The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party’s Key Ingredients? Artists, Conversation & Wine

The Dinner Party that Elysabeth Alfano throws isn’t exactly a dinner party. True, there’s dinner, but you’ll need a host of other descriptors, too: “foodie”, “round table”, “talk show”, “experiential” and, according to one Yelp reviewer, “old-fashioned glamour.”

The Dinner Party

Elysabeth Alfano throws a Dinner Party like non other.
Photo credit: Charles Osgood Photography

Held at City Winery and streamed via the Chicago Sun-Times, The Dinner Party invites a group of celebrities and artists to share a meal and conversation. It’s like Jon Favreau’s Dinner for Five, but with an audience, or The Graham Norton Show or The Late Late Show with James Corden, but with food. And, unlike all three, it’s line-up features individuals from across a range of industries and backgrounds.

A typical panel is the June 1 dinner, featuring Joe Mantegna, relationship expert Bela Gandhi and sommelier Jon McDaniel. Past guests have included everyone from Destiny Child’s Michelle Williams to Jerry Springer to four Saturday Night Live alumni, an impressive feat for an independent venture led by “one little person,” as Alfano says. In fact, Alfano reports it’s easy to get people to join her on stage because of the unique format—and the wine.

At The Dinner Party, conversation among the panelists is interrupted with short performances by the guests themselves, questions are solicited via twitter from the audience and off-the-cuff moments abound (like that time Rick Bayless read his guacamole recipe in, let us say, a seductive manner). But Alfano is most proud of the connections that form over the course of the meal, both among panelists and among audience members.

“If you’re a film director, you know a lot of people in film,” Alfano notes of her on-stage guests. “You might not know any stand-up comics; you might not know any authors; you may not know any musicians.” Introducing her guests to one another is a central part of her mission.

Over the years, Alfano has become skilled at putting together the key components of a successful dinner party. So, who would be on her ideal guest list? Martin Scorcese, Lady Gaga and Albert Einstein, of course.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

Comments (1)

  • THANK YOU for this fab write-up Erin Robertson! You are the best. Exchanging ideas on The Dinner Party is what we are all about. After all, the best conversations happen over dinner!


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