One evening in October 2015, an Irish bar in midtown Manhattan hosts a mixer for Wall Street executives, though it more closely resembles a hippie-commune reunion.
The venue’s wooden bars and stained glass windows are covered in glow sticks, lava lamps, Beanie Babies and framed portraits of rock gods from a bygone era. Known as Tir Na Nog, or “land of youth” in Irish folklore, the aptly named establishment begins to fill with mostly middle-aged patrons grinning with an expression of youthful excitement.
The dress code ranges from tie-dye to black tie, distinguishing the out-of-towners from those who rushed over directly from work. A Grateful Dead cover band, the Deadbeats, tunes their instruments on a small stage typically reserved for Irish folk singers, in front of a hula hoop ready to be twirled once guests have time to swarm the open bar.
Between hors d’oeuvre–carrying waitstaff, a crowd of hundreds chat about their first, favorite and most recent concerts — conversation broken only by the occasional whisper of serious business.
This is the site of one of Wall Street’s most exclusive networking events, populated by a group of 350 who made the cut ahead of 500 more eager to break in. Every patron has two common traits: They’re involved in financial services in some capacity, and they’re utterly obsessed with the Grateful Dead.
Though the founding fathers of hippie culture formally disbanded following the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, their spirit is alive and well amongst perhaps the least likely of group of torchbearers.
The Wall Street Dead aHead networking group is like no other in music or finance. The group takes cues from both cultures, helping its “family members” find clients, customers, partners and concert buddies, but ultimately striving to build meaningful connections between likeminded people.
“I started Dead aHead because I needed to meet new people in the business world,” said Deborah Solomon, weeks later in her office in midtown. The immaculate reception area steps away is surrounded by televisions flashing business headlines and scrolling stock tickers, but inside Solomon’s office, nearly every inch of wall space is covered in Jerry Garcia portraits, tie-dye banners and a large framed photograph from former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s Phil and Friends concert in Central Park.
The Wall Street investor known to most as “Deb” started the group three years ago in an attempt to overcome the usual frustrations associated with networking in New York’s financial community.
“I’m trying to teach people how to network again,” she said. “We’re in this age of blasting out emails and texting and not spending the time to develop relationships. I’m finding that even the older generation forgot how to do real networking.”
By rallying around a single, common interest, Dead aHead gives members the ability to connect on a more personal level, she explains. Instead of starting conversations by asking about work or talking about the weather, most conversations among members begin with their favorite Grateful Dead song, concert or story.