Exclusive, elusive, and sometimes elitist, there is a giant web of speakeasy-style dining happening right under our noses, in case you didn’t know.
I’ve been working on an article for RestoBiz (stay tuned for that later this week) that outlines how established restaurants can drum up business by employing elements of underground dining. That said, I sort of fell into a rabbit hole during researching, that I now invite you to fall into with me.
But first, what is an underground restaurant?
Also called closed door restaurants, these types of eateries started to emerge in the 1930s following the speakeasies of the prohibition era. They can take place at someone’s home, outdoors or an obscure location like the back room of an arcade. Essentially, guests pay a fee to have dinner with a handful of randoms at a private location that’s sometimes revealed a few hours before the event. Sometimes patrons even have to solve a series of riddles. Once guests arrive, they can enjoy a sensational multi-course meal prepared by anyone from Michelin-starred chefs to home cooks with a penchant for food. Oh, and they also get the bragging rights of being part of a great secret.
I first was inspired to learn more about secret supper clubs after reading an article written in Eater explaining the trend of exclusive restaurants for multimillionaires in NYC. Not only do these places have super strict entrance policies, but members also pay thousands of dollars in annual membership fees and guest list are often cherry-picked!
But, don’t fret because there are many (and more economic) dining options for the average Joe that are just as exclusive and maybe even more interesting.
Still mainly by word of mouth, most underground dining experiences aren’t highly marketed. However, if you look hard enough, you’ll find spots scattered all around the globe. In Canada alone there are spots like Vancouver’s No Fixed Address with its internationally-inspired canapé creations or Montreal’s Vegan Secret Supper Club and its beautiful rendition of vegan dishes.
In Toronto, there are several secret dinner clubs that are still functional despite ever-fluctuating Covid restrictions. A few experiences that I’d love to check out in the city are Luke’s Underground Supper Table that features unique thematic menus or k.dinners that focuses on saké-paired tasting menus. And for the really adventurous dinner, byMINISTRY even hosted a multi-course dinner where each dish was cannabis-infused…but unfortunately, I think this one’s been put on hold for a bit.
What’s interesting is that private supper clubs have become super hyped up as of lately. Following the stale routines of the pandemic, they offer an out-of-the-box experience for diners that have been in a rut. And since diners are always searching for the next best thing, a secret club to eat, shrink and network definitely fits the criteria.
It’s also kinda wild to think about how much people love being part of a secret. Even at fast food restaurants, customers love ordering obscure off-menu items. Why? It tricks us into thinking we’re part of something exclusive. Whether it's Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino or McDonalds’ McGangBang, these secret offerings draw in customers without the slightest bit of marketing by the brands—it’s all about insider info.
At the end of the day, everybody wants to be part of a select few who are privy to information and/or experiences that others might not be as entitled to. After all, secrets are sexy and exciting. Using the concept of elitism and exclusivity, underground dining is a stellar example of how this can translate itself into a fully-functional business model. Regardless of whether the dining experience itself will be stellar or not, it isn't as important as what it represents—I know (and I am part of) something that you are blissfully unaware of.
If you’re a curious soul, underground supper clubs could definitely be something to check out…but you didn’t hear it from me.