The earliest dinner theaters date all the way back to the Middle Ages, when courses were interspersed with songs and theatrical shows were performed during Christmas time, usually by schools and church groups. Today’s dinner theater options vary for all tastes, often accompanied by food tailored to the ambiance. Below are nine dinner and a show options for your next night out, from exclusive throwback magic to mermaids with a side of tropical cocktails.
City Winery, multiple US locations
What began as one urban winery with a stage has swept the USA. City Winery now has locations in New York (re-opening in 2020), Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Washington DC, Boston and Philadelphia.
From comedy shows to intimate nights with songwriters like Sinead O’Connor, to history – like when Prince popped up and performed until dawn. Food is hearty with dishes like mussels, pasta and flatbread, as well as some locally-inspired fare, like the hot chicken egg rolls offered in Nashville. As to be expected, it all pairs well with wine.
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Denver, Colorado
This massive lounge, music venue and restaurant bills itself as a “gastrobrothel,” from its history when it was at various times a peep show, adult video library and bordello. Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox’s provocative past is played up with vintage sex show booths, velvet curtains and cocktails with names like Dirk Diggler and Blame it on Rio. Booths and tables overlook a sunken stage for entertainments that include live music, DJs, and trivia nights. And if music isn’t your thing, you can try your hand at pinball.
Related article: London’s best drag brunches
Dolly Parton’s Stampede at Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
A hefty four-course meal, including a whole rotisserie chicken and a smoked pork loin (but no utensils), accompanies clean fun and fancy horses at this mini-rodeo just outside Dollywood in eastern Tennessee. For $30-$55, 32 steeds and their skilled riders entertain in the horseshoe-shaped arena, along with pig races and chicken-catching competitions.
True Dolly fans know to come early to meet the horses in their stables and enjoy the banjo-filled bluegrass pre-show.
Manor Pro Wrestling Theater, Kissimmee, Florida
Florida’s Manor Pro Wrestling Theater pairs spandex-clad showmen with dishes like Body Slam Oven Roasted Chicken and Drop Kicking Vegetable Medley. Elevated in a ring, the wrestlers are local professionals who have turned dinner theater on its head with WWE-style theatrics. Starting at $43 ($37 for children 4-12, under 3 is free), tickets include a three-course dinner, with add-on options for photographs in the ring and merch.
The Magic Castle, Los Angeles, California
In the 1960s, a former private home in Hollywood was converted to the Magic Castle, a clubhouse for magicians that ostensibly no commoner can enter. But commoners have tricks of their own. Stay at the adjacent hotel, email a performing magician, or befriend a member and attend as their guest, and all will be revealed for a fee of $25 to $35.
Guests must first don cocktail attire and dine in the old-school steakhouse before being permitted entrance to the main magic show and granted the freedom to roam the Castle's storied hallways, catching performances happening everywhere from small theaters to right next to you at the bar – a magic trick with a side of martini.
The Wreck Bar Mermaid Show, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The beaches of Fort Lauderdale offer more than just stretches of white sand and clear blue water – they also come with mermaids. At the nautical Wreck Bar, mesmerizing aquatic creatures frolic while the audiences peep them through portholes, feasting on crab cakes, painkiller cocktails and other tropical-inspired fare.
With shows from Wednesday through Sunday both family-friendly and a little risqué. In 2019, the Wreck Bar made a new splash as the only place in the U.S. with an underwater mermen burlesque show. You can catch the flowy-haired Aquamen on Thursday nights.
Cafe Carlyle, New York, New York
New York’s Carlyle Hotel has been serving up glamour since 1930, and its intimate Café Carlyle has hosted legends like Bobby Short and Eartha Kitt to contemporary legends like Debbie Harry and Alan Cumming.
The cabaret hearkens to a time where waiters wore tuxedoes (they still do) and the martinis were extremely large, strong, and well-balanced (they still are). Prices vary, but buy tickets early as they sell out fast. Barstools are kept open for first-come, first-served.
Jackson Hole Playhouse, Jackson, Wyoming
Your Jackson Hole Playhouse visit begins with an optional dinner in the old-timey saloon, complete with saddle-seats at the bar, family-style meals as actors from the show serenade while serving as your waiters.
After dinner, the show is in the historic theater, built in 1915 as a livery stable and since has served as everything from a car dealership to a bowling alley to a post office. Now as the playhouse, the popular locale’s shows are mostly Western-themed, with show-only tickets starting at $40 ($25 for children).
Tommy Gun’s Garage, Chicago, Illinois
Take a trip back to the prohibition era, highlighted with memorabilia and a 1928 Model “A” Ford at this “interactive speakeasy” musical comedy revue, running since 1989. You get in on the action – possibly even pulled up on stage for a sobriety test – as the room gets raided by coppers, while gangsters and flappers perform musical selections from Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and more. A $67-$77 ticket includes dinner and gratuity, but hooch will cost you extra.