This is the first in a series of posts on underground supper clubs, dining establishments that operate outside the law. Not exactly restaurants, and not exactly dinner parties, these clubs have developed devoted followings, but what is it that they really do? We wanted to find out. (Most names have been changed to protect the innocent.) Today: Getting InCommonly referred to as "culinary speakeasies," most underground dining clubs cultivate a secretive vibe and an air of exclusivity. But with things like websites, commonly listed locations, and the ability to reserve spots online with a credit card, it's debatable just how "underground" these clubs really are; what's not debatable is their popularity. The Whisk & Ladle, a club based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is booked at least through the next three months (they usually put on three dinners per month), and The Ghetto Gourmet, which hosts suppers in locations across the country, sells out all of their dinners almost as soon as they're announced.
Reservations are hard to come by; few dining establishments can boast waiting lists longer than The French Laundry's, but every supper club we've encountered has exactly that. Yet because these are not businesses, per se, the rules are somewhat flexible. Reservations are often made through an anonymous email address listed on a club's website. If one is charming enough, or has something to offer (say, they're a photographer), one can secure a reservation for a dinner that's sooner, rather than later. We found—only after attending—that our names had been Googled before our reservation was accepted. Our hosts knew where we worked, lived, and in some cases what we looked like. Most importantly, they knew we did not work for the Department of Health (more on that in future posts). Regardless of the way you make it, once the reservation is made, and you've developed a rapport with the hosts through your witty and charming emails—or by working for a major food publication that we happily noticed copies of at all of the dinners we attended—you are told the date that you'll be able to attend and then, that's it. You wait…and wait…and when the date is near, you'll receive another email that says something to this effect:
Good afternoon, Directions are pasted below. Please forward to the guests you are bringing if they are not included on this email. If your party should change in size, please let us know as soon as possible. We will try to be accommodating. We will be offering an ocean fish entree, with a vegetarian option. All other courses will be vegetarian. Please email your preference along with your confirmation. Check our blog tomorrow for Saturday evening's menu. Dinner begins at [REDACTED] with cocktails at the bar. Our address is [REDACTED]. The building is situated between [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], and the entrance is parallel to [REDACTED] but not actually on [REDACTED]. An alleyway just before [REDACTED] is where you [REDACTED]. Please buzz # [REDACTED] when you arrive. Dinner contribution is $40 per person, which includes all food and drink, but not gratuity. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday. Please email any questions you may have.
Once you get the email, you're off. What exactly it is that you're off to, however, is another story entirely. Next Week: So you're in. But what have you gotten yourself into?