible. The entire team absolutely loved taking an hour-long, mid-day, break to sit together and share warm food. The food itself was so nourishing and meaningfully prepared. Julia is just so good at bringing people together. I felt she knew exactly what we would need. She kept it simple and she made it happen.
Instead of a show, Ms. Comey served a light dinner (prepared by Julia Ziegler-Haynes of the Dinner Bell) while the models walked around the tables. Everything ran late, and nobody seemed to care. Justin Vivian Bond, a friend of the designer, sang several songs. Dessert was a big fat cake layered with fruit and served with Scotch. At my table, where the guests included Ms. Sherman, Todd Thomas and Alexandra Auder, everyone dug in.
Julia, who runs The Dinner Bell, another supper club in Williamsburg, says hers is an attempt to duplicate a traditional family dinner. “I guess that makes me the grandma stirring the sauce on the stove, telling everyone to ‘sit and take a load off,’” she says. “I’ve found that diners who can relinquish a little control to get into the groove of a set menu and jump head-first into dining amongst new acquaintances really appreciate the experience.”
A self-described "artsy" kid from Maine, Julia Ziegler-Haynes comes from a family that's "big into cooking." And some things never change. At 32, Ziegler-Haynes is not only responsible for some truly challenging artwork, she's also the one-woman army behind one of New York's most beloved, "secret" supper clubs. Like many others of its kind popping up all around New York, The Dinner Bell is helping to change the way we think of a night out or an evening meal. Unlike those others, however, this one offers four courses conceived, cooked, and served by someone who considers dinner an art form. So, we pulled Ziegler-Haynes away from the kitchen long enough to see how she went from R.I.S.D. to dinner, and how soggy pizza is just bad art.
“Here’s the address. Just knock loudly,” read my first invitation to The Dinner Bell, a Brooklyn supper club in a secret Williamsburg location, complete with four courses, four wine pairings and an unannounced menu.
The hostess and founder of The Dinner Bell, Julia Ziegler-Haynes, greeted her guests with shandies in Champagne glasses as she popped pans in the oven and chopped greens. Julia is a supper club creator, but also an artist, a designer, and a Rhode Island School of Design graduate. She moved to Brooklyn after graduation for a job in the restaurant industry. Waitressing at some of the city’s most exciting eateries, she learned how to prepare seasonal ingredients and gained a vision for her culinary future.
Proust's famous madeleine manifests the power of food to stir up some of our most profound memories. But what if having a meal was your last personal moment before death? That's the question the artist and chef Julia Ziegler-Haynes explores in her project Today's Special, a new book published by OHWOW that illustrates the final meals—sometimes called "special meals" by prison workers—requested by death row inmates on the brink of their execution.
When the day of my Dinner Bell dinner finally comes, I decide to arrive a bit early. It’s Julia herself who opens the door for me: she’s a brunette with intelligent eyes, bright red lipstick and vintage sequined top worn with jeans and – of course – an apron. She may be at the stovetop, but she cooks in style.
The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, but intriguing all the same. Julia completes her beet rotolo while telling me how this lovely venture began. "I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and then moved to New York. But it wasn’t easy getting into the job market. So I was a waitress for five years in various restaurants, which was useful because it was when I realized that I loved food, good company, and the dynamics connected to this world. And then I just added a bit of skill."
Tonight, she’s invited 25 or so close friends to celebrate her new diamond collection, which she debuted in April at Barneys New York (and sold 70 percent of in 10 days) and this month will launch at the department store’s Beverly Hills post. “I hate going out. Hate it,” she says. Even if it’s last minute, “I totally do not have preparty anxiety. Like the time I had 50 people here, I got off a plane at 3 p.m. and had guests at eight.” Typically, she’ll cook, but like any seasoned hostess, she knows how to delegate. Brooklyn-based artist, friend, and “the most hysterical human being ever,” Julia Ziegler-Haynes prepares the menu (lamb chops, couscous, stone fruit and fig salad, and for dessert, lavender ice cream), enlisting help from boyfriend Chris Bear of folk-rock band Grizzly Bear. Neuwirth’s writer-director beau Phil Lord strings light-bulbs over the dinner table.
All over Brooklyn, foodies have founded underground supper clubs, holding quasi-secret dinners in private homes, out of view of the health department. Julia Ziegler-Haynes, an artist and former waitress at Marlow and Sons, holds court twice a month in her “lovely house in Williamsburg,” a recent attendee told us. “She is an amazing cook and knows how to gather the creative community to share a delicious meal in a comfy environment.” As Julia herself told Paper magazine last year, it’s all about the social experience. “I think it’s unfortunate the restaurant industry doesn’t nurture that more. Time is money, tables are money,” she said. “I like that people can come here knowing they have time reserved for them and only them.”
"I don't want the Dinner Bell to just be 'Let's all sit and moan and go crazy over the food.' That's part of the experience -- it's also about getting to know people. The first course, you're breaking the ice and by the end everyone's drunk and exchanging emails. I think it's unfortunate the restaurant industry doesn't nurture that more. Time is money, tables are money. People are getting engaged and the waitress is coming by like, 'Are you all finished with that?' I like that people can come here knowing they have time reserved for them and only them."