Updated: May 31
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is not only an enduringly popular story, but a vivid representation of the Jazz Age, an era that embodied exuberant enjoyment of fun, and the shaking off of stuffy old rules and traditions. Also known as the Roaring Twenties, this is a period that many of us look back on with nostalgia, especially now that our current “twenties” aren’t starting off so well.
NOTE: If you'd like to watch this discussion on YouTube (with WAY more photos) instead of reading through this whole long blog post, please CLICK HERE!
So today let’s plan an epic, immersive Great Gatsby Jazz Supper Club, complete with Art Deco theming, 1920’s activities, themed food & drinks, and creative costuming!
If you’re not familiar with the term, a supper club is a vintage nightclub with live entertainment where the guests hang out and eat at small bistro tables while they enjoy the music. The vibe is kind of “underground cool” especially when you pair it with the Prohibition era, which we will do.
The Great Gatsby theme evokes images of a sparkly Art Deco space with gorgeous recessed lights, a black and gold color scheme, and beautifully dressed people drinking vintage cocktails and enjoying a fantastic live band. While most of us don’t live in or even have access to a stunning Art Deco ballroom, we can still create the feeling of this kind of space with a few carefully chosen items.
Start with your most formal space, because this is going to be a fancy shindig. The Gatsby aesthetic is dark, so the first thing you want to do is dim every light. Small table lamps are perfect, and candles are an option too, either tapers in tall candleholders or small votive candles. You can even hang sparkly string lights for a great dim yet fun atmosphere.
Remove things that are too modern, or cover them up with a black tablecloth. Bring out everything you have that’s black, white and gold. These will be your base pieces.
Then, as we always do when we start planning our immersive parties, look around your house for items you already have that have an Art Deco feel. You don’t need to build an entire jazz club in your house - you just need to SUGGEST it with a few iconic pieces. Look at Art Deco rooms online to get a feel for the lines of the furniture and the decorations, then see if you can find things that you might not even have realized were Deco, like a tall vase, or a rounded chair, or even a bar cart. Big poufy feathers work for a signature Art Deco look, as well as mirrors and vintage barware, especially martini glasses. Maybe you have an Art Deco themed poster around, or even some gold Mardi Gras beads or strings of fake pearls that you can artfully drape on your tables. And grab anything you have that has sparkles or crystals on it.
If gold servingware isn’t your thing, you can actually spray paint some thrift shop items like trays, cake plates or even bottles to add some sparkle to dinner displays. You can even paint some frames gold and use them to display photos of 1920’s movie stars or even Leonardo di Caprio and Carey Mulligan. Remember, even champagne bottles and martini glasses can become stunning displays.
If you have space to mimic a bistro setting, grab as many small folding tables or end tables as you can find, and set them up with mismatched chairs and black tablecloths. You’ll want both tables of two and tables of four, set close together so people at different tables can still talk to each other. With a few basic pieces you can build a gorgeous table setting -- Add white plates, gold chargers or a gold table runner, a black menu with an iconic Art Deco border, and feathers in a gold wine bottle on a mirror with votives and some gold star confetti, and your club is emerging before your eyes!
Now look around and see where you could use a few extra special items to really bring your theme to life. Don’t go crazy buying every Gatsby party decoration available on Amazon - just choose a couple of iconic items that will have a strong impact. You might choose to set up some black and gold Art Deco pillars (Oriental Trading for just $6 each) or some gold shimmery fabric draped on the walls or doorways, or even a potted palm for that 1920’s look. Sometimes you’ll see gold balloons or streamers in Gatsby party posts, but use these in moderation. Too many balloons will look like a birthday party and will take your guests out of the immersive feeling of the 20th century.
Another option you have is to turn your club into a secret speakeasy, an opulent room that’s hidden behind a nondescript door. You can set up some “back alley” decor on your front porch or just inside your door, like wooden crates, burlap, empty bottles and “go away” signs, then ask your guests to give a password to enter the real party.
Every immersive event needs a slate of hands-on activities so that guests can feel like they’ve become part of the story. At your Great Gatsby Supper Club you’ll obviously have food and music as the core of the party, but plan a few opportunities for your guests to get out of their seats and mingle as well, because socializing and laughing are what make a party go from good to great.
When guests arrive you can encourage them to set their things on a little bistro table to save their spot, but then to go straight to the bar so they can talk with everyone else before they get settled in for the evening. Set up your bar in a spot with a lot of space for standing room around it, so new people can still get through to the bartender.
You can also set up a dance floor and encourage your guests to get up and enjoy the music during the evening, whether it’s live or recorded, but take that one step further and offer dance lessons to loosen everyone up! Try the Charleston, the Foxtrot, the Lindy Hop or even swing dancing.
You might want to set up a separate room as a casino to extend that secret Prohibition rule-breaking feeling. Set up tables to play Blackjack, or rent or borrow a roulette wheel or craps table. You’ll need some friends to serve as dealers, and while you're at it, see if you can find some friends to pass appetizers as well, both to the people at the casino tables and the people standing around the bar. Yes, you can do that yourself, but the party will flow better if you focus on making sure the guests are happy by chatting with them and introducing them to each other, rather than spending your time picking up dirty dishes.
To add some background atmosphere, you can play some black and white silent movie shorts on a loop on a few screens in the corners here and there, perhaps near buffets of hors d’ouevres or even by a martini glass pyramid.
And you can provide another opportunity for your tipsy guests to get together and laugh by announcing an old-fashioned game of charades, maybe during a break in the music. Parlor games like this were actually very popular back in the days before television and computers, and encouraging people to get up and do something will rescue those guests who ended up at a table with someone they are bored of talking to.
Help your guests remember their fun evening with a photo booth, either with an elegant Art Deco background OR a nod to the Prohibition speakeasy raids with a mug shot card.
The more activities you offer, the more your guests will feel like they’ve been transported to another time and place.
FOOD & DRINKS
Jay Gatsby was known for his opulent, over the top parties, so your food should be as elegant as you can manage. With a supper club format, you have several options for serving your food. You can have someone pass trays to the guests who are standing and chatting or playing casino games … you can offer food on a buffet and let guests take it back to their seats ... or you can have someone serve small courses of food to each table -- just a little at a time since your tables will be quite small.
The food itself should also be small and light - things that are easy to eat with one hand while holding a cocktail in the other. F. Scott Fitzgerald describes Gatsby’s parties this way: “On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.”
If you do decide to go all-in on the authentic Gatsby menu, and offer large proteins like baked hams and turkeys, slice them up first so your guests can easily take small pieces onto their plates. Otherwise, you might prefer to serve some period appropriate finger foods. Many of the most popular dishes of the 1920’s don’t appeal to modern palates, but several that do include deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, Oysters rockefeller, and croquettes. Cheese, olive and nut platters are also simple and “of the era.”
For desserts, you can leave the 1920’s and offer something modern -- some fantastic dark chocolate cake balls sprinkled with edible gold glitter will be a stunning end to the meal, or even tiny cupcakes topped with shimmery pearl confetti. If you’d like to offer an authentic dessert, individual jelly molds were all the rage at the time, made with plain gelatin powder, champagne, and fresh fruit.
Now for drinks, champagne of course will be your mainstay. You might also like to offer champagne cocktails, like the wildly popular Aperol Spritz (just use champagne instead of prosecco), or you could set out a fancy champagne punch made with brandy, cointreau, club soda, oranges, pineapples strawberries and mint. Remember, in the 1920’s they served champagne in wide glasses, not flutes, so one of your splurges might be a trip to the thrift shop to pick up some glasses in the authentic shape. These are generally just a dollar apiece since they’re out of fashion these days. You can also set up a menu on your bar featuring an array of other popular vintage cocktails, like the Sidecar, the mint julep and the gin rickey.
The element of your event that will really make it feel as though you’re all mingling at Jay Gatsby’s mansion on the West Egg is the costuming.
For ladies, it’s actually surprisingly simple to get ahold of a gorgeous flapper dress for around $50 on Amazon. They offer dozens of stunning flapper dresses, some for as little as $18! You’ll want to accessorize with long gloves, a headband, a long pearl necklace and some sparkly earrings, and some simple heels. Wearing this kind of outfit will make you feel fantastic! And also wonder why we can’t wear dresses like this all the time.
For men, you have two options. You can approximate a tuxedo with a black suit, white shirt and black bow tie, or if you’re coming from East Egg you can put together a less formal outfit with a wool cap, a tweed vest and a bow tie. Wear dark pants and brown leather oxford shoes and you’re all set.
And now you have everything you need to host an epic, immersive Great Gatsby Jazz Supper Club! If you happen to be based in Connecticut and need live jazz musicians, I heartily recommend the fantastic Green Jazz Band featuring singer Sally Terrell. To hear her gorgeous sound, watch the companion video to this post on our YouTube channel!