After two-plus years of sitting in plexiglass cubicles and trying to avoid contact with strangers, we’ve noticed a pattern emerging around NYC. Some new restaurants are modeling themselves after dinner parties, providing New Yorkers with the sort of anti-plexiglass experience we forgot could be so fun. You'll find those places listed below, all of which serve set menus in intimate spaces where you can listen to music and get to know your table neighbors. Almost all of them have BYOB policies—or, in the case of one particularly anarchic basement in Jackson Heights, unlimited sake. So whenever you’re ready to give up on that 1950’s jello-themed dinner party you’ve been planning in your head for months, make a reservation at one of these places instead. You might just make a new friend or at least meet someone to label in your phone as “Sigourney from Clinton Hill (?).”
Dept. Of Culture—a Nigerian restaurant that serves a $75, four-course tasting menu in Bed-Stuy—gave us the idea to write this guide. We haven’t had so much fun sitting at a communal table, drinking (complimentary) white wine out of tiny IKEA glasses, and talking with strangers in a long time. It made us wonder if it was even possible for another restaurant to fill this niche. Turns out there are a few that can. But Dept. Of Culture is an especially perfect place for anyone who's a vegetarian or wants to learn more about the regional specialities of the North-Central state of Kwara—where the chef/owner and all the food is from. Between each course, whether it’s spicy pepper soup or homemade Nigerian cheese, the chef will tell stories about his personal connection to the food you’re about to eat. You'll always hear a record spinning, and there’s a BYOB policy in addition to the aforementioned complimentary wine.
When you tiptoe down a staircase leading to an unmarked basement door, neither your body nor your soul expects toro waiting on the other side. That’s Hollywood’s fault, frankly: In The Silence of the Lambs, she doesn’t put the medium-fatty tuna belly in the basket, after all. But toro is exactly what you’ll find at Sushi On Me, a restaurant just below Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights where the last thing you’ll be is frightened by a basement, and the first thing you’ll be is drunk on sake. This place runs four nightly sushi omakase seatings, each with 15 pieces of nigiri, a couple of appetizers, and unlimited sake for $89 in cold hard cash. A meal here doesn’t so much feel like a typical omakase as it does a reckless basement party with songs like “Sweet Home Alabama” blasting from the speakers. Whenever a diner’s cup empties, the owner tips a magnum of Sho Chiku Bai sake into the glass, and tops off his own cup for good measure. After about two pours, the people sitting next to you at the sushi bar will begin to loosen up. Then you can all sing along to “Mambo No. 5” together while you eat what the chef claims is weed-infused salmon smoking underneath one of those Beauty and the Beast glass covers. Jury is still out on whether he was fibbing. (Yes, we were kind of drunk.)
The fun thing about this restaurant is that you can pretend you were invited to an intimate Fort Greene dinner party, even though you’ve never been invited to an intimate Fort Greene dinner party. Wine is poured into mismatched cups instead of glasses, guests sit at communal wooden tables, and there are enough pillows, vintage chairs, and candles to trick a millennial into thinking they’re living in a targeted ad. The party here lasts around two and a half hours, pacing through a four-course menu that changes every week. At a recent dinner, we had things like a cheesy French onion crostini that tasted like the best part of French onion soup, coq au vin, and a Meyer lemon tart. Wednesday night dinner costs $40 at Dinner Party, and the meal for the rest of the week is priced at $48—making this the best value on the list. And it’s BYOB.
We recently overheard two strangers on 9th Street bickering about which song choice at Tokyo Record Bar was better: ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” or Carole King’s “I Feel The Earth Move.” There’s no clear answer, but it’s an important question nonetheless—since picking your own vinyl to play at Tokyo Record Bar is what this fun Japanese restaurant is all about. The first thing you do when you sit down for your $65 izakaya prix-fixe meal is choose which throwback record you want to hear during dinner. Then, a seven-course tasting menu will begin, and you’ll eat food that goes well with sake and beer—ranging from salmon with crispy rice to a slice of pizza—while you (and roughly 20 other people) listen to a collaborative playlist. Imagine a dinner party where the guests share the aux cord, only the dinner happens in a tiny basement on MacDougal Street, and you don’t have to do any dishes.
At Bird Dog, there are framed pictures of cartoon canines on the walls, people walking through the doors with juicy red wine in tow, and a pink neon sign that reads, “Please don’t do coke in the bathroom.” In other words, it’s not that different from a West Village one-bedroom apartment inhabited by a person who often shops on Etsy. The BYOB restaurant serves two prix-fixe options ($65 or $110), each combining Italian and Southern-American food. So you can eat some delicious bucatini topped with sage, crispy chicken skin, and chanterelle mushrooms roasted in chicken fat, all in a room with 15 other people who may or may not follow the mandate on the bathroom door. Also worth noting: Bird Dog makes their own homemade Doritos, and there’s a $55 fried chicken dinner.
Hera differs from the other restaurants on this guide because, well, it’s not a physical restaurant. This roaming cooking project was started by one of the former chefs at Oxalis (an amazing place to have a special occasion meal, even if it doesn’t feel like a dinner party per se). The Hera team throws elaborate dinner parties all around the city, often in people’s apartments and sometimes at places like Winona’s in Bed-Stuy and the Market Line on the Lower East Side. Their set meals typically cost under $100 and focus on whatever seasonal ingredients the chefs are excited about. Follow Hera on Instagram so you won’t miss their next party (or DM them for inquiries about private dinners).