What does decadence mean now? To Courtney Nichols, it means consuming everything. Those are her words, a mantra she holds so near and dear, “consume everything” is the motto for her dinner-meets-dance parties, an ongoing event series at once loud and proud and clandestine. Each is unique, depending on the DJs, guest list, venue, and theme, but marathon-grade fervor, as well as unlimited oysters are constants. So far the Los Angeles-based Disco Dining Club has hosted a number of soirees in Los Angeles and struck Berlin once; Nichols has her sights on New York and San Francisco next. I talked with the nightlife guru about the current L.A. party scene, what makes a great blowout and how to get an invitation to one of her increasingly infamous soirees.
What initially gave you the idea for Disco Dining Club?
My background is in music and journalism, and on the weekend, I would dabble in warehouse party bookings. When I’d go to these events and often end up seeing the sunrise, I’d want a really good meal. So I thought why not combine those two worlds and do the decadence throughout the night? Not just leaving it to the dinner beforehand and making the dance floor a bit too utilitarian. I did a very humble dinner party at a place in Silver Lake with friends and family. We just took over the restaurant. It wasn’t even a rent-out, so the public was walking in and out and my friends went a bit crazy and rebellious. People were really acting the most flamboyant versions of themselves. So I was like, “Why don’t we take this somewhere more private?” It just went from zero to one hundred in what seems like one night.
There’s probably a high that comes with the whole thing.
It’s definitely an addiction on my part. Once I get over the hangover, I’m like, “Okay, what can we do next?” Each time, I pick a different edition, which extracts a theme from disco or just glamour. The last one was the Gospel Edition. It began with a 44-person outdoor dinner, and we collaborated with these chefs who did a ceremonial Persian lamb roast. That began at 7:30 and at 10, we opened it up to about a 150 more people to go to the warehouse next door. There we had three more DJs: Darshan Jesrani from New York, Gay Marvine and Magic Fly from Vancouver. Then we had the truly unlimited oysters. I say truly because we go through 1,200 oysters an event. They just keep coming. We had a gospel choir come in, and we went ‘til sunrise.
Are there any constants to expect at every event besides the obvious?
The oysters and I also have a signature of giving out poppers to everybody. So I think that also reflects the crowd that goes!
That’s hilarious. I miss those!
The headaches not so much, but at the time, they’re great.
How do you make up the guest list?
It began with only friends because I was just testing the waters. Now I would say it’s a pretty fluid mixture of 60 percent friends, including those I’ve made through the events, and then I reach out to about 40 percent new people because I like to keep fresh blood in there. I don’t want it to give off the air of being too exclusive or elitist. It’s secretive, which is different. As someone who goes to an excessive amount of parties and so many restaurants, I like the hunt, but once I find it, I don’t like the rigmarole of getting in. If people reach out to me, I’m more likely to respond to emails of people who don’t write a generic contact form that says, “Hey. How can I get on the mailing list?”
Any emails that have stood out?
My favorite was one from this couple who sent me three paragraphs worth of reasons they should get in to Disco Dining Club, but it was only in quotes from disco songs.
How could you turn them down after that? Needless to say, I’m assuming you’re a fan of Studio 54 and that whole culture.
I mean, I grew up with it. I have the word “disco” tattooed on my upper thigh. It’s always been a part of me, I suppose. I find if people like disco in a non-generic way, they tend to have high taste. They like the finer things in life but to a point where it has a bit of grime.
Is there a dress code?
I get a lot of questions about what to wear. I just say be decadent. Wear the outfit that’s always been in your closet but you haven’t had a chance to wear. It’s not a costume party. It’s not wearing polyester. You’ll never hear a Bee Gees track. This is more about the evolution and style of disco, the community it brings to the dance floor. Whether you’re black, white, gay, straight, you’re all just there to party. It’s not about going to Beacon’s Closet and being like, “Give me your '70s outfits!”
Thank god. What are some of the best ensembles you’ve seen?
One of my particular favorite moments was when one of the security guys came up to me and said, “This is one of the oddest groups of people I’ve seen in my entire life.” Literally right as he said that, this guy walks in wearing just a thong. It was perfect timing.
What about one of the most over-the-top moments?
We had a sex performer in Berlin who got naked, pulled a giant bag of what seemed to be cocaine—obviously it was just flour because it was a gallon-size Ziplock bag—out of her vagina and snorted it, wrapped herself in an American flag and poured champagne all over herself. If that isn’t decadent, I don’t know what is. If you don’t have that element of sexual perversion in Berlin, then you’re not doing Berlin right.
What’s next on the agenda?
We just announced the theme for our next party on August 13th. It’s Shanghai Express edition, so it’s based off my favorite Marlene Dietrich film. It’s very noir.
What’s the most vital element of your parties?
An element that’s been important to me since day one is that I act as the host. I go around and I make sure certain people are talking to certain people, everybody has a drink in their hand and knows why they’re there. I do an epic speech each time. It’s important for people to understand they’re in my haven because then they feel like they’re more at home. I also have fun. That’s the air you give off to the rest of the crowd. My mother is at all the events, which is a funny thing. We create a little throne for her during the warehouse portion and she holds court.
Do you have an ultimate party song?
Sister Sledge’s “Lost in Music” remixed by Gay Marvine is a spectacular jam. Gay Marvine DJed at the last Disco Dining Club, so he’s stuck in my mind right now. We’re not strict with the music. We don’t only play instrumental disco.
What’s your take on the current nightlife scene in L.A.?
L.A. is going through a renaissance of sorts. The multitude of empty warehouses that still exist in this city, alongside the 2 a.m. last call, which means you have to do an after-hours, creates this culture of non-stop dance. For many years, it wasn’t considered a stop on many electronic music artists’ tours. It was definitely a rock town. Now it’s flourishing. The sick, sad reality is that we do benefit a lot off downtown Skid Row. With the focus on the homeless population, the cops tend to not notice a warehouse party going on in that big area. But that’s always the nature of warehouse parties. You don’t go to a clean neighborhood and have a warehouse party.
Who’s your dream guest?
The first person who comes to mind—and she has nothing to do with disco—is Geena Davis. I’m obsessed with her! Also, people who know how to carry on a conversation and know how to carry a beat.