Upon arriving at the illuminated mansion in the highly-coveted West Adams region in LA suburbia, I immediately sensed that this was going to be a debaucherous affair. Stepping through the exterior brick arches and into the foyer, I was instantly greeted by a host who handed me a refreshing spritzer as I politely nodded to the two poised creatures that sat mysteriously observing guests at the entrance. Floating through to the tearoom on the left I quickly made friends with a delightfully intriguing orchid who twisted and curled around, just as plants do, as she revealed that we were sisters – most likely from my past life when I had been a fern.
Indulging in your deepest, darkest desires, culinary adult party planners Disco Dining Club’s motto “Consume everything” could not have been more appropriate. My 5 senses were running on overdrive, devouring more than they could handle, being fed a constant feast of gluttony wonders. Sight: moving from the stunning interior of the home to an outdoor hypnotic visual playground where psychedelic images were projected onto a breath-taking hand-crafted sculptured tree, designed by the Grim Wreather – the centrepiece for the evening. Smell: an intoxicating infusion of the crisp autumn air with an array of unknown scents that came into fruition as the waiters began to serve the meals.
Taste: an exotic menu that took us on a journey from the sea to the land, starting with a refreshingly light aperitif of Aperol, melon and lemon-ginger Oleo Saccharum. The scallop with wild mushrooms “bouillabaisse” was divine and juicy, while the North Atlantic cod with blood sausage quickly became the talk of the table. The alcohol was sustained throughout the night, each dish paired with an experimental cocktail – the “H.G Wells” consisting of seared oxtail washed Brandy, organic non-pasteurized milk, toasted cricket and rose honey black tea was downed like a childhood milkshake in a heartbeat – while an abundance of wine bottles flooded the tables.
Sound: had I stepped back in time? A mystical harp player transported me to my childhood, reminding me of the days when I too once strummed the divine instrument.
Following the enchanting evening, we spoke to Courtney Nichols, the inspiring mastermind behind Disco Dining Club, who has started a new wave of events that merge nightlife with experimental feasting. Disco Dining Club not only fed our bodies and minds, but it left an everlasting impression on our soul. Welcome to the future of dining, may you consume everything.
Tell me about how you came up with the idea for Disco Dining Club.
Well, I began disco dining club while I was in law school. I have since dropped out of law school – it was a one-semester ordeal – but the real impetus was a dinner party I threw right before I entered law school. I called it ‘Opium and Opulence’ and it was in my backyard. The only thing I required of my guests was to bring a decadent item of choice. Obviously, it was my group of friends and their plus one, but everybody came dressed to the nines in a way that I just truly didn’t expect. It was a really rambunctious party in the backyard of my house, so, after I came to, there were a couple reasons why I decided to extend this outside of my house – mainly the cleanup process. The less I have to clean up of my own house the better, but also I didn’t expect people to take to it at this degree, so (I thought) how about I experiment with this concept in a private sphere. The first official Disco Dining Club was at a restaurant in Silverlake, Cliff’s Edge. We didn’t even do a buyout – I just rented, well rather booked the table inside of Cliff’s Edge. At that time (Cliff’s Edge) was hardly ever occupied, so I was like “let’s just take over the inside of this restaurant,” and people again came dressed in ball gowns and furs.
Was the first event just your friends and how did you promote it?
Mostly friends – I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I think about 45 people attended. There was a set menu, I brought in a DJ and of course, there was a little element of design for the placards and plate settings for everyone’s name. I had a mirror and wrote out their name in white and then gave a little straw to allude to, yah know, rambunctious drug usage (laughs), but people again were out of their minds. Having sex in the restroom, dancing on table tops, and because it wasn’t a buyout what was really spectacular was that everybody that was walking to the bar saw this happen – so I think that was our first moment of word of mouth. A lot of people who were just having a cocktail were like what the hell is going on here? This was 2015, after that, I then had the opportunity to experiment with the format at a production house called Eyeboogie Studios, close to Bob Baker and Marionette theatre near Echo Park. After that, it took me about a year and a half to really refine what we were, how we looked, the structure. It’s always being refined and elevated, but the event that you attended – that was what I had always wanted to do and produce, but I didn’t necessarily have the bandwidth or the resources to produce.
So was that the first time you had done something to that extent?
It was the first time we’d done multiple nights; it was the first time every checklist was checked off. Typically, as much as we’d like to – I always use the royal we but – as much as I like to create these grandiose ideas and actually work through all different bullet points, there’s a couple of things that fall by the wayside last minute. For this one event everything we wanted to accomplish, we accomplished. It was really incredible because if you produce a one-night event and that much energy goes into it, there is a sort of solemn feeling the next day because you run over it in your head. You realize things you could have perfected, and usually, you have no opportunity to – so this was that.
It was an extraordinary experience to wake up on Saturday morning and go through my list and find those moments that I could change, and it had nothing to do with guest experience – it was more me being my neurotic producer self. Hence why we brought in the DJ on Saturday night – there were little nuances that we were really able to hone in on because of a multiple-night event.
Definitely. After you have an event you can feel a bit down after, almost like having withdrawals. Doing that numerous times and going through that process of healing would’ve really helped out.
Completely, and also people on our mailing list, if they weren’t available to attend that one night then at least they had options.
Were there many returning diners?
Actually, it was majority newbies. I would say only 20% were regulars and typically in the past, it’s mostly regulars. There has been an evolution when it comes to the guest contingent because – besides law school – my background was in warehouse parties, so I am an all-nighter girl.
Are you from LA originally?
No, I’m from Monterey up north. But I moved to New York for college, then had a brief moment in San Francisco then came down here. At the time I moved here 8 years ago the underground was foaming out the mouth – I mean there were underground’s happening every night of the week, and I was going out every single night of the week. I ended up getting a position in electronic music for production groups – more like a MTV-style, curating content for electronic music. But that was my whole world, so for the first year of DDC the warehouse kids were who we had. Then there was a switch when I started doing really formal dinners as opposed to say passed around hors d’oeuvres, or say things were more casual but then became more culinary. Now I feel that we get the culinary heads into the underground as they come to Disco Dining Club.
I think you’ve managed to somehow combine the two worlds!
Thank you! That’s always been the goal. And it’s a difficult transition because how do you seamlessly transition from the dance floor, or from the dinner table to the dance floor? Which was the goal for the first two years; that sort of formula is also very wedding (laughs), so how do you avoid the wedding tropes and make it feel like a fluid event? But really, it’s like each year I kind of go through this catharsis when it comes to the DDC idea, and as of the past couple months what I keep saying is that Disco Dining Club is the rambunctious sloppy dinner party that I romanticized as a child, as being adult. I just felt like the food culture, the dinner table culture – and I’m just speaking for LA – is a bit too poised and a bit too date-night, and a bit too actually all about the food.
What I loved most about the experience was the fact that people were so open and friendly. Apart from the amazing theatrics of the night, everyone was so approachable and welcoming. I haven’t been in LA for very long, but what I’ve been told is people in LA are very closed off. At this event, it was really easy to meet so many new people.
That’s so wonderful to hear. I started this in LA because I live here, but I do think looking back now after 4 years there was a need for it in LA because of that culture. Because of the sort of pretention level when it comes to a night out. That’s why parties like A Club Called Rhonda and Dig Deeper – there are these little clusters of parties that are kind of creating that lovely community of like-minded eccentrics, but none of them are food focussed.
I remember when I first came across your event I just thought, Wow! This is so unique!
How did you find us again?
I was trolling through Instagram, it was a few months ago when I first came to LA and I was immediately interested. I moved here in May from Australia and I could see this doing so well in a place like Sydney if you’d ever considered expanding internationally.
Ohhh yeah! Currently we’re expanding nationally doing New Orleans next year and Miami – Miami isn’t 100% happening yet but it would be incredible as well. New Orleans is a solid goal – that’s happening, it’s going to be out of control, and so is San Francisco. But I want it to get international. And I think naturally you’d think New York would be on this list but I haven’t found the right person to partner with.
So how do you find these partnerships?
A lot of it is just serendipitous meetings. I prefer to partner when I’m outside of LA, because as much as I can drive ticket sales and stuff like that, I need to have roots in that world. So that’s not my main focus – trying to get people to buy tickets – that’s the boring business end of it. New York because I lived there I might, but New Orleans I needed to partner with somebody. New Orleans was always my number one city because of the hedonistic qualities. And I just heard through the grapevine that it was proven to be that they have a lack of events that don’t happen after the festival season, which is outside of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, so that is very needed in terms of the programming of the city.
How do you come up with your concepts for each event?
Well, I do have a Google doc that is about 300 themes long, and that’s just from reading something or watching some movie and being inspired by a scene, or having some eureka moment. There are a couple of highlighted themes that I want to explore, but there’s really no rhyme or reason. Whether it’s a venue that falls into my lap, or for instance this last week, Andy the Grim Wreather – him approaching me and wanting to do a Halloween event, and me always wanting to do this interpretation of Halloween that wasn’t based on terror. It just all, or at least 2 or 3 pieces come together in a way that feel very serendipitous, and that’s when I green light the project. I don’t know if I had mentioned this in the speech (given at the Halloween event), but we are living through such terror as is, but I still love Halloween. So how do you rectify those two worlds? By having a new interpretation of Halloween.
Do you try to hold each event in a unique place? I know you had previously held one on a boat.
I do a lot of private residences because I think the mentality of going into a home, as opposed to going into a stark event – there’s more comfort and books and crannies to explore. More areas to put vignettes. So when we did our first weed dinner in April – that we called the ‘Garden of Ugly Delights’ – that was also at a private residence in the West Adams district. But I do like to find these unusual venues. Yes, because that’s our aesthetic, but also because we need venue owners who are down for the count, who are willing to take a risk because what we’re asking is not your standard load-in load-out same-day experiential marketing campaign – we’re different.
Do you have anymore events planned for LA?
LA – yes! We have our next event for Valentine’s Day in February (stay tuned for more!). Also, next year the Grim Wreather and I will collaborate again on the Passover dinner (laughs) – more info to come – more of the literal horror “Old Testament” interpretation of Passover, taking it back to its roots. With Andy, we definitely have a sense of camp-kitsch, and the element of horror that we need to fuse on all of the events that we collaborate on. So it’s Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco, then it’s our 4-year anniversary next year! I have yet to decide upon the theme but there’s a lot in store. Also, I want to return to weed dinners because our weed dinner in April was really something extraordinary. I was a bit wary about producing a weed event because it took me a while to see how disco came together – but we didn’t cook with weed, we did a sort of old-school pass around joints bowls. Very much the original consumption, with no technology like vapes. We did it more of a salon-style, and it did fall into the disco category – almost like what the disco elite were doing after a night of partying.
Every party I produce is a party I want to attend, so this was especially true when we started honing in on all the pieces of the weed dinner because I don’t personally want to consume weed. I’ve had great experiences, but that’s not necessarily my go-to. And I didn’t want to alienate people, so we had a few guests who had maybe one drag but were there for the food, the cocktails and experience.
I like that you do a good job of making your events all-inclusive in terms of the menu. Do you ever produce any “special diet” events?
We did one vegan event last year but because of our mantra “consume everything,” there is a bit of a sensibility that you have to go in blind and trust us to give you quality cuisine. It’s taken us 3 1/2 years to get to that point. A lot of the “signature moves” are because we have years behind us, and because of that, we created a community that will have a good time no matter what and experience the entire world.
Interview: Sahar Nicolette
Photography: Gustavo Oliver , Lynora Valdez and Lauryn Holmquist
Set Design: Grim Weather
Clothing: Thanks to @maisonthefaux
Check out Disco Dining Club on Instagram and Facebook. The next DDC event is going to be held on Valentine’s Day 2019 in LA – keep an eye on their pages for more info!