Conspicuous consumption is a huge part of nightlife. But in a looks-conscious city such as L.A., the “consume” part is more often relegated to drinking than to eating. Glamorous grubbing is less common here than it is in say, New York, where restaurants stay open later, have livelier music and serve as exciting after-dark destinations on par with bars and clubs. But here, many L.A. foodies simply stay home and throw dinner parties.
Courtney Nichols is one such home-entertaining devotee, but she's also a fixture on the club scene and a lover of ’70s music, fashion and debauchery. Her dream to bring all three together came to fruition two years ago this weekend, when Disco Dining Club was born.
It all started in her backyard. “My intent was to take the formality out of the dinner party — to organically produce a ruckus inspired by the debauchery of disco,” she explains. “I sent out a hard-copy invite that resembled the Rothschilds’ surrealist dinner party invite. I asked everyone to bring a decadent item of choice. The items my friends brought and the outfits they donned were borderline obscene.”
Her fete was so fabulous, in fact, that she decided to extend the concept beyond her home into clubs, restaurants and underground locales. It was an instant hit. The gathering is usually themed around a historical era, idea or aesthetic. (“Marlene Dietrich riding first-class in Shanghai Express, or the bathhouses of NYC, or the detailed brilliance of a Fabergé egg!”) A lavish dinner by a hot chef is followed by a wild after-party with an oyster bar and big-name DJs spinning disco; past players have included Eddie C, In Flagranti, The Noodleman, Lovefingers and Heidi Lawden, Koosh, Metro Area and Gay Marvine. Nichols tries to limit the dinner to 50 guests, but the party crowds get much larger. The civility of a proper dinner party is basically thrown on its head.
“Disco Dining Club is a form of escape,” Nichols explains. “Oftentimes the event will last 12 hours, spanning from the dinner portion at 7:30 p.m., after-party at 10, and eventually tracing home at sunrise. I want my guests to forget reality and for that one evening to fully engorge themselves on food, booze, fashion, music, art — to truly and utterly consume everything.”
Nichols, a Monterey girl who moved to New York after high school, then to San Francisco, and finally to L.A. six years ago, says she “was instantly enamored with the colors, camp and kitsch of this city. Being able to dance all night alongside characters refusing to adhere to a utilitarian warehouse look was a dream. Each person I encountered was more vibrant than the last, and everyone shared a deep-seated obsession with this town.”
Although Disco Dining Club is at the helm of her endeavors here, she also is involved with a multitude of underground events in galleries, bars and unconventional spaces. She produces events for corporations that sample from the DDC aesthetic — “but of course toned down,” she says.
The thing that makes DDC work is what makes most nightlife work: the patrons' enthusiasm to play along with whatever atmosphere the promoter is trying to create. In this case, it’s dynamic dinner conversation with strangers and unbridled dancing with those same strangers later in the night. Just as important is the dress-up aspect. DDC’s crowd could easily be pulled from the line at Studio 54 circa 1978, and its mix of gay, bi, queens and straights of all cultures and ages adds to the eclecticism and whimsy of the whole thing.
Nichols used to use “fruitfly” in her professional moniker, so her affinity for gay nightlife is obvious. “My adoration for the LGBTQ scene began during my time in New York,” she says. “I became quickly enamored with the sense of rebellion and unapologetic approach to nightlife. It's within the gay scene that I became the woman I am today, and for that I’m forever grateful.”
After a memorable DDC in Berlin at a silent movie theater, Nichols plans to take the concept beyond L.A. more frequently in the coming year, “bringing oysters, disco and poppers to a city near you,” as she exclaims. She also recently became L.A.’s official “Disco Diva” at Airbnb, via its new trip service wherein she takes guests and explores “bizarro Los Angeles” through the retro-kitsch-glam lens.
Nichols' disco experience was the centerpiece of the Standard Downtown’s New Year Eve event last month, but the anniversary this weekend is even bigger for her. It's made her reflective. “I still look back fondly at the inaugural party at Cliff's Edge,” she reminisces. “I was completely enamored by my guests dancing on tables, making love in the restroom, peacocking through the restaurant in floor-length gowns and headpieces.”
For all its flamboyance, Disco Dining Club, like the best parties in L.A., feels welcoming and familial when you’re part of it, and that is mostly thanks to its mama. As with home dinner parties, it’s the hostess who sets the tone. And Nichols is really out to create harmony through hedonism.
“The nightlife worth documenting is the nightlife that is fundamentally about collaboration, as opposed to competition,” she says. “We are living through horrendously frightening times, and nightlife can provide reprieve. Thankfully, the late-night family I’ve acquired in this town shares that sense of activism through fun. Although we are challenged, we persevere because we live to live fully, and that’s best expressed on the dance floor.”
To learn more about Disco Dining Club, visit discodiningclub.com.
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