Friday, June 3, 2011

A Collective Table

Back in 2009, my homie Tannaz and I went on a short trip to Panama. One of the many highlights was spending a few nights at the isolated island hotel, Al Natural Resort in Bocas del Toro.

Each night, at 7pm, a bell rang signaling all 20 or so guests to gather at the main hut.

The space was transformed from a sandy hut into a proper dining room with candles, music and a beautifully set table. After an island cocktail at the bar, everyone sat down to a 3-course meal made by the resort's owner/chef.

All these strangers sitting down to a meal together was at first awkward, but soon the wine was flowing, and everyone was chatting away. The first night, Tannaz and I mostly talked to a German couple with very impressive travel street cred. The next night we bonded with a young French couple on their honeymoon. When the man learned Tannaz works at Dreamworks, he got so excited, he started quoting in a thick French accent all of his favorite Shrek lines. Sound super annoying? It was not. He had us both cackling with laughter.

I can blabber on about rugs and plants and bathroom products for my dream hotel, but the most important thing to me is experience. Making guests feel welcome and at ease socially is everything a small hotel should aspire to do. Really, it's everything. Was my bed at Al Natural the most comfortable I've ever slept in? Probably not. But who cares when the whole place felt like a warm hug.

So here's the idea. My LA hotelito will have a weekly guest dinner.

The reality is that it's different to travel to a sleepy island resort than it is to travel to Los Angeles. Visitors here have people and places to see. But what if the weekly guest dinner actually made the hotel a destination? Every Thursday night (or whatever) we could have a rotating local chef feature food made from Silver Lake gardens. With a few spots reserved for locals, this silly notion that LA is an isolated, lonely city would be thrown out the window.

As with any dinner party, you're always at risk of getting stuck next to some annoying whiner who brings down the whole vibe. But often a kind of magic is born around a collective table of strangers sharing food and wine.

p.s. I will be dressed like this.

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