By Patrick Diamitani
As people become more social on and offline, private group dining experiences have seen a rise in popularity and quality. Millennials who consider themselves foodies are not only trying new food on their own, they’re increasingly doing so with friends and strangers. Seeking food as entertainment isn’t a completely modern concept, however. “Supper Clubs,” a popular term for private group dining experiences, have been a staple of US dining culture since the prohibition era and with recent advances in technology, they are experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
Blast From the Past
The first documented “Supper Club” was formed in Beverly Hills, California by Wisconsin native Lawrence Frank. Generally found in the Midwest, these clubs were considered to be “destinations” where people would come from cocktail hour and stay til after dinner, drinking and dancing. In the 1930’s and 40’s these establishments were known as “prohibition roadhouses,” but as time went on, Supper Clubs became less known for all-night affairs and more for their unique dining experiences.
A Cultural Experience
In neighboring Cuba, state-owned businesses represented a large amount of economic activity. It wasn’t until the fall of Soviet Russia did the 90’s see a lessening in the restrictions towards potential business owners. One popular TV segment, Vale Tudo, highlighted the first trend of privately run restaurants by issuing their protagonist a chain of her own called Paladares, or, “The Palate.” These types of restaurants, often in peoples homes, had their own underground flair before and after the economic reforms.
The Dining Underground
In recent years, Supper Clubs have regained their popularity as a trendy dining and entertainment option. Unique menu items such as the insect and beaver-tail dinners offered by The Gastronauts and trendy locations such as the Williamsburg Loft operated by Whisk and Ladle keep people coming back for more. It is this underground dinner scene that members crave – and get.
Cooking for Cool
More and more, top chefs and amateur hopefuls alike are ditching the traditional restaurant approach to a more social model. In Chicago, for instance, Chef Jake Bickelhaupt of 42 Grams hosts only 36 people a day – 18 people twice an evening at 5:45 pm and 8:30 pm. The seats are centered around the chef’s counter (8) and a communal table (10) and his wife Alexa Welsh serves the guests herself using her grandmother’s china. Other spots like Roses’ Luxury in Washington D.C. and San Francisco’s Lazy Bear are other examples of chefs who prefer unique dining experiences over the usual restaurant meal.