LA’s Hottest Club Has Everything: Natural Wine, Mushrooms, and Backgammon

From a “psilocybin-adjacent” start to board game nights at local bars, this is the wild story of Silver Lake Backgammon Club.

backgammon games at silver lake backgammon club in LA
Photo by Ira Edelman, courtesy of Biite Club
Photo by Ira Edelman, courtesy of Biite Club

It’s about 11:30 pm on a Thursday night at a trendy bar in Echo Park, and one thing’s become clear: there’s not much backgammon happening at Silver Lake Backgammon Club. Instead, the kind of fashionable people who wouldn’t be caught dead at a normal board game night are talking, laughing, and swaying to 2000s indie rock. A couple who may or may not have known each other when the night began is openly making out next to a now-forgotten vintage backgammon board. They, and everyone else hanging out around them, have founder Paris Hunter Paul to thank. Paul brought Silver Lake Backgammon Club to life by accident, a serendipitous idea that jumped from the internet into the real world and became a party designed to help neighbors and strangers get to know each other, to support local bars, and yes, also to play backgammon.

Despite appearances, Silver Lake Backgammon Club events are indeed rooted in playing backgammon, or at least that’s where the night starts. Paul is deeply enthusiastic about the ancient game, bringing a ton of boards and a saintly patience for teaching the rules and preaching the finer points of strategy to anyone who’s willing to listen. He’s also an actor and a filmmaker, which is immediately apparent in his charisma, the way his face brightens when he’s teaching, and the easy way he bonds with strangers over the game he loves. He learned how to play it from his parents, as many people do, but for him it developed into a lifelong passion.

The events are so fun and popular, it’s frankly hard to believe that the club’s founding was an accident, and that it wasn’t originally supposed to involve any backgammon at all. After the restaurant where Paul cooked closed during the pandemic, he fell into an alternate revenue stream: procuring mushrooms for a select client list. He needed a covert name for his enterprise, so he smashed together his neighborhood and his favorite hobby, and Silver Lake Backgammon Club was born.

He started a social media account for the “club,” and the strangest thing kept happening—people were hitting him up out of the blue all the time, asking where to play backgammon and how to join the club. For a while he redirected them to respectable groups across town in Venice or down in San Diego, but eventually he realized there was enough demand to host his own event.

lounging and playing backgammon at Silver Lake Backgammon Club in LA
Photo by Joseph Nicolas Duarte, courtesy of Biite Club

The first real Silver Lake Backgammon Club party was at Black Cat in October of 2023, just a stone's throw from Paul’s apartment, and it was a hit. Now the club is growing and morphing with Paul’s other interests. He’s in the process of launching a wine club, partnering with different bars and restaurants, and looking to the future. He’s throwing intro to backgammon events at private clubs and planning to host high-level nights for serious gamers, and he’s curating wine lists for other events too. At an elemental level, all of it is defined by good vibes, Paul’s passion, and an earnest desire to make friends and build meaningful connections.

“It can be a lonely city,” Paul says, “and I know what that’s like firsthand.” But alleviating that loneliness through fun and games is the central tenet of Silver Lake Backgammon Club; whether you’re a serious backgammon player or someone who barely knows the rules, you’re welcome to come hang out, play, learn, and be a part of the club. “The moment [people] show up and say they're here for backgammon, they're already a part of the community,” Paul says.

Backgammon has long been a point of connection for Paul: “I've made friends traveling alone in the Middle East, just setting up at hookah bars with a backgammon board open, not knowing anybody in the country,” he says. “Dudes come up like, ‘You speak English?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, you want to get a game going?’”

paris hunter paul posing with natural wine on a balcony in LA
Photo by Joseph Nicolas Duarte, courtesy of Biite Club

Now he’s trying to replicate that sense of community in Silver Lake, the neighborhood where Paul has lived for the last decade. The area has changed a lot in that span, especially on Paul’s block right near Sunset Junction. There are always tourists coming through these days, transplants to LA often settle there, and bar and restaurant turnover is extremely high.

Which hits on the other essential piece of the club—providing support and bringing a crowd to local bars and restaurants. He’s hosted events at iconic venues like the Black Cat and Club Tee Gee, and at interesting newer spaces like Spirit House and Nico’s, he's partnered with Biite, and he’s open to all sorts of other venues. The next one is set to be at Silver Lake Pool and Inn on February 23, with more to come.

Bars and bartenders are responding well, too; after one recent event wrapped up, an unaffiliated patron approached a bartender and asked how it went. The bartender smiled, “It was fucking lit.”

rolling dice on a makeshift backgammon board at silver lake backgammon club in LA
Photo by Joseph Nicolas Duarte, courtesy of Biite Club

Paul struggled in the beginning of the pandemic, having lost his job in the kitchen and taken a break from acting. “I felt like I had abandoned the very thing that I was best at, and that was acting and storytelling,” he says. But he did gain some deep personal knowledge: “One of my strengths is that I have really good taste, but no fucking skills whatsoever.”

Some of us would quibble with that characterization (‘taste is a skill’ might as well be the culture writer's credo), but the sentiment stands. Paul has found the perfect way to put that taste into action with Silver Lake Backgammon Club, and it’s working.

“The identity of it is a little confusing,” Paul admits, “It's psilocybin adjacent, it's natural wines, it's parties, it's backgammon and gambling. What the fuck is it? It's just all my favorite things.” Sure it’s a wild mishmash, but it all adds up to one hell of a party, whether you end up making out with a stranger or just playing backgammon, drinking wine, and hanging out.

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Ben Mesirow is Thrillist's LA Staff Writer, and an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA Times, Litro, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.