Sitting around a long dinner table at Octavio Becerra's Palate Food + Wine are 24 impeccably coiffed young guests. Among them are "Mad Men" actor Miles Fisher, designer Tiffany Saidnia, Eater L.A. editor Kat Odell, a Prada runway model, an entertainment attorney and several musicians. Crystal Meers, Los Angeles editor of Daily Candy, chats with William Kopelman, an art consultant who tells of his newest project -- negotiating the potential sale of a bronze cannon from the HMS Victory, a British battleship that sank near the Channel Islands in 1744 -- to a very important and wealthy "man of the sea."
FOR THE RECORD: The Supper Club: In the Sept. 9 Food section, an article about a private dining club referred to it as Supper Club. Its full name is the Supper Club. —
At the center of the table, dressed in a vintage cream-colored cocktail dress, her golden blond hair carefully arranged around her shoulders, is the dinner's host: British socialite Tamsin Lonsdale.
For the record: An article in Wednesday's Food section about a private dining club referred to it as Supper Club. Its full name is the Supper Club.
Lonsdale, 31, runs a business called Supper Club, which has chapters in London, New York and now Los Angeles. Supper Club is what some might call a social networking club, but Lonsdale and her members -- all successful, attractive professionals in a variety of upwardly mobile careers -- dislike the word. Networking, they say, implies something needy and self-serving.
If it's not networking, then what is it? What young, popular person needs to pay an annual membership fee of $2,000 to $5,000 for a dinner invite? Members say Supper Club is about fraternity and food, not "networking." It's a club based on the luxury of belonging . . . and exclusivity.
"We turn down 80% of the people that apply," Lonsdale says. "And I would say 40% of those that apply are of good caliber. "
Lonsdale currently has 350 members in London, 400 in New York and 150 in L.A., along with 20 "ambassadors" in each city who pay no membership fee but act as boosters and recruiters for the club.
A spot at the table
To be considered for membership, candidates must be recommended by at least two members, then apply via the Supper Club's website. Lonsdale's assistant arranges a meeting at the Sunset Tower ("a hidden gem," she says of the spot that she works out of at least three days a week). Once a week Lonsdale has a committee meeting with her ambassadors to tell them about whom she met and whom she liked, and her ambassadors have the final say on whether a candidate gets to join.
The process could be compared to rushing an especially well-groomed fraternity or sorority at an Ivy League school, except Supper Club accepts only 10 new members a month in each city and caps out at 400. There is currently a 700-person waiting list for New York and L.A.
Of her first meeting with Lonsdale, ambassador and stylist Kristin Ess says, "She's very nice, she's not intimidating at all, she wants to get to know you. That's the whole point. People don't pay this amount of money to be a member for just anybody to get in."
Kopelman, the art consultant, is on the fence about joining. He went to Taft boarding school in Connecticut with Daily Candy's Meers ("Lots of dirty white hats, lacrosse sticks and Mayflower names," he jokes) and has attended two Supper Club dinners as a guest. "I look at it like a book club, but for food," he says, but politely demurs that he's afraid his travel schedule is too busy to make a membership worthwhile.
Membership comes with a guarantee of at least three dinner invites a month. Not all members are invited to all dinners; Lonsdale takes great pride in her skill for mixing and matching members. "It's a personality thing," she says of her seating charts, "I meet everyone individually, so I know what they're like. Generally I'll sit one person on one side who would be good for professional reasons and one who would be good for personal reasons."
Lonsdale hosts her dinners at hot restaurants and private estates around town and secures the services of well-known chefs. Providence chef Michael Cimarusti and Marcel Vigneron, sous chef at the Bazaar, prepared meals for a dinner at LA Mill and a Black Dahlia-themed birthday party for TV host Carly Steel at the Sowden estate. Future dinners will take place at BLT Steak in West Hollywood (that one is open to nonmembers interested in joining) and the Blvd at the Beverly Wilshire.
And though Supper Club isn't a singles club, Lonsdale notes she has five marriages between members under her belt. It's "when you sit down around a table and break bread that a new level of intimacy is entered into," she says. "That's great for people who are single because they know that the other single people who are part of the club are all of pedigree."
Lonsdale grew up in Hampshire, England. She went to an elite boarding school and had a house in the country. Her father, Tony Lonsdale, is known as the "Blue Jean King of London," credited with starting that city's denim fever in the 1970s. Her mother was a model.
Lonsdale began hosting her first parties at 16 in "a cottage" on the family estate.
At Edinburgh University her events became more elaborate. She would hire out a mansion in the Scottish countryside and host themed parties -- cowboys and Indians for her 21st birthday and later a "Lord of the Rings" party.
In trying to explain Lonsdale's approach to hosting, Fisher, the 26-year-old actor and musician who plays the preppy drug dealer in this season of the AMC hit "Mad Men," says, "It's the Tamsin show, and she really enjoys doing it. It's the perfect combination of passion and talent."
Fisher joined Supper Club four months ago after attending as a guest at a dinner at Luau in Beverly Hills. He has a top-tier international membership, which includes invites to events in all three Supper Club cities and a 24-hour concierge service for booking travel, dinner and entertainment while on the road. There are two other levels of membership: local or national (L.A. and New York).
Other sun-soaked Hollywood guests included actress Lynn Collins ("True Blood" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") and her husband, actor Steven Strait, as well as Daily Candy founder Dany Levy, actresses Lake Bell and Shenae Grimes, and "Watchmen" siren Malin Akerman. Not all were members; some came as guests of members or ambassadors.
In addition to the membership fees, Lonsdale also benefits from corporate sponsorships. Each event she plans is sponsored by a different brand of liquor that is poured exclusively during the pre-dinner cocktail hour.
At a recent lunch meeting Lonsdale arrived with a tall jar of greenish juice from the boutique "cleansing" company Izo Cleanze. (She shied away from meeting at the French restaurant du jour, Church & State, cautioning that she was on a juice fast and not in need of anything fancy because she would not be eating.)
After asking the waitress for a glass, she explained that Timothy Martin, the founder of Izo, sponsored her cleanse with the understanding that she would spread the word about its benefits to her members and friends.
"It's kind of funny because Tamsin is a producer," says Daily Candy founder Levy, explaining why Lonsdale's arrival in the entertainment capital of the world makes perfect sense. Levy has been a member for two months. "Before I went it seemed a little snooty and not something I pictured myself being a part of, but then I met Tamsin and was amazed by how she's . . . pretty down to earth, and just a nice, smart woman."