NEW YORK – Famed laid-back singer Jimmy Buffet is about as far as you can get from any obvious connection to Judaism: He was born on Christmas Day in 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, he grew up in Mobile, Alabama, he attended St. Ignatius School, and one of his most famous songs, “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” is about one of the most unkosher foods on the planet.
But the soon-to-open Margaritaville Resort Times Square, named after Buffet’s 1977 megahit, “Margaritaville,” will have an unusual Jewish connection – an on-site synagogue.
New York Magazine’s Curbed recently reported on the complex series of steps leading to the synagogue in the hotel. The New School reportedly sold its building at 560 Seventh Avenue to Soho Properties in 2014, which led to the closure of the Garment Center Congregation. The synagogue had been given a 99-year lease for $1 a year in the 1970s.
In order to purchase the building, Soho Properties had to work out a deal with the congregation. Soho agreed to build the synagogue, complete with a kosher kitchen, terrace for a sukkah, a lobby on the hotel’s first floor and two below-ground levels.
The synagogue reportedly began in the back of a barbershop in 1931 and prior to the pandemic, proudly offered three daily minyanim (prayer services) as well as Shabbat and holiday services. The synagogue’s website reports that, “as of Monday, August 31st, there will be no High Holy Day services and all daily services are canceled until further notice.”
The site does not list the name of the rabbi or synagogue president. One community member who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that the long-term rabbi continues to reach out to members of the community by phone and text message and regularly teaches Zoom classes.
When asked for comment on the synagogue’s arrangement with the hotel, he reported, “I am not in the loop – I don’t know much. I don’t have a lot to tell you.” The synagogue’s arrangement with the Margaritaville Resort Times Square appears to be a first for the Margaritaville chain.
The 234 guest rooms, scheduled to open in the spring of 2021, will feature “an island-inspired casual design and luxurious comfort, instantly transporting guests to the iconic Margaritaville state of mind,” the hotel’s website reports. Amenities will include an outdoor heated pool, retail store, concierge, valet parking, laundry/valet service, fitness center, and such Margaritaville touches as complementary Paradise Water and signature Margaritaville bed linens.
Buffet, 74, has achieved success as a singer-songwriter, best-selling author, actor and businessman. He reportedly has a net worth of $600 million and has built much of his empire around what has been referred to as the “island escapism” or “tropical rock” style of music. His loyal fans are known as Parrot Heads.
Buffett’s two restaurant chains are named after “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Margaritaville.” He is the co-developer of the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant concept and owner of the Margaritaville Cafe restaurant chain. His products include Margaritaville Tequila, Margaritaville Footwear, Margaritaville Brewing, Margaritaville Records and Margaritaville Foods, which include such products as salsa, chips, barbecue sauce, shrimp and margarita mix.
Buffet opened the Margaritaville Casino at the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in May 2013. Other real estate ventures include Latitude Margaritaville, a $1 billion retirement village in Daytona Beach, Florida. There are currently 22 resorts in six countries including Belize, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Most of the Margaritaville hotels and resorts are located in US states including Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana and California.
With the exception of the synagogue at the new Times Square hotel, it is likely difficult to find a minyan in or near most of the other Margaritaville properties.