The L.A. Restaurant Where You Party in Your Seat
You’re seated at your al fresco table by 8 p.m., and order charred octopus, spanakopita, and mezze. As you sip Sancerre, the lights dim and the DJ raises the volume, blasting French house music that rolls out of the speakers with a bass thump. A bottle of Dom Perignon stuffed with sparklers seems to float out of the kitchen, but it’s buoyed by two masked servers cutting their way through the dark, headed directly for your table. Dry ice spills out of the bucket. As a frequent diner, you might be tempted to feel jaded, but instead you start grinning.
Your eyes widen when, suddenly, the women who work the upscale nightclubs and restaurants of Los Angeles as hosts and dancers begin whirling napkins and LED glow disks around their heads, dancing inside the picture window that opens onto the patio.
Theía is the only party of its kind in L.A. right now. With all the clubs closed, outdoor restaurants have become the main method for socializing in a city known for its dine-in patios. But Theía is the only one with the mission of getting you to party in your seat.
Owner Max Simon found inspiration for Theía in the fabled party scene of Mykonos, as well as from legendary restaurant Bagatelle in St. Tropez, famous for its champagne-spraying servers.
“Everything is closed right now—every bar or nightclub is closed, but our place has loud music and people dancing at their tables,” Simon said. “I believe everyone living in the U.S. is missing traveling right now, and this is basically the cheapest way of traveling to Greece without risking going on a plane.”
It makes sense, of course, that the party is at Theía—because Simon, 25, formerly owned a popular Parisian nightclub. He understands that his peers need to party, however distanced. Simon ensures, of course, that Theía’s staff wears masks, that outdoor tables are distanced at least six feet apart, and that plentiful hand sanitizer is available to both staff and guests. He’s even careful to maintain distance between guests when the party starts, by employing a security guard just like a club would.
“Our guests feel happy because now they can go out during a time when they’re feeling alone at home,” Simon said. “This is a chance for them to get together with fellow Angelenos, but still be far apart enough to dine and party safely.”
Lest snobs turn up their noses at this party restaurant—it's booked out every single Friday and Saturday evening for the next two months, with an average of 150 covers every Saturday and 150 covers every Sunday, something few restaurants in L.A. can lay claim to right now.
Simon sees dining as performance. He felt that L.A.’s pre-COVID-19 dining scene was overly serious, especially for an entertainment center.
“I didn’t want to go out—everywhere is too quiet,” he said. The food at Theía is therefore self-consciously performative, giving up the pretense that food is a higher art and positioning it as a show. Smoke everywhere? Yes, please. Shaved truffles? Bring them on. Pea flower drinks? Of course.
Designed by mixologist Sean Leopold, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Purple, a tequila lime cocktail accented by Ango bitters and a Tajín rim, is Theía’s most popular drink. To serve it, a masked server bestows two glasses upon the table—a test tube bearing the pea flower, and a rocks glass with the tequila, lime, syrup, and bitters. She instructs the guest to pour the test tube into the rocks glass, which floods the glass with a vivid violet hue.
A Colorado rack of lamb is a choose-your-own-adventure dinner, served with chimichurri, bearnaise, or red wine sauce. All paths lead to a mystical trail of oregano smoke pouring over your table when you pull the dome off your lamb. The baba ghanoush also comes in a smoked dome.
Is it too much smoke? Simon thinks not.
"The younger generation really loves when we do the smoky lamb,” he says. “People bring in photos of the smoky lamb and the Mr. Purple cocktail and ask for them.”
Smoke also flows from buckets full of dry ice and hot water every Friday and Saturday night, when Simon cues “Zorba the Greek” and emerges with a stack of plates to perform a bit of magic for his guests. Using one plate, he breaks all the plates in the stack, much to the surprise of his guests—but the trick plates break neatly into just a few pieces, which are easily swept away.
For an entertainment-starved crowd, Simon says there is plentiful applause. “It’s almost like magic,” he said.
Soon thereafter, the servers start twirling their napkins in the air in time to the DJ playing Kaskade’s house beats. “The guests stop talking and twirl their napkins in the air with us,” Simon said. If there’s a birthday, the DJ plays Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” and an individual birthday cake made by the pastry chef, studded with candles, is whooshed out to the table.
Theía’s executive chef Moises Placencia has recently added more traditional Greek items to the fall menu, including a rich taramosalata and a hot, comforting moussaka with shaved truffles. Leopold has added cinnamon-inflected drinks for the fall menu and looks forward to preparing hot drinks for winter. The bar often sells out of Dom Pérignon, Taittinger, and Moët & Chandon on the weekends, but will add a Laurent Cru and feature a very special rare 2003 Louis Roederer Cristal clocking in at $1,500 per bottle, of which the restaurant only has three cases.
Simon worked with Tracy Hutson Design to create Old Hollywood-inspired interiors, including a glamorous horseshoe bar in the center of the interior, flanked by navy velvet banquettes and verdant vegetation throughout the space.
His next step is opening Theía’s backyard, since his front patio can only host 44 seats. Simon plans to create an exclusive backyard space that larger parties can rent for the evening, spreading out on a cabana, and laze the night away, or where six-tops can safely have dinner spread out far enough from one another. And, of course, the backyard diners will still get the full napkin-spinning, plate-breaking, dance-in-their-seat show.
“We give people entertainment, which is one of the most desirable things right now,” Simon said. “We want to give them an experience where they can escape from reality for just an hour.”