It’s always fascinating to see how other people live. PlaceInvaders offers a unique opportunity to do so — while also partaking in a fancy, ingredient-driven, five-course meal, prepared by a creative chef and accompanied by bottomless libations. It’s a delightfully intimate dinner party spiced with just a dash of voyeurism.
Graphic designer Hagan Blount and his partner, PR and marketing agent Katie Smith-Adair, started PlaceInvaders in New York City in 2014. It was little more than a lark: They rented an apartment on a short-term rental site after explaining what they wanted to do, and the owners were happy to let them. “We made no money on that first one,” Blount says. “We lost two or three hundred bucks.” But enough people came and loved it that they decided it was worth trying again.
“The next time we went out and bought our own silverware and plates,” Blount recalls. “The time after that we bought our own tables. Then we traded in our car for a bigger one, and then we bought a trailer and took the idea on the road.” Since that first dinner, the couple have hosted PlaceInvader events in Seattle, Philadelphia, Phoenix, L.A., Detroit, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon. “It was really rapid: We went from throwing our first event in June to having a business and an LLC in November,” Blount says. They now have sets of plates, tables, and chairs on both coasts, a custom trailer to transport the whole shebang, and they do about two event series each month, mostly in NYC, L.A., and Detroit.
The meals range from intimate eight-person dinners to passed appetizers for up to 150 guests. Blount and Smith-Adair have “invaded” a grandiose $13 million, 20,000-square-foot home in the Berkshires, a penthouse in L.A. with a prime view of the Hollywood sign, a Motown mansion in Detroit, a “luxury barn” in the Hudson Valley, and a single-family home in New York City’s East Village. They’ve served guests in graffiti-covered lofts, historical houses, architecturally unique apartments, and places that have been home to all manner of fascinating denizens. In each location, diners are invited to explore the dwelling — respectfully, of course — to get a peek into other people’s lives. “We just have to keep finding people who are willing to give us their homes,” says Blount. “Not everyone is like, ‘You want to have eight parties in my house over the course of five days? That sounds great!’”
The chefs they work with are similarly varied. There has been a Japanese kaiseki dining experience incorporating local produce and imported seafood, high-end Italian fare including butternut squash flan, rustic American bites like sunchoke croquettes, and French-inspired Lebanese dishes such as beef stuffed with dried fruit and spiced jus. The chefs tend to hail from whatever city the meals take place in, and they source the majority of their ingredients locally. “Sometimes the location inspires the menu,” Blount says, “depending on the vibe and environment.” But more often the chefs are given free rein to envision the most glorious culinary creations they can.
The final component of the meals is the wide array of guests who come. Those who attend such a unique dinner party tend to be eager to meet and mingle, which makes for a warm and intimate atmosphere. “I love to watch guests come in, sit down across from somebody, and have a great conversation,” Blount says. “People make friends at our events. It’s hard to make friends! Especially when you go out to dinner; that’s not the place you’re expecting to meet new people.” And guests aren’t shy about sharing their enthusiasm with their hosts. “Everyone is so happy with these experiences. People so often say, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t even know there was anything like this!’”
Blount and Smith-Adair, too, are perpetually inspired by what they do. “We get to spend our lives experiencing new places and staying in interesting homes,” says Blount. “And we get to work with so many great chefs and have all these incredible meals prepared for us.” What could be better?
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