If you crave the excitement of in-person events, you’re not alone. And, thanks to one Jersey City resident’s new concept, you won’t be alone much longer.
Arizona native, Alexa Blair Corley longs for the days of dressing with intention– to an office, milestone events, themed parties, etc.. In the meantime, she’s spent months transforming private gatherings into home entertainment opportunities, utilizing vintage cocktail glasses, preparing home cooked meals, and even going from her bedroom to backyard donning a classic Hollywood look. But now, Corley has decided to expand on her talents with a social group aimed at bringing the Jersey City community together– The Jersey City Society, intimate, invite-only events on a mission to support local artisans and businesses through catered awareness.
By day, Corley is digital marketer at a publishing company, a “dynamic and challenging job” where her transferrable skills of event registration, email management, and promotion (to list a few) are all a benefit to her latest venture. With an eye for detail and a love of the unique, after weeks of planning, The Jersey City Society debuted with its first gathering on Sunday, March 21 at Uncle Momo, at 289 Grove Street. Guests dined family style, within their own groups, in the French Lebanese bistro as Corley adorned the tables with handpicked flowers and individually made menus.
What inspired you to start The Jersey City Society?
Alexa Blair Corley: After six years of living in Jersey City, I’ve come to realize that what I love most about this town is the diverse community. Take a look at our restaurateurs, shop owners, and artists— we have neighbors from all over the world who have so much to share! I want to host events that celebrate this and showcase everything they’ve worked so hard for. I want to encourage people to get out of their comfort zone, try new things, meet new people, and let loose a little.
Do you enjoy hosting events?
ABC: I absolutely love hosting, and believe there’s a true art to putting together an event that feels effortless and fabulous; event concepts, menus, and over floor plans, logistics, it all thrills me. Throwing an incredible party requires you to be both hyper organized and creative. I joke that I should have been a Gatsby. Or, I guess a more accurate thing to say is, I wish I could have been a Gatsby, because I truly believe that people need more things to dress up for.
What’s one of the most memorable events you’ve ever attended?
ABC: Shameless answer here, but for my wedding I hosted a dinner at a historic chapel in the Arizona desert. The San Pedro Chapel is a gorgeous mission-style chapel that sits on top of a hill overlooking a sea of creosote bushes and prickly pear cactus. It’s a truly magical place. I worked with a Mexican restaurant that’s been family owned for 100 years to create a menu of house made green corn tamales, polla tinga tacos, carne asada carved table side, fresh tomatillo salsa. We had cervezas and Spanish wine. There was a Spanish guitarist who played throughout the night. We watched the sunset turn the sky shades of orange and red. I honestly wish I could re-live this dinner every day.
Speaking of your wedding. Your best and oldest friend happens to also be your husband, TJ. How has he supported you and this new endeavor?
ABC: I know, how lucky am I? Literally, in his wedding vows he said, ‘Alexa, we met when we were 12. You have officially been in my life longer than you have not. If the last 13 years were any indication, you will keep filling my life with love, excitement, and parties that I have to wear costumes to.’ And I plan to hold him to it. He is such a good sport and never complains when I make him dress up for a 1920s themed party, or wear a kurta for my birthday because I want to have a henna artist and eat naan. Our favorite holiday is Halloween, which is just so telling about us as a couple.
TJ is even more of a people person than I am and he is always the life of the party. He is so supportive of The Jersey City Society and did nothing but make sure I knew he was available to help on the day of our first event. He literally carried a giant box of floral arrangements down Mercer Street for me so they would be there on time for my dinner.
You both grew up in Arizona, hence the wedding bells location. What made you relocate to JC?
ABC: I grew up visiting family on the East Coast and fell in love with New York City the first minute I stepped out of the subway. We moved to 28th Street right after we graduated college, and lived there for about three years. My office was in Hoboken, so I did the reverse commute and wound up making a lot of friends on this side of the river.
When my husband got accepted into an MBA program at Rutgers, a really close girlfriend who lived in Hoboken immediately suggested we move to Jersey City, insisting that I would love it. I clearly value her opinion because we only spent one day in Jersey City before we signed a lease and moved. We really feel at home here.
How did the first event with Uncle Momo come about?
ABC: Uncle Momo is hands down my favorite restaurant in Jersey City. TJ and I spend many of our Friday nights there, sharing mezze plates and drinking wine. We go there so often that we are friends with the team. So, it was inevitable that one of my events would be there. I didn’t plan to host my first event so soon, but the team was considering adding a chef’s tasting menu as an option for dinner and their head server, Lani, suggested we try the concept out. It was the perfect opportunity to work with a group I trusted, and it gave me the push I needed. I knew they would be the perfect partners to bring my vision to life.
So, the menu was a team effort?
ABC: I worked with Lani and Wissam, the owner and head chef, to create the menu. Wissam is originally from Beirut. His culinary experience has taken him all over the world, he even worked in Paris. I wanted this event’s menu to showcase his knowledge, experience, and talent. We had it family style so people were encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and try dishes they may not have otherwise chosen for themselves.
We even included some off-menu specialties— muhammara (walnut and spicy red pepper dip), kibbeh (derived from the arabic word for ball, these have spiced ground lamb, bulgur wheat and pine nuts), chicken pastillas (aromatic spiced chicken in a homemade filo dough pastry topped with powdered sugar).
The menu and decor felt in sync with one another. Was that also a collaborative effort?
ABC: Actually, I did all the decor myself! I handmade the menus, place cards, and floral arrangements. I used paper with Turkish patterns, and chose flowers that felt wild and exotic. I want every detail of the event to transport you into a curated experience. I don’t want these events to be an average night out.
Uncle Momo is bring your own drinks, yet the night was very spirited. How did you curate the wine and drink options?
ABC: This was the perfect opportunity to partner with another JC staple, Jersey Wine and Spirits. I worked with the owner, Greg, to curate a selection of Middle Eastern-inspired wine and cocktails that guests could pre-purchase to pair with their meal. We selected wine from Chateau Musar; Lebanese wine from the Bekaa Valley region where vines have been cultivated for over 6,000 years. We also had Yarden Wines, importers from Katzrin Israel where vineyards are nestled in agricultural villages from the Mishnaic period 10-220 CE. We also chose pre-made cocktails from The Wandering Barman; old fashioned made with date syrup and orange blossom, as well as a gin cocktail with rosewater. Greg was incredibly supportive of the concept. He went above and beyond to create a personal tab on his site where guests could easily find my selections.
Now that the event is over, what would you keep or change moving forward?
ABC: The best part was the energy in that restaurant. It was palpable and I was extremely happy with how the little details turned out. Plus the food was amazing. To me, everything was perfect. But next time I will carve out time for the owner to greet the guests and say something about themselves.
What are your hopes for JCS in six months to a year from now?
ABC: I realize it’s an odd time to start a social society, but the events I am hosting are all COVID safe and compliant. I hope that in six months to a year life will become more normal so we can truly mingle with each other and meet new people. Within the next year I hope to have enough events under my belt so that every JC local knows The Jersey City Society and anticipate what I have planned next.
When I’m craving a coffee: Prato Bakery has the best espresso/cappuccino in town, hands down.
When I need a strong cocktail: Ray at Kitchen Step always delivers.
My favorite new establishment in the area: I don’t know what we did before Cangiano’s! I love that they will gladly talk to me about meat and cheese ad nauseam.
A place I’ll never get tired of eating at: Uncle Momo, of course.
The best atmosphere: The summer outdoor gypsy jazz concerts at Madame Claude’s.