You might reach for your gazpacho and wind up caught in a spat between a murderous photographer and an undead “glamour girl,” or Charles Manson might recruit you to join the Family by the time the braised short ribs hit the table. Elizabeth Short, dahlia flowers in her hair, will welcome you to dinner, and if Richard Ramirez sketches something terrible on the back of your menu, it’s best to just smile and nod. After all, you wouldn’t want to upset one of your hosts when your hosts are, well, the most nefarious serial killers in L.A. history.
To Live and Di(n)e in L.A. dinners come but two or three times a year, each an immersive-theater deep dive into the darker corners of Los Angeles that unfolds over a coursed meal and themed playlist. Over two hours, surrounded by 30-or-so guests and five or six actors playing murderers and victims, you’re just as likely to let Manson and his free-love lackey, Susan Atkins, draw an “X” on your forehead as you are to question how—and why—we’ve become culturally obsessed with true crime.
“People can go to a theme park, people can go to a haunted house and really disengage from the world, but I feel people are just interested in something that’s a little bit more dangerous and a little bit darker,” says Matt Dorado, the visionary behind L.A.’s dark-hearted events company, Drunken Devil. “I think there’s just a morbid curiosity that’s being pushed out of people by the trouble that we’re facing in reality.”
Dorado and Drunken Devil capitalize on that curiosity with regular Bloody Brunch burlesque shows and three marquis events a year—read: a debaucherous whirlwind of themed warehouse parties—but to dig deep into our city’s grittier history and sit down to a meal with some of its most infamous names, you’ll need to experience Dorado’s intimate, ghastly dinner party, To Live and Di(n)e in L.A.
The venues may change but the script often doesn’t, which means your dinner with the damned will almost certainly begin with the Black Dahlia, played by the charming Briana Roecks. She, as Elizabeth Short, will make pleasantries and answer your questions admin the backdrop of her own memorial, casually revealing that L.A.’s most famous cadaver moved to Los Angeles from a broken home, a Hollywood hopeful whose most famous role unfortunately was that of a drained, severed body with a scalpel-cut smile.
One of the chief suspects in her case, physician George Hodel (played here by actor Nathan Turner), circles the room and engages with guests, teasing out information through suave conversation. Before you’re seated, their two performances come to a head. The room goes even darker and a literal ballet unfolds. And then your meal begins.
Each iteration of To Live and Di(n)e in L.A. enlists a new chef to dream up courses inspired by the killers, with dishes timed to correspond with key events in the script. At its most recent event, caterer Elyse Lain Elshenawey whipped up tortilla gazpacho with grilled cactus to evoke the desert—the site where 1950s killer Harvey Glatman would bury his “glamour girls” after tying them up, photographing and strangling them. During the Manson course, she crafted mole-braised short ribs in an ode to El Coyote, the final restaurant that actress Sharon Tate visited before being brutally slain in 1969; for dessert, a Night Stalker-inspired midnight-dark chocolate tart dripping with pomegranate-molasses caramel “blood.”
Some chefs go darker: KTCHN LA’s Felix Barron once crafted a Manson course involving pork, a nod to “PIG” scrawled on Tate’s door, while some go lighter—My Sublime Cuisine’s Leslie Pollock leaned into vegetables and the psychedelic aspect (dried seaweed as marijuana, a serving of “magic” mushrooms).
The thing about sitting down to dinner with the spirits of murderers is that it should, in theory, disgust and frighten you. The thing about To Live and Di(n)e in L.A. is that its actors are so endearing, its dishes so delicious, its setting so lively and entertaining, that you almost forget the horrors and repercussions of their real-life counterparts—almost. Because the other thing about this dinner series is that Dorado won’t let you forget.
“I never want to go into the exploitative realm; everything about Live and Di(n)e is meant to make the audience question,” he says. “You’re having a good time, you’re talking to these people, people are joining the Manson family, everyone’s laughing, and then at the very end Richard Ramirez says, ‘We’re dedicating this night to those at our hands, to the monsters within all of us’ and everyone is left to question a little bit. [Like,] ‘Ooh, I just cheers’d Charles Manson, how do I feel about that?’"
And as much as To Live and Di(n)e serves as a dark mirror into our own twisted fascinations, it’s also a second chance for the victims’ legacies.
Judy Ann Dull was a 19-year-old single mother when she agreed to pose for Glatman. Bound, sexually assaulted, strangled and dumped in the desert just outside of Indio, she never got the final word in life, but in Dorado’s script, Dull—played by Hailee Lipscomb—fights back and humiliates Glatman (Sean Owens) in front of a roomful of people. Meanwhile Short, in a heartfelt monologue, reclaims her life as a struggling actress and not, as the press of the ’40s claimed, a whore and a sex worker.
“The Manson part was the trickiest to handle,” Dorado says. “Susan Atkins did all of these horrible things, but it poses the question: The members of the Family who were taken as teenagers and pumped full of drugs and raped—how much of it was their fault? They very clearly were involved and had a lot to do with it, but how much was them actually thinking, ‘I should go kill this person?’ and how much of it was them being influenced by Charles Manson?”
“What if we were wrong?” Atkins, played by Katy Foley, asks Manson.
The historically charismatic Family man, played by an electric Mikie Beatty, assuages her guilt—but it does nothing to relieve the diners, all clearly unnerved and unsettled by what they’ve witnessed and enjoyed.
It’s the most morbid—but entertaining—meal you can find in Los Angeles, a dose of immersive theater and burlesque interludes to help you stomach your own curiosities.
Unfortunately, gathering the souls of the damned is a rare event and To Live and Di(n)e is wrapped for the year. To sate your bloodlust for the next dinner, which will take place in 2020 and might even branch out into Chicago’s murderous history, Drunken Devil has a handful of macabre happenings planned through the end 2019. Just in time for Halloween there’s a blowout bash called Black Magick, which promises burlesque, dark magic tricks, an open bar and a dive into Old Hollywood and the occult, while in November and December the kitschy horror-themed Bloody Brunch variety show returns to El Cid. There’s even discussion of a gothic Christmas dinner party, and we’re awaiting the details with sleigh bells on.
Keep updated on the next installment of To Live and Di(n)e in L.A.—and all of Drunken Devil’s grisly revelry—by following them on their social channels. And in the meantime, try not to go looking for too much darkness around Los Angeles; there’s plenty to find, and it might not be as friendly as Dorado’s spirits.