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Pop Up Dinner Party: Chinatown Alleyway

My favorite part of Chinatown isn’t Grant Avenue with the gates and the shops and pretty lanterns strung across the street. My favorite part is the back alleyways. Chinatown is the oldest part of San Francisco and there are teeny hidden alleyways on every block. I love going for walks and exploring and getting lost in them. I’ve always thought they would make a great place for a pop up dinner party so we finally decided to do one. We chose an alleyway that wasn’t very busy (so we wouldn’t bother anyone.) And then invited some friends for a Chinatown Alleyway dinner party. It was so fun and since we just got Chinese takeout it really could not have been easier. I spent a couple hours prepping and picking up supplies and then we just showed up 45 minutes early to set up. It was the easiest one we’ve done yet! The reason I started doing these is I realized some of the prettiest and coolest places in San Francisco are public property. I love that we get to spend some extra time and make a special memory with friends. For the set up I bought some orangey-red lanterns and rented a red table cloth and napkins. I bought a set of folding chiavari chairs a few years ago and we have a six foot table that folds in half. I keep a set of inexpensive Ikea dishes and silverware to use for outdoor parties like this. So we could really keep the rental expenses low.

We also had some custom Chinese Fortune cookies made. I’ll share a post about that tomorrow. Summer is almost over and this was so fun it made me realize I still want to throw a few more dinner parties while the weather is nice! Would you ever throw a fancy dinner party in the middle of nowhere? (See more pop up dinner parties here.)

  1. bri

    August 8, 2012

    love it, j!

  2. rachel swartley

    August 8, 2012

    I love the idea of a pop-up dinner party, but I’ve never done one.

    The only one I’ve ever run into was in the midst of tailgating at a Penn State football game! It was so surprising to hear the clink of silverware and dishes among all of the hotdogs and beer. :)

  3. chelsea

    August 8, 2012

    Love this, Jordan!

  4. Giulia

    August 8, 2012

    Your pop up dinner parties have inspired me to host one next weekend at a local beach. I can’t wait – solar lights are charging 😉

  5. Jenn

    August 8, 2012

    I LOVE this idea. Do you run into any permit issues? I’d love to set up something similar…if only just an “urban” picnic.

    • jordan
      • jordan
      • August 8, 2012

      We just try to be polite and considerate and its never been a problem. We usually ask forgiveness rather than permission.

  6. Kait

    August 8, 2012

    Gorgeous set-up! Love the convenience of the take-out too – how fun + yummy!

  7. Kathy

    August 8, 2012

    This is fantastic! What a great mural to get in front of. Perfect, fun, risky. What a great idea. I may try to do something like this.

  8. chiara

    August 8, 2012

    this is so great! I love the colors of the lanterns in front of the mural – perfect!

  9. LARY@ Inspiration Nook

    August 8, 2012

    Wish I could get an invite to one of your dinners in the future! How fun! If you come to L.A for one count me in! :)

  10. Taylor

    August 8, 2012

    My friends and I just through a brunch in the middle of a park to celebrate the launch of our collaborative blog: Create Like Crazy { }. We love what you did!

    For pics of our brunch go to:

  11. Amber

    August 8, 2012

    I’d LOVE to do this one day. We just moved to an awesome city and the summer weather is to die for so once we meet some people, I’d love to host one. Thanks for all the inspiration!

  12. Tiffany M

    August 8, 2012

    This is so awesome!! I did a pop up dinner party on Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz last fall after seeing your beach one. So much fun! Thanks for the continued inspiration. :)

  13. Danielle

    August 8, 2012

    sooo fun! :)

  14. Elizabeth

    August 8, 2012

    So lovely! I’m thinking of having our own pop up dinner for our 10 year wedding anniversary on the beach we got married on in Malibu. Where did you get your folding Chiavari chairs? I rented 50 for our baby shower and I’m sure for the high rental cost I could have bought my own.

  15. Marie

    August 8, 2012

    How cute! I love the idea of setting up a dinner party or picnic in the most unexpected places. :)

  16. Maggie

    August 8, 2012

    I am flabbergasted! You really just set up a table on the sidewalk like this? Did you get any guff about it?

  17. Sarah

    August 8, 2012

    I love love LOVE that you do this. Seriously. I look forward to them!

    – Sarah

  18. Jaimie

    August 8, 2012

    I can’t believe this! it looks so fun!!!

  19. Kate

    August 8, 2012

    We’re planning one of these at your first spot by Aquatic park next month… a little nervous about getting shut down, but I like the advice to just ask forgiveness not permission. :) Thanks for more inspiration/encouragement to just go for it!

  20. SW

    August 8, 2012

    Hi Jordan! I wonder if you are aware that the alley and mural you set up your party in front of is actually a part of a really cool revitalization project by the Chinatown Community Development Center? Here’s a brief description:

    What a cool backdrop it made for your party!

  21. Sam

    August 8, 2012

    I love that fortune!

  22. Mary

    August 9, 2012

    What fun! Yes, I have done one pop-up dinner for friends who were moving away. We used a bank plaza on a Saturday night and my husband, I and our children all dressed as wait staff in black and white. We included entertainment where the kids performed some silly songs. It was so great. Thanks for jarring the memory!

  23. theresa

    August 9, 2012

    Thanks for the inspiration. I’m a big fan of hosting al fresco dinners at parks around town, but I haven’t taken the step to pop-up dinner yet. Can you share more insights into food prep, carry, and serving?

  24. jenniferL

    August 9, 2012

    so awesome! what a great spot in a chinatown alley to set up. very fun idea.

  25. Genevieve

    August 9, 2012

    Inspired by your Kirby Cove party, I threw one of my own this past weekend, for 25 people. It was an incredible amount of fun. Post on it here: Thanks for the idea, and the how-tos!

  26. Elle

    August 9, 2012

    Hi Jordan!

    Have you seen this map of San Francisco’s POPOs (privately owned public spaces)? My husband and I keep talking about hosting a progressive cocktail party where we move from one POPO to another. It would be easy to make it a potluck too – have everyone bring a drink or treat to serve at an assigned POPO – maybe one that reflects the feeling or history of the space?

  27. Oven repair

    August 10, 2012

    love your post.really shareable.

  28. Elena @ Randomly Happy

    August 10, 2012

    Such a fun idea. I’d love to do something similar, but wonder… how do people deal with curious passers by? Is it weird, or fun?

    x Elena

  29. Jenna at Homeslice

    August 10, 2012

    I love this tradition of yours! So fun!

  30. Andy Young

    August 10, 2012


    I’m the owner of this property where you set up your pop up dinner party. The city owns the sidewalk but I am responsible for the maintenace and insurance. Your share of insurance for the few hours of that evening is an invitation next time you use the space. I’ll even bring a few bottles of wine.

    Very fun and creative idea. What day was this event? Which one in the pictures is you? Just for fun I’ve been wanting to do this utilizing a potion of the inside and sidewalk. But I was thinking of Hot Dogs and BBQ. You probably noticed that space is the largest opening along that alley. Glad you got some enjoyment from the sidewalk. The city designed it for me that way for possible outdoor cafe seating. Building is vacant waiting for a tenant. Glad you were able to use it without any trouble from authorities.

    The Mural was done by Rob Minervine and represents the history of the use of the building. Right behind the mural inside was the Kuo Wah Restaurant, Lion’s Den Nightclub and later the Drag On A Go Go Disco/Live Music featuring the Whispers (soul) and some rock and roll.


  31. how2home

    August 13, 2012

    absolutely love this idea. Great table setting :) How did you manage to get such a clear photo with no one on the street? Did you have that section of the street blocked off for this particular dinner party?

  32. aimee

    August 14, 2012

    Hi! love your idea! i would love to know where you purchased your folding chairs! they are beautiful! thanks!

  33. Mathilde

    August 18, 2012

    If you want to learn more about Chinatown Alleyways, start with CCDC’s Chinatown Alleyway Tours: The youth who lead the tours are amazing!
    As Andy Young pointed out in an earlier comment, the alleyways are actually not public property, which is why the Adopt-an-Alleyway program was created to clean up and beautify the alleyways. Kudos to CCDC and the youth from both programs for their work!

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