by Eileen Mellon
Upon arrival to the small brick building at 1727 Rhoadmiller St. on Sunday, Feb. 17, ticket holders are greeted by Sarah Choi, founder of Richmond’s Silent Reading Party. She puts a finger to her lips, signaling silence, and hands attendees a square sheet with a list of cocktails and instructions: "1) Go to the bar, order and pay, 2) find a comfy spot, and 3) get your reading on."
After they open the door, guests pull back a dark blue velvet curtain and step into Virago Spirits as light music plays in the background. Before long, the cozy, warm space is filled with a wide array of people sprawled out on plush couches and sitting at tables, face deep in a book and accompanied by a cocktail. The event — it’s free but requires tickets — sold out in 20 minutes.
“I’m an avid reader and an introvert, so when I saw Silent Reading Party pop up, it sounded like a dream come true,” says 26-year-old Rachel Dawson, who has attended every event since Silent Reading Party launched in mid-December.
The “parties” take place once a month and will be hosted by Virago Spirits every other month. Vicki Haneberg of Virago, who has been in the same book club since 1996, knew the location would be an ideal fit.
“It gives [attendees] a nice, public, sophisticated space where they don’t have to engage,” she says. “We wanted it to feel like when you came through that curtain you’re in a different time and place.”
The events are typically attended by an average of 25 to 40 people, depending on the size of the space. Choi says she discovered silent reading parties online in 2016, taking place in major cities such as New York and San Francisco, and the idea of launching the concept in Richmond stuck with her.
“I have a hard time finding time to read and [find it] hard to get quiet time,” Choi says. “I like social obligations, but it’s nice to be somewhere and not be forced to have small talk."
Restaurants and distilleries are an ideal match for the parties because they introduce guests to businesses they may not have been familiar with before. Choi says she seeks out businesses that can close for at least a two-hour time frame and are typically more intimate.
Although there are numerous other book clubs in the city, Silent Reading Party engages readers with businesses on the local dining scene, and the spaces are closed for the private events. Guests simply bring a book, and then they can purchase a drink and relax in silence. They are free to leave when they wish, and the fluidity makes the events approachable and pressure-free.
The Silent Reading Party in January took place at Secco Wine Bar, and Choi hopes to reserve the comfy seats at The Jasper and Laura Lee’s in the future. For each event Choi creates a specific, intentionally minimal cocktail or wine menu. The events at Virago will feature one to two cocktails from their guest bartender series — the last Silent Reading Party featured Captain’s Grog No. 804 from Beverage Director Craig Gordon of The Shaved Duck.
“Its experience-focused, and we want people to come and have an experience — at the core it’s connecting people,” explains Choi, who notes that the most recent event was the first time every single guest read physical books and not electronic reading devices, although they aren't prohibited.
“I think we crave [silence]. There's so much sensory overload; this is to counteract how much we are exposed to at all time,” Choi says. "How can people not feel so alone? If I can create an experience that makes them feel a little bit more connected, that's my joy."
Silent Reading Party forces people to slow down, be mindful and relish silence, which is oftentimes a rarity, while also supporting local businesses. And although no words are exchanged during the event, being surrounded by like-minded individuals fosters a feeling of togetherness.
“The parties are beautifully executed experiences that have really created a fun little niche community in our city,” Dawson says.
Dates are still to be announced for upcoming Silent Reading Parties, with the March event taking place at Urban Hang Suite RVA, the April event at Virago Spirits and the May event at the forthcoming Bateau.
Original Article on Richmond Magazine