Review by Jonathan Thompson; daredevil, intrepid traveller and our appointed Dinner Party Critic
REVIEW 2: The ‘Fun Formal’ Dinner Party, Los Angeles Athletic Club
The fake bookcase creaks open and there it is – the clandestine staircase leading us up to tonight’s dinner party. Timothy Oulton’s mission to revive the ancient art of hosting has taken a new and curious turn.
Tonight we’re in downtown Los Angeles for the second dinner party on this gastronomic global circuit. Needless to say it’s the antithesis of rural China where the first was held – not just in terms of location, but also theme.
Whereas the ‘Showstopper’ party in China involved more than 150 guests, ostentatious movie-style glamour and enough seafood to fill the Great Salt Lake, tonight is a more intimate, ‘Fun Formal’ occasion. There are only 20 invitees on the list and the vibe, while sophisticated and chic, is also cheeky and carefree. Think cocktail dresses and bare feet; bow ties and Japanese denim.
Our venue for this evening is the unique Blue Room, a former Prohibition-era drinking den hidden on the fourth floor of the iconic Los Angeles Athletic Club. Entering the space itself – squeezing up the slender stairwell forgotten for much of the 20th Century – feels a little like arriving in Wonderland. Timothy Oulton’s Global Style Directors Danielle Monti-Morren and Raoul Morren completely redesigned the room earlier this year and their extraordinary vision – with time-honoured T.O. touches – is one of timeless class and first rate style.
As we surface we’re met with a tray of exquisite Macallan whisky cocktails, which we sip next to the Pillar of Knowledge – Timothy Oulton’s signature tower of vintage books. A Boston dining table catches the light of the Crystal chandelier above it as we circle its metallic parameter, seeking our names. Curiously, each guest has the first page of a different chapter from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped by their place setting.
This campaign is dedicated to reviving the lost art of hosting, and tonight is a shining example of how it should be done. Our host Cory Hathaway – whose family have been running the LAAC for six generations – couldn’t have been more convivial; he even toasts the Queen’s health before we dine, in honour of the British guests present.
The menu is traditionally – and wonderfully – British too, including some of the most succulent roast chicken I’ve ever tasted in my life – and surely one of the largest collection of English cheeses located west of Land’s End. After dinner Cory asks us to stand with our pages from Kidnapped and in turn we pluck random sentences from them, passing the narrative to the right and sewing together our own ridiculous tale. Invariably, this bizarre retelling of the classic is punctuated by conspiratorial cackles from every corner.
It all adds up to a warm, convivial and deliciously friendly atmosphere, which continues away from the table after dinner – in the hand-softened leather Scholar armchairs or on the iconic Westminster Union Jack sofa, where more blow-your-socks-off cocktails are served and laughter returned.
Back in the 1920s, the original Blue Room was home to an elite drinking society named ‘The Uplifters’. Counting Walt Disney, L. Frank Baum, Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable among their number, they were dedicated to uplifting the entertainment and arts scenes in Los Angeles while also ‘uplifting’ their cocktails. Tonight new drinks are being poured and new stories told as ideas are ignited and relationships forged. There’s old magic here – even if the new spell has been cast by the Morrens.
Our evening ends with cigars on the roof overlooking downtown LA’s famous skyline. We’ve been down the rabbit hole and up the hidden stairs – and now we’re under the stars in the glitziest city on the planet. It’s been a wonderfully merry, uniquely inspiring night. A dinner party to do The Uplifters proud.