The Supper Club
If you’re the kind of person who rolls their eyes when someone takes a picture of their plate at dinner or longs for the type of bonding over meals usually reserved for TV sitcoms, one re-emerging trend might interest you: supper clubs.
Small groups regularly dining together in private locations is nothing new. The concept became popular in the 1930s after prohibition ended, when diners could again legally enjoy a stiff cocktail with their meals. They probably needed it – in 1933, at the Great Depression’s height, unemployment was around 25 percent. People forgot their worries by gathering for dinner, drinks, dancing and conversation.
Today, with millennials famously preferring to spend money on experiences over material objects, and the rise of personalization in consumer marketing, supper clubs are experiencing something of a renaissance. Many operate in legal gray areas, making them a natural fit for those who enjoy pairing cannabis with their foods. Others are a vehicle for diving deeply into culinary tradition – Hush Supper Club in D.C. bills itself as a “part supper, part storytelling … tour of India.”
Of course, many of us just want to quit scrolling through Instagram at the table. Some dinner club gatherings are more like social networking events, where people can meet other food enthusiasts in their area. The intimate setting and physical act of sharing a family-style meal remove the friction of building social relationships.
“I think people are feeling isolated with the way modern life is and our reliance on technology,” says Jared Gold, co-founder of MealTribes, a community platform for people in their 20s and 30s to organize potluck dinners in the Washington D.C. area. “People want a way to turn off and connect with their peers.” Gold tells us that part of what has made MealTribes successful is its appeal to more traditional dinnertime values: participants aren’t supposed to discuss politics or use their smartphones.
“Even though they’re strangers, they’re peers with a baseline of shared values … and people want to belong with their peers,” he says.
Sound & Savor
For professional chef and musician Philip Gelb, owner of the Sound & Savor dinner club in West Oakland, California, those values are vegan cuisine, music, and cannabis. Gelb hosts dinners at his industrial loft home several times a month, where he prepares fresh meals for up to 20 people at a time. In between courses, touring musicians from around the world eat with guests and perform on instruments like the Chinese pipa, a type of lute. Gelb himself plays and teaches the Shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese woodwind made from bamboo.
“You tend to meet people – they’re very social events,” Gelb says. “It’s very interactive – it’s one room. The kitchen is in the same room as the dining room. You’re interacting with the chef, with the musicians … everything is extremely social and interactive, which is different than a traditional restaurant experience.”
Meals at Sound and Savor rotate depending on what’s in season, as well as requests from guests. Gelb says marijuana-themed dinners have been popular in recent years – last December he hosted a “High Holidaze: Light up for Chanukah” event that paired traditional Jewish meals like latkes and borscht with vaporizer hits of strains like OGMatic and Sour Patch Kids. Since edible tolerance varies widely, Gelb does not infuse his dishes, a supper club concept popularized by the VICELAND show “Bong Appétit.” Even in cities like Chicago and New York, where full legalization has yet to occur, dinner clubs that pair different strains with gourmet dishes are becoming more common. As popular opinion continues to chip away at cannabis prohibition, communities built on a passion for the plant will continue to crop up – whether they incorporate food or other shared values.
“We know that people want to be surrounded by their peers,” says Gold. “I think there will continue to be more tech tools and platforms to help match and facilitate people connecting in general – which includes over meals.”
The idea that advancing technology could return us to traditional values of socializing is ironic but instructive of the intense communal power of food. Whether they are organized around a concert, an app, or a joint, few things connect people like a family-style meal.