Supper Club? What is that?
Eating out may never be the same again
My interest in supper clubs started around 14 years ago when I went to England to study Architecture. When cooking started becoming of huge interest of mine, I started to understand better the relationship between food and space. You can read more about my research here: https://www.thefoodarchitect.gr/project/culinary-market-school/
Since then, I have this folder in Dropbox collecting images throughout the years of different references and inspiration and supper clubs around the world. It has been an ongoing research and I always wanted to attempt to start one in Athens. However logistics were complicated up to this past summer when the time was right and all the research resurfaced. In Greece we are not used eating with strangers and although dinners and feasts and celebrations are quite performative traditionally the more curated experiential event is still unknown territory. So what is a supper club?
“A supper club is a traditional dining establishment that also functions as a social club. The term may describe different establishments depending on the region, but in general, supper clubs tend to present themselves as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all.”
ABOVE: The dining room of Brooklyn’s Turk’s Inn, with walls upholstered in silk brocade from the Chandni Chowk market in New Delhi, glass pendant lamps (also from India), custom leather banquettes and Corian-topped tables. The cat drawing was a garage-sale find.
The first supper club in the United States was established in Beverly Hills, California, by Milwaukee, Wisconsin native Lawrence Frank. Supper clubs became popular during the 1930s and 1940s, although some establishments that later became supper clubs had previously gained notoriety as prohibition roadhouses. With the legalization of recreational cannabis in states like California, cannabis supper clubs have begun to emerge, including one by Masterchef alumni and fan favorite, Nick Nappi. Traditionally supper clubs were considered a “destination” where patrons would spend the whole evening, from cocktail hour to nightclub- style entertainment after dinner. Featuring a casual and relax.
Also sometimes known as "pop-up" restaurants, "speakeasies", "home bistros", "guerilla dinners" or "underground dining", they are essentially part-time restaurants, that are often held in people's home or other, sometimes temporary, venues that are not normally used as a restaurant.
The benefits of eating at a supperclub
You get to eat in venues that you would not normally get access to. This includes peoples' homes, and other interesting venues.
You get to eat food that is often hard to find in restaurants. Of course this depends on the type of supperclub (some are bigger than restaurants). Secret dining clubs capitalize on chefs creating curated, new experiences that are only available for 24 hours. Guests who attend these events are looking for something different in a dining experience, a unique menu or theme. So intriguing locations are selected within a city that are unexpected, fresh and new. By the end of the evening, diners have a one-of-a-kind shared experience. Playing up the unique aspects, secret dining clubs use rare ingredients, unexpected venues, exclusiv- ity, or personal chef interaction as key experiences for diners.
You get to meet other people. This is one of the key features of a supperclub, but again, depends on the venue. Some have many small tables or one large table seating many, so there are a selection of people around you to talk with. Thus you can "meet and mingle" and choose who you'd like to sit next to. It's a great way of meeting new people and sharing this experience.
A Surrealist Parisian Dinner Party chez Madame Rothschild, 1972
Dali was there of course and Audrey Hepburn showed up with her head trapped inside a Magritte birdcage. Never has there been a dinner party quite like the “Diner de Têtes Surrealiste” that took place at the suburban Parisian mansion of Baron Guy de Rothschild and his ‘hostess with the mostess’, Marie-Helene de Rothschild. Only the crème de la crème of Parisian high society got an invite.
On 12 december 1972, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild gave her surrealist ball at Ferriéres. This time the guests were asked to come in black tie & long dresses with surrealist heads. For the evening the chateau was floodlit with moving orange lights to give the impression that it was on fire.
The staircase inside was lined by footmen dressed as cats that appeared to have fallen asleep in a variety
of staged poses. Guests had to pass through a kind
of labyrinth of hell, made of black ribbons to look like cobwebs. the occasional cat appeared to rescue the guests & lead them to the tapestry salon. Here they were greeted by guy with a hat to resemble a still-life on a platter, & by Marie-Hélène wearing the head of a giant stag weeping tears made of diamonds.
She mixed them with the more established set of paris society. Everyone was intrigued. Marie-Hélène’s parties took on such importance that one social figure threatened to commit suicide unless she was invited. The invitation was printed with reversed writing on a blue & cloudy sky, inspired by a painting by magritte. To decipher the card, it had to be held to a mirror.
Marie-Hélène proved that she had the flare and imagination to create something unique and worthwhile. None of this was created by charm alone. It needed a degree of ruthless determination. She attended to every minute detail of style in her life & also in her entertaining. She was a great hostess with all the qualities. She loved parties & people. She was forever in quest of new talent & new figures to entertain from the world of the arts, literature, dance & haute couture.
The rise of the home & garden Supper Club
These clubs—some call them guerrilla restaurants usually meet in people’s homes, where cooking enthusiasts prepare and serve dinner to strangers in exchange for a small monetary contribution toward the meal. In Cuba, these meals are called paladares and have been a cottage industry for decades. In the United States they’ve become popular over the past few years, with clubs like California’s Ghetto Gourmet—started by foodie Jeremy Townsend—spawning chapters in New York and Chicago after he took it on tour around the country. This summer the trend has taken off like viral wildfire across Europe; Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine recently dubbed these places “21st-century speakeasies with foie gras instead of bootleg brandy.”
Supper clubs also owe their success to the rise of social networking. Fans promote their favorite spots or chefs on Twitter or Facebook, and most clubs advertise their menus or next sittings on the Web. Sites like theghet.com (run by the Ghetto Gourmet) and -marmitelover.blogspot.com are good resources to find guerrilla restaurants across the globe.
Multi-course meals, bouncing and bopping with local ingredients, delight supper club guests, present for the tasty and delighted by the company. Served family style, these dishes come from the help of local farmers, ranchers, and culinary traditions.
Their design team curates themed experiences that respond to the spaces, explore enhanced sensory design, and incorporate a range of gamified activations that ignite diverse conversations, allowing their guests to experience change in action. Dinners have popped up in London, Brooklyn, Mexico City, Melbourne and Manhattan.
Outstanding in the Field / Based in Santa Cruz, California
With a crew that’s hosted dinners in all 50 United States and 10 countries to boot, you know they’re thrilled by the challenge of adaptation. To them, nearly anywhere, natural or man-made, can be a venue, from ranches and vineyards to rooftops and sea caves. Next up for your dining pleasure is a farm north of New Orleans and the Sayulita Secret Sea Cove in Mexico.
Spring Street Social Society / Based in New York, New York, Hosts Anywhere
Knowing all too well that dinner parties can become predictable, these members-only gatherings blitz to vibrant life in the form of cabaret, variety shows, and immersive theatre. Sure, there are coursed dinners as well, but this team hones in on the creative cultures of the cities they bounce through across the country.
Disappearing Dining Club /London, England
Have you ever attended a dinner party in a lighthouse? What about an antique shop? Or a salvage yard? Your answer is likely “no” to all these, just as it’d be for department store, laundromat, car park, or church. But this culinary team is all about serving tasty, simple, unfussy food in private, unusual spaces. More importantly, they use their pop-ups to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust.
Supper in a Pear Tree /London, England
It’s pop-up restaurant meets art class at this crafty experience. Set in an art school and run by sisters, this combination of life drawing and dinner gives you a chance for the semi-tamed outrageous. I mean, you probably won’t ever have another chance to drink wine, bond with strangers, and sketch a nude model.
Location, Location, Location
Location is very important as part of the experience. From an empty swimming pool, to an open air cinema, an empty supermarket, a church, a terrace and a port are some of the ideas. And the list can go on and the imagination is infinite.
Early in America, the word “dinner” began to mark a line between country and city. Dinner had never been anchored in time; it was defined not by the hour it took place but by the size and heft of the meal, its roots in the Vulgar Latin disjejunare (to break a fast). If you were tilling the land, logic dictated you fortify yourself with dinner at noon, having been up since dawn, and end the evening with supper, historically lighter fare, its name derived from the Old French souper, with its hint of sipping broth and sopping it up with bread, and the Old English supan, which originally meant simply “to drink” (often to excess).
“SUPPER IS THE most intimate meal there is,” Emily Post wrote in “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home” (1922), “since none but family or closest friends are ever included.” At a supper club, the notion of family and friends was always more fluid. “It open-armed everyone,” said the writer and New York restaurateur Brian Bartels, who grew up in Reedsburg, Wis., and got his first job as a busboy at age 15 at the iconic Ishnala Supper Club on Mirror Lake, which he still holds up as a model of a convivial retreat with “the polish of fine dining, but accessible.”
ABOVE: Pop-up dinners are becoming the hot approach creating a sense of urgency, exclusivity and buzz. Examples of different locations and settings.
ABOVE: Penelope Benton
install, Firstdraft Gallery, June 2011
A series of decadent parties with Jasmina Black, Justin Shoulder, Matthew Stegh, Renee Goodman, Mat Hornby, Celia Curtis, Alexandra Clapham, Fanny Minka and Bristley Pioneer.