Pop-up and Party On

Thanks to AMC’s retro TV show “Mad Men,” it’s hip to be square again. In Wine Country, pleasure-seekers of all ages are dressing up, sipping cocktails and stepping out to dinners that come with a twist: some kind of show.

More intimate than a restaurant and more social than a dinner party, the events are creative and theatrical.

Last fall, some 600 guests dressed all in white and gathered at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma for the first Pop-Up Dinner Wine Country. For the posh, Gatsby-style picnic, participants brought their own food and wine, plus over-the-top table decor. Then they danced the night away in a barn to the gypsy jazz of Dgiin.

Elaborate table settings are prepared for the PopUp Dinner in White Wine Country in Sonoma on Saturday, October 19, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)
Elaborate table settings are prepared for the PopUp Dinner in White Wine Country in Sonoma on Saturday, October 19, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

“It’s not just a pop-up dinner, but a pop-up art installation,” said Nicole Benjamin, co-owner of Hand Made Events of Sonoma, which hosts the intimate dinners among strangers in cities across the country.

Part speakeasy, part Venetian carnival and part shabby-chic convention, the all-white dinners started in France in the 1980s and have since gained momentum, spreading from Nairobi to New York.

The parties offer something for everyone — food, wine, fashion, decor, music and a hint of mystique — while relying on the guests themselves to create the evening’s zeitgeist.

At Cornerstone Gardens, serious foodies warmed up gourmet dishes such as duck breast over Sterno, while a dozen Marilyn Monroe look-alikes imitated the fetching film star with glamorous white wigs.

The pop-up dinner will return to Wine Country this fall, in a new, secret location that will not be revealed until the last minute.

Those who can’t wait that long can head to Suite D in Sonoma, where Girl & The Fig restaurateur Sondra Bernstein and her chef and business partner, John Toulze, throw weekly pop-up dinners for 40 to 50 guests.

Fabiola Sotomayor and Emily Mughannam prepare their picnic table for the PopUp Dinner in White Wine Country in Sonoma on Saturday, October 19, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)
Fabiola Sotomayor and Emily Mughannam prepare their picnic table for the PopUp Dinner in White Wine Country in Sonoma on Saturday, October 19, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Each dinner offers a different theme, decor and menu, from Southern-style feasts to lobster bakes, with wine. Entertainment can include a flamenco guitarist, a Ping-Pong tournament or a caricaturist.

“It’s really quirky and fun,” Bernstein said. “It gives us a chance to do something we don’t normally do.”

Up north in Geyserville, Dino Bugica draws food lovers from far and near with his soulful, wood-fired Italian cooking at Diavola Pizzeria. Four times a year, Bugica also hosts the Diavola Supper Club, a pop-up dinner and dance that draws up to 120 guests to the Oddfellows Lodge above the restaurant.

It’s a grown-up affair for hipsters that offers a family-style meal, guest winemakers and brewers, and a live band with dancing into the wee hours.

Bring your own fedora and loud tie. “Mad Men” would approve.

Diavola Pizzeria, 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-814-0111,
diavolapizzeria.com

Hand Made Events, 974 First St. West, Sonoma, handmadeevents.com

Suite D, 21800 Schellville Road, Suite D, Sonoma, 707-933-3667, figsuited.com

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