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Digging for Underground Supper Clubs in Toronto

They're shrouded in secrecy. They're barely legal. They're maybe even a little elitist. So-called "underground" supper clubs are gaining in popularity in Toronto.

What is this gastro-social phenomenon? Underground supper clubs, or "culinary speakeasies" as they are also known, were originally created with the purpose of providing a uniquely social, secretive and almost deviant way to enjoy dining - one that brings together like-minded strangers who share a love of food and a desire to get out of their comfort zone and mix things up a bit.

The premise for getting into one of these events is pretty simple. You get onto an invite list, you are emailed the details, you show up, pay and enjoy. Seems easy enough to me. Not necessarily so. The popularity of some of these clubs is built upon a definitive air of exclusivity. They require some display of gastronomic charm, cunning or grandeur in order to even get on a waiting list. That's right, only the culinary cognoscenti need apply.

And I thought it was about the food.

The locations (usually private homes), chefs, menus and attendees can vary from event to event, and clubs usually disseminate these details via e-mail a week or so (sometimes hours) before the next event.

When coming up with the initial idea for this post, I struggled with whether I should even write it. I mean, I didn't want to unearth the whole underground supper scene and risk the threat of being labeled a farc (a food narc)!

But as I researched it a bit more I realized it's not a very "underground" scene to begin with. With individual club websites, an exposĂŠ from a major culinary magazine and now even books on the topic available from Amazon there isn't really much unearthing to be done.

I know of two "underground" supper clubs in Toronto - The Hidden Lounge and the Anti-Restaurant in TO [insert disclaimer here: there are probably several deep down underground clubs that I don't know of].

The Hidden Lounge doesn't really seem too concerned with who knows about them, and anyone can attend at their fixed location in a downtown loft. While they still host monthly dinner parties, they are now "open" Sunday through Tuesdays and can accommodate private functions, making them more like a restaurant than a supper club. It's a restaurant in someone's private home, where the legality can (and has been) debated. But they circumvent trouble by declaring their events "private parties" (where you BYOB).

The Anti-Restaurant wants only hard-core food heads attending their events, so they make you fill out a short questionnaire that asks for your profession, three favourite restaurants in TO, and what your last meal on earth would be. If you're lucky enough to be deemed a true food lover, then you get on the e-vite list - otherwise tough luck - "it's not for everyone."

Are these exclusive andquirky dinner experiences all they're crackedup to be? Stay tuned. I have a reservation for an upcoming Hidden Lounge dinner party. As for Charlie's... after filling out their questionnaire, I am still waiting to hear back from the Anti-Restaurant.

Let the digging begin.

Photo by Kathryn Lymburner.

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