Unsatisfied with his job as a designer, Laurin Hackney decided to quit and focus on something that truly makes him happy: bringing people together to enjoy each other’s company, good food and wine. Living in Berlin, he was missing the social interaction and togetherness associated with beer gardens, where one can hang out for hours with friends enjoying culinary as well as cultural treats. So, he decided together with Travis Broussard to start a pop-up beer garden, named Brot & Zeit, serving small meals and finger food.
Launched in the summer of 2011, Brot & Zeit was only open during the day. But after customers showed interest in evening meals, Hackney began looking for a space to host small dinner gatherings. Since March of this year, his supper club evenings, “The Parlour Dinners”, have been held in a beautiful, pre-war apartment on Alte Schönhauser Strasse in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood. Every Thursday night, 30 guests are welcomed to a three-course dinner in an intimate, living room-turned-dining room setting.
The space is furnished beautifully in Berlin’s recycled, industrial style; think furniture made of wooden pallets and industrial lamps. The walls are brought to life by a large installation constructed from crates, various found objects and candles. On the night of the supper club, the dining room also functions as a showroom; the dining tables and lamps are for sale. During the rest of the week, the space is used as a gallery, event space and sometimes for other private dinners.
Like many supper club cooks, Hackney is not a professional chef but an amateur whose skills he learned from his mother. No wonder it feels so homey! About two weeks ago we enjoyed a private dinner at his house. The courses included scallops, pasta, duck breast, chocolate mousse and parfait; simple but good, honest food made with fresh seasonal produce, accompanied by scrumptious sour bread and Austrian wine.
As he stated at the beginning of the evening, Hackney is not the first to start a supper club. Originally an act of rebellion in Twenties-era speakeasies, supper clubs have been experiencing a revival sparked by several factors–the most important probably being the droves of ridiculously overpriced restaurants and the hollow atmospheres and distant service they provide. Would you not rather have an intimate and affordable home-cooked meal made from scratch, served by a warm and welcoming host instead?! Today’s supper clubs mirror their Prohibition-era relatives: to dine at one was an important social event and meant dressing up to have tasty, unpretentious food made from fresh ingredients.
Going to a supper club is rather different from going out to a regular restaurant. The hosts are usually food-loving amateurs, like Hackney, not professional chefs. So if you are looking for the latest food trends or Michelin Star dishes, these informal meals might not be for you. But if you are looking for a meal that concerns itself with more than just food, that makes way for social interaction and shared experience, you will find yourself pleasantly at home. Most supper clubs take place in a cozy setting, and the dining is often done at large, communal tables instead of small, private ones. This makes them perfect places to meet strangers and have interesting and inspiring encounters. You might even walk out with a new friend!
Because supper clubs are not like regular restaurants, the dynamics between the host and the guests change as well; often guests are allowed to wander through parts of the house, visit the kitchen and talk to the host. If it is busy, help yourself to some water, and if you still have some appetite left, asking for seconds is not a crime. Often little money is being made off of these nights; hosts do it out of love, not because they want to get rich. So if you bring a (preferably food related) gift, like you might if a friend were throwing a dinner party, it will be much appreciated.
Somewhere in the grey area between catering company and restaurant, supper clubs are mostly illegal or semi-legal: they do not always have a liquor license, there are no fire doors and a lot depends on trust. For these reasons, most supper clubs are semi-underground, hidden away with no door signs. So how do you end up at one of these parties? The only way is through word-of-mouth or social media/Internet channels. To help you a little bit, here are two websites that list a selection of supper clubs worldwide: Saltshaker and MsMarmite.
So what are you waiting for? Make a reservation, dress up and get ready for a fun evening!
The Parlour Dinners supper club has a new menu every Thursday night. Book the menu of your choice via parlourdinners.com. A three-course meal costs 30 euro, and a reservation deposit of 10 euro per person is required. Vegetarian or vegan alternatives are available on request. If you do not live in Berlin and want a piece of the action too, Saltshaker and MsMarmite list supper clubs worldwide on their websites.