Omar Hernandez has become known as one of New York’s most accomplished hosts. Even jaded partygoers covet an invitation to one of his legendary evenings. Raised in Venezuela and educated as an electrical engineer, Hernandez brings the warmth of his roots and his knowledge of intricate machinery to creating transformative social moments and connecting seemingly disparate personalities. Last year, the thoughtful and charismatic forty-something opened a members-only supper club, Omar’s, and an elegant restaurant, La Ranita, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. He offers his observations on the qualities essential to being a gifted host.
How is hosting an art?
The aspiration is to have people enjoy themselves among themselves, and the host is just the facilitator. Hosting is like watching a beautiful dance, but one has had a hand in the choreography and set design. It is creating a platform for people to connect, generating some magic and allowing people to spark it with each other.
What qualities must a superlative host possess?
An unconditional commitment to making people happy. That is non-negotiable. He will do anything in his power to make the evening an amazing experience. It does help to have charm—people want to be seduced into great moments in a non-threatening way. A host should also be able to multitask in the moment, to see all and be aware of everything.
What makes an invitation from you such a coveted one?
I focus on synergy, personal relationships, and building connections based on lifestyle. It is about the good life and uniting people who appreciate that. I like the openness of unusual combinations of people, seating an Internet tycoon beside a society doyenne. Ideally, my pairings at the table further my guests’ businesses and ignite interesting collaborations.
How do you create energy in a room for the guests who arrive first?
A little bit of drama even before one opens the door can be good—a broken plate, a last minute change, or a canapé that needs more attention—you, the host, need a little adrenaline surge. There should be a theatrical rush to it, just before the curtains open. If one is too organized, it can sap the energy. A successful party has that high, exciting feel at its start.
What is the secret to being a successful host?
Removing oneself from the equation. The ultimate host is able to transcend his or her own ego to be part of something. The attitude is almost one of offering a service. Being affable and engaging is important to ease a crowd into a moment, but once the moment is there, the ideal host can be part of the moment and still deliver on it. He may participate in the repartee but is simultaneously aware that not enough food is coming through, or that a guest is not enjoying herself and needs to be shepherded to another conversation. Hosting is actually a great responsibility: One must understand the various personalities in the room and read the energy.
How do you know if you did your job well?
There is one undeniable sign that guests are having a great time: They do not want to leave. They intend to extend that moment as long as they can. If, at the end of a party, I see women leaving with their shoes in their hands, I know I did the evening’s work well.
What fête do you have planned for the holiday season?
This year I am hosting a relaxed and elegant Thanksgiving dinner in Rome—my spin on a classic tradition. A talented American home cook is going to create an amazing dinner for 40 to 50 of our supper club members around the world, mostly expatriates, so they do not have to miss out on a Thanksgiving feast.