by Kriston Capps
Washington, D.C., is large enough to play host to a secret dinner club, but it’s too small for anything like that to be held secret for very long. Today Jane Black reports on the exclusive new anti-restaurant, Orange Arrow. The identities of the secret dinner happening’s founders remain a closely held secret among people in the know, and Black doesn’t dish. I’m not going to tell you, either, because I’m one of those privileged D.C. elites invited to attend, and I’ll lose that invitation if I gab.
Now, don’t you go blabbing in comments and ruin my good standing. The invitation email described me as “D.C. dynasty.” I don’t take that kind of flattery lightly.
As it happens, a wedding will take me away from D.C. the night of the inaugural flight of the Arrow, so I won’t be among the dozens of diners at the launch. That said, let’s talk, very elliptically, about the target that the Orange Arrow hopes to hit. It seems that there are three problems that Orange Arrow ostensibly solves, or solves for, or at least acknowledges.
One is that it is very difficult to start a restaurant in D.C.: hard for an established restaurateur, nearly impossible for a chef just starting out, and prone to all sorts of salty regulations about where in the city liquor can be served. (Answer: nowhere.) A fancy rotating dinner party skirts these problems. It’s also a solution for a chef working on a lark. For example: a chef serving lark. For one evening, a chef can roast an incredible lark for a captive dining room, where everyone is trapped into whatever’s being served. Night after night at a brick-and-mortar lark joint, however, someone is eventually going to wander in who just wants a hamburger.
A related problem is that it’s difficult to serve certain “adventurous” foods while still adhering to legal food preparation standards. Remember that scene in the Indiana Jones movie where they eat live snake babies and chilled monkey brains? That was an exclusive supper club for thrill-seeking archaeologists and badly stereotyped Indian government officials. No liquor license will let you serve the Blood of Kali — for that, you need either a pop-up restaurant, or a terrible screenplay.
Probably the problem the Orange Arrow addresses most directly is that everyone likes to feel that he’s a member of an exclusive club, even if the invitation is for something that’s beyond useless, like Google Waves. If I don’t have to dine with you scrubs, I’d certainly choose not to, and dine instead with people who also don’t have to dine with you.
For the diner, however, this most appealing aspect cuts a problem. Not every elite is elite in the same way. The invitation I received was also sent to 20 other people, more than half of whom I know by name but only one of whom I’ve ever had a meal with. Presumably other invitations reached circles I do not travel in at all. There’s an appeal to meeting new people in an exciting, temporary setting, but for some it could be stressful — like a work dinner or a wedding.
Further — and here I will let slip the facade I have worked so hard to maintain — sometimes I do not even feel all that elite. In my mind, top-seekrit supper clubs are for sexy people who frequent ESL and go on Tweed Rides and enjoy first-name-basis relationships with various sommeliers and craft bartenders throughout the city. I considered dressing up as a gremlin and throwing cabbage at the Tweed Ride participants — oy take that gov’nah! — but that’s about as close as I’ve come to participating in what appears from my perspective to be official cool in D.C.
This admission, I hope, will not be used as grounds to revoke my invitation: the thing making me feel most culinarily cool when I’m in real life adjusting my daily diet to address a potassium deficiency. But the nagging persists. What’s it that Groucho Marx said about any club that would have him? (And yet: chilled monkey brains!)