On First Ave., matchmaking with a modern twist

At the Modern Love Club, from left, photographer Kristin Gallegos, founder and C.E.O. Amy Van Doran, friend Arielle Crawford, partner and C.O.O. Emily Lesser and sometime curator Marina Press, with pooches, from left, Juniper, Piola and Odette. The photographs on the walls are by Gallegos. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | The history of matchmaking is long and complicated, but we would presume to sum it up as follows.

The Old World: The local matchmaker tells you, “This is who you are going to marry.”

The New World: A computer tells you, “This is who you should marry.”

The Modern World: Amy Van Doran tells you, “This is what you’re going to have to figure out about yourself if you’re going to find the right person to be with.”

Van Doran, founder and C.E.O. of The Modern Love Club, has been called “the first feminist matchmaker.” In a profession that she says is “usually geared toward men,” she has a business model that puts women on equal footing with the men. And if her clients — men or women — are going to find romance, they are going to have to “change their way of thinking — change their patterns,” according to Van Doran’s business partner Emily Lesser.

After operating for nine years in a more conventional office setting, Van Doran set up shop in a storefront at 156 First Ave., between E. Ninth and E. 10th Sts., about a year ago. Her experience, however, goes back much farther.

“I was trying to fix up my friends in second grade!” she told The Villager. And, when she was 5 years old, she matched up her dad with her stepmom. Something says this is where she was meant to end up. But it wasn’t until a stint running a boutique on E. Ninth St. convinced her that she was destined for a different kind of management.

Amy Van Doran, C.E.O. of the Modern Love Club.
Emily Lesser, C.O.O. of Modern Love Club.

“The shop wasn’t very busy,” she recalled. “The regular East Village folks all came in, realized that I had no place to go and would sit and talk about their love lives. I started to become an armchair therapist.”

Lesser, the club’s C.O.O., is actually studying psychology. When Lesser came on board two-and-a-half years ago, she had enough going for her that she replaced four people. The two are very much in agreement about their approach to their trade.

“We approach it in a creative way,” Lesser explained.

“We’re making matchmaking more fun,” Van Doran added, “more of a party.”

The pair’s opinions frequently find common ground. Take, for example, the myth of the soulmate.

“If you’re looking for one, you’re wasting your time,” Van Doran stated.

Or the absurdity of reality shows like “The Bachelor.”

“Hysterical,” said Lesser. “So much emotional manipulation.”

They both love hearing people’s stories — “I’m a very nosy person,” Lesser noted — and between them, they interview nine prospective mates per day. Some become paying clients and some go into the “Rolodex” as possible matches.

The storefront is an interesting setting for those conferences, as it doubles as an art gallery and occasionally as a litmus test.

“It’s a cool place for people to hang out,” Van Doran noted. “Sometimes a piece gets sold [to an interviewee], and sometimes they hate the art. The way that people react says something about them.”

According to her, the matchmaking service supports the gallery, so she is not worried if an art show doesn’t make money. She is much more concerned with creating a community.

Curator Marina Press, a 10-year veteran of a prestigious art gallery, is a friend of Van Doran who recently put together a successful group show for the shop. She loves being connected to an East Village gallery that’s in it for art’s sake. “It’s amazing that we can put our friendship together in a work context,” Press said. “When people walk in here they feel like they have discovered something special.” Photographer Kristin Gallegos found the Modern Love Club was the perfect place for her first solo show.

“The vibe there is very retro — it was perfect for my work,” she said.

“The gallery is an extension of the business; it’s not the main thing, but somehow it all seems connected,” Van Doran explained. “I like to bring people together,” she added.

Photographer Kristin Gallegos in the environment that she created for her show at the Modern Love Club. Written on the window is “Disappear Here,” the title of her show.

Not everybody makes the grade for their services, though. Van Doran chooses her clients carefully; she won’t take their money if she doesn’t feel comfortable working with them. Using a metaphor from the art world, she pointed out that if her clientelle “is not super-curated, it doesn’t work. We’re on an intense journey with our clients,” she said. “We think of them as an extended family.”

They believe that everyone has issues (and not much surprises them anymore) but no one is undateable.

“We’re always looking for interesting, intelligent people for our clients,” Lesser stated. “Even if this is something that they normally wouldn’t do, they should try us out.”

Although most of the romantic candidates they deal with are between the ages of 30 and 55, they can range from 18 to 72 and that presents different challenges.

“Eighteen-year-olds need more perspective, 72-year-olds need less” said Van Doran. She is not afraid to tell people how she feels.

“I’ve been on a truth tirade lately,” she admitted.

Summing up why the Modern Love Club is successful, she simply said, “I think that I’m the best at what I do, and others agree.”

In fact, they do. One satisfied client, who calls Van Doran “a pied piper of cool, interesting people,” went on to say that Van Doran is “completely enchanting, a good listener, and deeply smart. So you feel confident in her taste level and understanding of what you’re looking for.”

Another happy customer (recently engaged) wrote to Amy to say, “When I first met you, I thought, She really sees me, I have to try this, she might actually be able to help me find love. And you did. You really did.”

It might seem obvious why it’s called the Modern Love Club, but asking the question elicits an unexpected answer.

“Ha!” Van Doran laughed. “I just really like David Bowie.”

For more information, visit https://modernloveclub.com . Matchmaking and gallery viewing are by appointment with Emily Lesser, at [email protected] . The next show, featuring paintings by Jenna Gribbon, is opening Dec. 11, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., and is open to the public.