What is Polyglot Bar NYC?

Language-lovers of New York, check out the picturesque scene at the Boat Basin Cafe tomorrow night!

Inspired by its European counterparts, Polyglot Bar NYC took off in Fall 2012. Gaining momentum in multicultural Manhattan, this new chapter of the language-oriented social phenomenon could soon become one of the most diverse gatherings on earth.

Polyglot Club Paris/Facebook

Polyglot Club Paris/Facebook

The Inspiration: Polyglot Soirées in Paris

First week in a new city, summer 2012. My roommate and I were both starting internships in Paris. Naturally, we wanted to make new friends.

My roommate had heard of a club called Polyglot Club. In European cities, and especially in Paris, these events attract a huge community of people who are curious about languages and cultural exchange, and the club even organizes trips abroad. People go to these evenings for a variety of reasons–to practice French, English, any other language, to find like-minded individuals, or just to have a good time.

As we entered the bar, an organizer greeted us at the door and gave us name-tags, on which we also put the languages we spoke. After a few outings, my roommate and I soon made a group of friends, who we are still in touch with two summers later.

Based on our meeting origins, it’s no surprise all of us are now spread out around the globe–a few back in Paris, one home in India, my roommate in Kazakhstan, and myself in New York. Of those in Paris, two are former Erasmus Exchange students who were able to visit India through our encounter at Polyglot.

Who Are These Polyglots?

Polyglot Paris seemed to draw many foreigners and non-Parisians who had recently moved, as well as those already settled in Paris, with some regular attendees. My own conversations with people I met there were mostly in French, though it is likely this was partly because I wanted to practice French myself.

The vast majority of people I talked to, if not all of them, were highly interested in foreign cultural experiences and eager to discuss their own experiences abroad, and/or had some foreign background. I talked to a few people who had been hoping to run into a Japanese speaker, and I was surprised and impressed. They in turn took me to a quite authentic Japanese restaurant during my time in Paris.

All these experiences made us wonder why there wasn’t a similar club in New York City. After all, when it comes to cultural diversity, you can’t quite beat New York.

Birth of Polyglot Bar NYC

That fall of 2012, upon returning to New York City for his senior year at Columbia University, my now former roommate, Evan Welber, founded Polyglot Bar NYC. A polyglot himself, he enlisted the help of fellow polyglot Timothy Doner (who has also appeared on TEDxTeen) and fellow Columbia senior Ivan Alexander Marks whose family owns Sambuca, which was the first location for Polyglot Bar NYC.

Polyglot Bar NYC/Facebook

Polyglot Bar NYC/Facebook

Primarily organized through a Facebook event page, Evan, a very excited and media-savvy host, confirmed the attendance of speakers of thirty-four different languages, just two days before the event. The event page listed 122 RSVPs, 98 maybes, and about 1500 more who were invited to kick-off Polyglot Bar NYC on October 18, 2012.

I took the train in from Princeton, NJ the last weekend of November for the second-ever Polyglot Bar. The small, fancy dim-lit back room of Sambuca was packed, overflowing at times. I had to squeeze through people to get to the bar. There was naturally a large number of Columbia and other university students in the crowd, giving it a young, lively vibe.

The number of languages represented was impressive. Evan and Tim at the time had around ten and twenty languages respectively, and some conversations I overheard between them and others were of comparing experiences and strategies for learning languages in different families. When our visiting French friend arrived, he put “Tajik” on his name-tag for the fun of it, only to cross it off in a hurry when he found out that there was actually a Tajik speaker in the room. Otherwise, people were simply catching up with friends, others were dancing the night away, and still others were singing songs in Arabic.

Polyglot Bar NYC/Facebook

Chan Lin, Polyglot Bar NYC/Facebook

Polyglot Bar NYC Today

The club took a brief hiatus between fourth and fifth meetings while seeking new leadership, as Evan and Tim prepared for new opportunities outside New York.

Under its new organizers, including Kevin Fei Sun, Chan Lin, Maria Lomaka and Juan Ramirez, Polyglot Bar NYC is now up to fifteen meetings, in addition to a Polyglot Karaoke night in March 2014 and documentary coverage.

Having outgrown Sambuca, the leadership scouted new locations. Their current home is The Boat Basin Cafe by the Hudson River, where they will hold their next event on September 3, 2014. In March, they created a Meetup group, through which they are able to attract a wide range of people in much the same way as the Paris club. In addition, the spacious, enclosed outdoor Boat Basin Café is especially conducive to free mingling, forming new connections and having fun conversations–in different languages.


Chan Lin, Polyglot Bar NYC/Facebook

The Future of Polyglot Club NYC

Set in multicultural New York, this chapter is poised to become one of the most diverse gatherings on earth: a great networking and learning space, a place for inspiration and motivation, and for meeting people you otherwise wouldn’t meet. An event like tomorrow’s at the Boat Basin makes for a New York night well spent, and the potential for growth of Polyglot Club NYC is limitless.

For the language learners out there, hitting the Polyglot Club is a great way to practice new skills. If you want to add a language to write on your name-tag or improve proficiency in a tongue you already know, consider a learning solution to enhance your cultural exchange experiences, like building your repertoire with a qualified language tutor, before during and after you put your skills into action.

See you at Polyglot Bar NYC. I’ll be there!