When Alan Dunn set out to create an immersive dinner theater experience, he drew influence from two disparate ideas: Paris in the 1920s and West Hollywood’s longtime celebrity hangout Chateau Marmont.
“I wanted to do something completely original and that’s hard to do in Los Angeles,” says Dunn, founder of Très LA Catering and formerly the Chateau Marmont’s food and beverage director. The result is Nuit Blanche, a dinner experience with a side of performance styled like a Parisian revue.
Held at the villa-style Carondelet House in Los Angeles’ Westlake district, Nuit Blanche attempts to transport guests into the jazz era almost as soon as they step across the threshold and encounter flappers, a magician, a mime, a sketch artist and a palm reader. After cocktails, guests surrender their cellphones and are whisked through a courtyard and into a 40-seat dining area where tap-dancing waiters serve a five-course dinner.
“A lot of people love Paris and they love the era that Nuit Blanche is set,” Dunn says. “The idea of combining those two is very appealing to a lot of people.”
But with a cabaret show that features not only a mime show but a steamy dance number performed by women in tiny maid costumes as well as a candlelit striptease in one of the upstairs rooms — not to mention marketing phrases that promote “a night for all senses and no inhibitions” — guests must be 21 or older.
“We definitely want to push the boundaries but in a very elegant way,” Dunn says. “It’s absolutely sexy, it’s absolutely tantalizing, but it’s also very, very highbrow and that’s important.”
In November, the Daily Mail ran a story calling Nuit Blanche a “secret erotica club with an anything-goes policy.” Dunn, despite his “no inhibitions” encouragement, insists that description is not accurate.
“There’s definitely a line and everybody is very respectful of it,” he says. “We have not had one single incident where anybody has been inappropriate or suggestive or where somebody didn’t feel safe.”
Still, Dunn says, “the entire thing from beginning to end is a wild ride. There’s no lull in the experience [unlike] at a club or even a concert. In a way, it’s just so much more intimate and memorable. The whole idea is to really create a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Before Nuit Blanche, Dunn and his wife would host informal dinner parties. “It was just an excuse to have a bunch of interesting people together for dinner,” he says. That desire carried over to Nuit Blanche, where TV and film stars have taken in the show.
“At the Chateau, every weekend was a total trippy experience,” Dunn recalls of his days at the more established celebrity haunt. “It would be the guys from Radiohead doing an impromptu concert in the lobby or Sam Rockwell coming through with his bunny slippers on. Or Matthew McConaughey brushing his teeth with no shirt on. It was that anything-goes kind of vibe that we hope to create at Nuit Blanche.”
Another Chateau Marmont staple that carried over is the strict no-phones policy. “You can’t take photos at the Chateau and I thought it was important for that same sort of uninhibited feeling to happen at Nuit Blanche,” Dunn says.
“We have had all sorts of stuff happen,” he continues. “People up on stage, people really letting themselves go. We want people to feel free within reason and respect the guests around them. That was the impetus for the no-phones policy.”
Despite an initial shock, guests come to relish the lack of access to their phones, Dunn says.
“It’s unbelievably satisfying to a lot of people to not have their phone on them,” he says. “They don’t realize that when they’re giving it up, but having this experience without checking Instagram is very liberating.”
For years, the sprawling Carondelet House was part of the Otis Art Institute, now the Otis College of Art and Design located across town in Westchester. “It’s come a long way,” says Dunn, who purchased the building in 2011.
Though it’s primarily used for special events like weddings and film shoots, “Nuit Blanche,” Dunn says, “is the perfect use for it on the days of the week when we might not have a private event.”
In place of Carondelet House’s art school roots, Dunn created a completely fictitious history for the building that ties into the show: Parisian showman Jean Marceau decamps to L.A. after stealing the cast and crew of a Parisian revue. They put on their own show called Nuit Blanche, though after an illicit affair, Marceau winds up getting murdered by his cast mates, a fact he fails to remember until the end of the performance. “So basically they’re all ghosts,” Dunn summarizes.
Tickets go for $300 per person and include the five-course dinner, an open bar, an absinthe tasting as well as the cabaret performances.
“There may be sticker shock to some,” Dunn says. “But quite frankly, that barely covers our expenses. Three hundred dollars is some people’s bar tab, so they’re getting off cheap. And I think after they see the show they are all in agreement that $300 is a very inexpensive price to pay for the experience.”
Guests are encouraged to adhere to a black-tie dress code and apply for tickets through the website’s contact page where they’re asked to say a bit about themselves, information Dunn uses to cherry-pick the guest list and personalize the show.
“The goal from the beginning was to have diversity,” Dunn says. “I want it to be for the intelligentsia. I want it to be the really sophisticated Paris of the 1920s. For artists to have this artistic experience. For there to be painters there, writers and actors and musicians. This is for them.” As long as they have $300 to spend.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Carondelet House, 627 S Carondelet St., Los Angeles
When: June 19 at 7 p.m.
follow me on twitter @sonaiyak