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By Leslie Nafus

Supper clubs, the 21st century speakeasy?

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the first known use of “supper clubs” occurred in 1925.1 At that time the definition was related more to a traditional dining establishment that exuded a high class image, engaged patrons for a whole evening rather than just a meal, and functioned as an exclusive social club.2 However, current definition refers more to underground restaurants, also known as guerrilla diners, pop-up restaurants and home bistros run by would-be restaurateurs and “foodie” clubs that have been gaining in popularity over the last decade.3

What are modern supper clubs?

Today’s supper clubs can be anything from a potluck group that meets regularly, to cooking clubs, to pop-up restaurants, or simply people who want to show off their cooking skills and meet new people.4 Amateur chefs who want to give the restaurant business a try, while perfecting their craft, are often the hosts at these “speakeasy” dinner parties cum guerrilla restaurants.5 Real cooking talent lurks here. Menus are more often than not prix fixe. Some clubs are “bring your own booze.” Others seek sponsorship from liquor distributors who receive promotion on social media or seats at the table. Still others provide everything from starter bites and intro cocktails and wines paired to each course. Ticket prices can either be prohibitive to maintain the feeling of exclusivity, or something the average pocketbook can easily afford. The advertisement might be word-of-mouth, on social media, or formally announced in publications.

Why are they popular?

Alternative is in. Traditional ways of doing almost anything have been challenged and replaced on nearly every front. Restaurant culture is no different. People are looking for unique dining and social experiences and current underground supper clubs are meeting that demand. The restaurant business can be brutal and failure rates of brick-and-mortar restaurants are high.6

Similarly, in supper clubs, patrons can get a social evening (and it is usually a full evening often with entertainment), and chefs display their talent for an appreciative audience without the inherent risks of a full-fledged restaurant.

The best U.S. supper clubs.

By nature, it is difficult to pin down a “best” supper club. Rotating venues, menus, and their pop-up characteristics do not lend themselves to rating. However, many cities have listings of trendy supper clubs, and here are three.

    • The Thrillist’s listing for Austin, TX7
    • LA Times 13 Underground Supper Clubs8
    • Travel & Leisure, World’s Best Secret Dining Clubs9

Finally, there is an app for that. Supper Club10 aids you in finding underground dining near home or when traveling.

Whether you are a foodie looking for the unique, simply wearied by the run-of-the-mill restaurant scene, or searching for the thrill of an illicit experience, supper clubs are an increasingly popular means to do all of the above. Check out a supper club app, social media, or even a local newspaper to find a supper club near you. Who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon the next star chef or meet new friends. Most importantly, it will be a distinctive, and highly engaging, dining experience.

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