Behind the Curtain at LA's Most Decadent Dinner Party
“Consume. Everything.” is the mantra by which Disco Dining Club abides. To enter one of its playfully lavish events is to be immersed in a world of indulgence, where each rich, multi-course dinner is followed by a debaucherous after-party with free-flowing drinks and endless oysters. The way guests talk about these dinners, you’d assume there’s a portrait of each one of them in an attic somewhere, growing increasingly hungover and depraved -- and yet, despite the trappings of hedonistic excess, Disco Dining Club is, at its core, welcoming to neophytes and regulars alike. The first step to getting a seat at the table is simple: sign up for the club’s mailing list, and wait for details of the next big event.
Tickets to these elaborate dinner parties have ranged from $80 to over $200, depending on the event and ticket tier, though each one is all-inclusive, meaning you’ll never take out your wallet to grab another cocktail once inside. Note: Vegetarians and vegans will be disappointed, as plant-based menus do not align with the idea of “consume everything.”
Disco Dining Club’s earliest incarnation was a dinner party hosted by founder Courtney Nichols in her backyard three years ago. This particular party was a recreation of one that had transpired years before, in 1972: socialite Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s surrealist ball, which she threw at the magnificent Château Ferrières in France. It was a fete for the ages, attended by the likes of surrealist painter Salvador Dali and actress Audrey Hepburn. Guests entered via a maze and sat down for a bizarre dinner, each one dressed in a splendidly weird fashion. For Nichols' own homage, she asked each guest to dress in surrealist fashion and to bring one "decadent of item of choice."
“At her surrealist party, Nichols said guests wore birdcages and dressed as paintings.”
Now when Nichols talks about “decadence,” which she does often, she means it in a way that is “playful, but not too bougie,” favoring campiness over true elegance.
"I think there is a sense of brazenness to the dinner and a sense of color and vibrancy that make it decadent,” she said. For instance, guests don’t necessarily wear couture, but they do put together unique ensembles -- at her Surrealist Party, Nichols said guests wore birdcages and dressed as paintings.
It was apparently such a good time that Nichols decided she wanted to throw another party, but not in her yard. This idea evolved into Disco Dining Club, the first installment of which occurred January 2015 at Cliff's Edge in Silver Lake, taking over a portion of the restaurant for the evening. DDC also threw a New Year's Eve party at The Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, themed for Ridley Scott's techno-noir film Blade Runner (1982), which takes place in Los Angeles in an imagined 2019. Another party at Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake was based on the film Shanghai Express, and yet another occurred in Berlin in a silent movie theater dating back to 1929. Nichols hopes to expand to New York, San Francisco, and London in the near future.
Behind the decadent curtain
Disco Dining Club celebrated its two-year anniversary earlier this year, at a colorful studio in the Arts District. The event -- titled “The Fabergé Edition” -- was decidedly Russian, which Nichols said she chose because of her own Russian heritage, and because she couldn’t think of anything more decadent than the Fabergé egg. For the uninitiated, the Fabergé egg was crafted by Russian artist Peter Carl Fabergé, who made an art out of basically bedazzling eggs and gifting them to Russian royalty.
Guests entered a space full of several matryoshka dolls, giant jeweled eggs, and ballet slippers hanging from the ceiling. Trays of caviar and beef tongue rillettes were passed around alongside chilled shots of Russian vodka, while attendees came dressed to the nines in brilliantly colored robes, gowns, and ushankas. Each sat before a place setting consisting of patterned plates and paper eggs, with each egg containing a small DDC pin and a tiny bottle of poppers, which -- like many of the guests -- wore its very own fuzzy hat.
The menu included six courses, among which were a smoked mackerel and roasted beet causa; duck breast with sour cherries and red wine, with braised cabbage and rutabaga puree; and a delicate hazelnut mille crepe. Cocktails accompanied each course -- the most impressive of the bunch, titled “Galina’s Garden,” was made with mezcal, bell pepper, five-herb agave, lemon, and smoked salt, and came served in fragile eggshells.
As dinner came to a close, guests who had only purchased a ticket to the after-party filtered in after going on an immersive journey scripted by artist Jenny Weinbloom, in which several Russian folklore archetypes led a map-point quest to find the party. These characters, which included the Baba Yaga, an Orthodox priest, and an opera-singing maiden, then slipped into the party themselves and were seen darting across the dance floor.
A pair of faithful oyster shuckers maintained an endless buffet of oysters, while an open bar served vodka and mezcal punches. DJs The Noodleman (Paris), MASHA, and In Flagranti kept the dance floor packed, though on occasion, it was taken over by a sweeping ballet performance. In true hedonistic fashion, the festivities carried on until the early hours of the morning.
Putting the “disco” in DDC
You might be wondering what Russian ballet or the Vangelis-scored Blade Runner have to do with disco. Well, not a lot. The "disco" umbrella is more about the "ideological movement" of disco, and the complete freedom the music inspires, according to Nichols.
“In Year One, the themes we picked were [out of the] spectrum of genres within disco,” Nichols said. “So, that could be Italo disco or cosmic disco or bathhouse disco. In the second year, because obviously one runs out of the different disco genres, we rewrote our mission statement with the idea that there are these historical moments that radiated through the decades, leading up to the decade that is disco.”
The genre remains present in each installment, but don’t expect the music to sound like someone just put on a greatest hits of the ‘70s album. Instead, anticipate rare edits, underground tracks, and the occasional foray into techno as the hour gets later.
Though Disco Dining Club can be a little intimidating, what with the secret locations, elaborate theming and costuming, Nichols embraces those intrigued with open arms: "If you personally reach out me or if I ever meet you, you are instantly part of the family."
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