Two Anthonies walk into a bar.
The first Anthony – a tall, swarthy man with a thick Russian accent – surveys the packed crowd at Pianos with quiet determination, and walks slowly towards the back of the room.
“He’s taking too long,” the second Anthony shouts into my ear, so I can hear him over the thumping music. “If you spend too much time not engaging with the room, you’re going to feel like an alien. What you do is you immerse yourself in the crowd and you start engaging.”
The second Anthony is Anthony Recenello, a dating and lifestyle coach who runs a “social development and mentoring program for New York’s successful, interesting gentlemen.” The other Anthony – Anthony Levin – is Recenello’s client, and he is therefore a successful, interesting gentleman. But Levin often gets stumped when it comes to meeting new people, which is why he decided to enlist the help of a dating coach. This is the Anthonies’ first session together, and they are hopping from bar to bar on the Lower East Side, so Recenello can observe Levin’s ability (or lack thereof) to work a room full of strangers.
Recenello darts off into the thick of the crowd and hovers behind his client, watching. Levin has zoned in on a young woman with brown hair and a wide smile, and he approaches her, looking hopeful. He tries to strike up a conversation by asking the woman if he can make a prank call on her phone. She turns around without saying a word, leaving Levin staring at her back. Levin looks at Recenello, who smiles reassuringly and starts talking to the woman, presumably to demonstrate how it’s done.
When we leave Pianos later that night, Anthony Recenello has her phone number.
Watch Anthony Levin practice his game
Recenello is a charming guy. He’s easy on the eyes, for one thing, with a smattering of freckles on his cheeks, and a mop of chestnut hair that falls on his shoulders. He asks a lot of questions, and seems genuinely interested in the answers. “He has a way of making you feel really, really great about yourself,” says one of Recenello’s former romantic partners, whom I will call Jessica. “And he has a lot of confidence.”
Throw all those traits together, and it’s easy to see why Recenello has a pretty good track record with women. He’s 29 now, but friends were asking him for dating advice long before he aspired to become the go-to guy for New York’s lonely bachelors. Recenello majored in sound engineering and jazz vocals at William Patterson University, and then worked as a live-in nanny after graduating. He soon became interested in methods of bolstering confidence in children, and wrote a (self-published) parenting book called Let’s Let Kids Do Something Big. Two years ago, Recenello decided to shift his focus from toddlers to dating hopefuls, and began refining his approach to a more grown-up sort of socializing.
Recenello calls his business Wolf and Garden, a name that he chose after “thinking of a lot of words,” and picking two that sound “cool.” His clients often hail from the East Village, the Lower East Side, and the Meatpacking District, and he charges $1,000 for four sessions. Many clients ask for more, even though Recenello’s rules for navigating New York’s nightlife are fairly simple: No cheesy pick-up lines, just honest, meaningful conversation. And fellows who are on the prowl shouldn’t feel the need to limit themselves to just one girl, or even to just one person.
“I will go into a room, and I will meet everybody,” Recenello tells me, when we meet for coffee a few days before the pub-crawl. “Then in about half an hour, my brain goes, ‘OK, who were my favorite people that I met tonight?’ I would go back to the five people I really liked, and I would keep interacting with them … Then at the end of the night, I end up with the one or two people who I really enjoyed being with.”
Although he has yet to take on a female client (“I don’t know how to be attractive to a dude”), Recenello insists that he isn’t a pick-up artist. His goal, he says, is to help guys build confidence and improve their social skills, so they can make connections with the sort of people they genuinely want to be around. Those people can be women, and those connections can be romantic, but it doesn’t have to be that way. “There is real happiness,” he writes on his blog. “That is where you are meeting people that you actually feel good being with. And you are hanging with them in places that you enjoy being at, listening to music (or not) that you enjoy listening to.”
A Wolf & Garden success story
It’s an insightful enough observation, which is rendered somewhat less insightful by the sort of bro-speak that you might hear at a frat house on a Friday night. On his website, Recenello boasts that he helps guys learn how to “live like a stud.” In the aforementioned blog post, he breaks the male species down into three groups: “cool kids,” “uber nerds,” and “posers.” At the end of the day, he writes, the nerds are better off than the posers, who are so busy trying to catch up with the cool kids that they “never notice how hot (and interesting) these women are that are part of the various alternate lifestyles.” To demonstrate that nerdy girls can in fact be hot, Recenello includes a picture of a large-breasted young lady stuffed into the tiniest Wonder Woman costume known to mankind.
“When I say ‘hot girls,’ it’s subjective to what you think,” Recenello tells me, when I ask him if he places a premium on appearance when teaching his clients how to pursue women. “But I think it’s very important to be with somebody who you find attractive.”
Fair enough. But perhaps all the talk of cool kids and hot girls is simply a lingering affectation of Recenello’s younger days, when he wasn’t exactly a “meet the parents” sort of guy. “I never knew if he was dating other girls,” says Jessica, Recenello’s ex. “It was really good on a sexual level, but it fell flat when it came to what you would need in a relationship.” If you look Recenello up on Lulu, an app that lets women anonymously review the guys they’ve dated, you’ll find a slew of not-so-flattering descriptors, doled out in hashtag form by Recenello’s former flings: #AddictedToMirrors, #HitItAndQuitIt, #TotalF**kingDickhead.
“In my past, I have been a total fucking dickhead,” Recenello admits. “I’ve learned from my experiences, learned from my past, and learned how much I’ve hurt people. And I’ve been hurt myself.”
Recenello says that these days, he approaches his romantic liaisons with a little more integrity. He’s single, but was recently in a relationship that lasted eight months. And at the moment, he isn’t having any sex. “The next person I’m with, I want it to be someone I’m in love with,” he tells me. “I want to save the sex for that girl.”
After we leave the bar, the two Anthonies and I head to a café, so Recenello can review Levin’s technique. Recenello isn’t particularly thrilled about the prank call shtick that his client tried to use on the pretty brunette at Pianos. “All that does is make people go, ‘Ha ha ha. OK, bye.’” Recenello explains. “There’s no emotional connection. How a girl becomes attracted to a man – and how a man becomes attracted to a girl – is when they feel an emotional connection with each other.”
Levin listens to Recenello intently, taking it all in. He doesn’t seem to be particularly ruffled by the fact that his dating coach scooped a potential hookup, perhaps because he hasn’t hired Recenello for the exclusive purpose of getting a girl. Levin, who immigrated to the States nine years ago, is a little bit lonely. “It comes from my character, because I like to be alone,” he told me earlier that night, as he took a breather from mingling at the bar. But Levin wants to make friends too, and he is finding it hard to meet people in this sprawling city, where personal encounters are all too often isolated and fleeting.
“That’s how you meet women – by being social,” Levin explains. “I want to get better at being social … I just want to keep up with that energy, engaging with other people. Because it’s fun. It’s really fun.”
“He gets it!” Recenello exclaims, sounding genuinely delighted. “There are some students that I’ve been with for months, and they still can’t come to terms with that … That’s how I make friends: I see them, I meet them, I go, ‘Dude, you’re fucking awesome! Let’s hang out.’”