TheSalonHost.com is directly inspired by the community brought together through our founder Susan MacTavish Best’s POSTHOC salons, so it’s only appropriate that we kick off our salon community profile series right at the source. Elegantly simple but artful down to the last detail, a lovingly curated night of homemade food, focused conversation and a little music or poetry becomes a portal to new connections with endless potential. And her philosophy of bringing curious people together as a way of life creates a ripple effect in her guests, who come expecting fascinating, perspective-expanding conversation and thus find it every time.
“Typically we have a 60 year age range at the POSTHOC salons,” Susan explains. “This is so important to me, diversity of age. I’m in my 40’s and I really appreciate having friends who are older and younger than me. I go out of my way to cultivate these friendships and then bring them into the salons. We don’t have that many opportunities these days to meet people across an age spectrum.” Beyond diversity of age, diversity of background and passions is another defining feature of the POSTHOC community, a rotating cast of characters from around the world who gather in New York, LA, London and San Francisco, often in Susan’s supremely vibey home.
“We celebrate individualism in America but stark individualism can be a lonely affair,” she says. “Feeling that we are part of something together, part of a community that cares about a common good, almost all of us desire that sense of place. The POSTHOC salons are a community. Salons aren’t one-off events, they’re ongoing and repeat with regularity. They provide us a sense of familiarity and a tiny bit of structure in our individual chaotic worlds.” What from the outside might look like some degree of cult-of-personality fanfare, attendees of POSTHOC salons know it’s a thrill like no other and an increasingly rare opportunity to get lost in mind-blowing conversations with interesting, deeply curious people. An evening where such magic is practically inevitable is very special indeed, and it seems to come from the intentionality built into the evening’s focus – that’s what a salon is all about.
As one guest, executive director Garth Ross of the Yale Schwartzman Center described, “Susan creates the conditions for flow. Salons at Susan’s loft are welcoming and intuitive social gatherings that naturally flow from arriving, to feeling welcome and unwinding, to meeting good people, to having great conversations.” Taking the evening’s flow off the hands, hearts and minds of the guests has the effect of putting everyone at ease in a such way that seems to naturally open up deeper levels of connection and conversation. It’s the most subtle but prominent feature of the POSTHOC community – Susan’s recurring and even most of her new guests know the flow and become co-facilitators of a “rave for the intellect,” as another one of her guests once described it.
And what is the secret to the effortless and delightful flow of POSTHOC salons? Besides many years of practice, which do help but are certainly not necessary to be able to host a salon, Susan keeps it simple – applying a mix of enthusiasm for the art of salon-ing with fun details + an aversion to perfectionism to a simple format. Snacks/drinks/mingle-time rolls into a homemade buffet-style dinner. Guests sit close wherever there’s a seat, sometimes on the floor, but always next to someone fascinating because everyone invited is curious and kind and accomplished. After dinner Susan rings a bell or taps on an empty bottle with a fork, which means it’s time for 30-60 minutes of a Q&A or performance with a guest speaker, artist or poet. The evening typically ends with some live music or DJ performance, creating the right conditions to potentially lead to a proper rave if the vibe is right and everyone’s not too stuffed full of pork belly.
Whether hosting purely for fun, for a corporate client or in collaboration with POSTHOC grantor Templeton World Charity Foundation, guest-list alchemy is always being performed behind the scenes to achieve the most potently fascinating combination of humans. But no matter how wildly diverse the professional and personal backgrounds of the attendees, a common thread unites her guests. “They are intelligent, generous and deeply curious,” explains POSTHOC salon regular Sohini Chatterjee, an attorney and appointee of President Biden to the US Department of State as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Ambassador of the U.N. “Most have traveled all over the globe and have a wealth of knowledge and cultural backgrounds.”
Offering community members the antithesis of what social interaction is available through screens, the cult of POSTHOC might just be a natural reaction to a the breath of fresh air that is a curated, lovingly prepared interpersonal experience. Contrasted with the isolation and daily doom-scroll loop most of us found ourselves in long before the pandemic hit, being in a room full of folks excited to learn from and about each other is electric. “You come away from a salon shindig having learned something,” Susan muses, “Having had some thoughtful and lively conversations, heard some live music, maybe you’ve flirted with a few people (fun!), and you probably had some tasty food too. You’re nourished emotionally and intellectually. You feel sated. THIS IS HUGE.”
HUGE indeed, particularly since no IRL POSTHOC salon gatherings have occurred since March of 2020. In keeping with local regulations on private gathering sizes, POSTHOC salons resumed in June of 2021, and the community is rejoicing on full blast. “Yes, the olive tapenade is delicious. The drinks are irresistible. Her fashion is to die for,” says recurring guest Lisa Ferri, senior producer at 60 Minutes + CBS News. “But it’s the people that keeps me – and arguably others – coming back: the assurance that I will walk into her home and find myself surrounded by some of the most interesting and intelligent people I could ask for.” Who are the most interesting and intelligent people you know? It’s about time to make a list and invite them over!