Dinner Theater

Culture Cafe’s Phase Tunes

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

I always considered dinner theater to be a thing my parents would do. You know, going to a slightly shabby restaurant/theater space for some kind of overpriced-yet-bland dinner of prime rib, mashed potatoes and green beans while a bunch of world-weary thespians perform Death of a Salesman or seen-it-all singers belt out torch songs for a slightly distracted audience.

I don’t know where I got my likely erroneous notions about dinner theater from—likely from repeat viewings of White Christmas and Dirty Dancing mixed in with too many books about the 1970s, but even though my brain hasn’t painted the prettiest picture of what happens when food is blended with entertainment, I remain intrigued by the idea.

During my homebound quarantine existence of recent months, I’ve been participating in dinner theater of a different kind, one in which I plunk down whatever meal I’ve prepared for myself from the Trader Joe’s frozen-food selection on my coffee table and eat in front of my television. The food is fine, the entertainment is all right, but it’s not exactly the most exciting way of life.

In short, I need to get out more. And if I can one-stop-shop my dinner and entertainment, so much the better.

Thanks to the Culture Cafe’s new Phase Tunes series, dinner theater has come to Bellingham, except with excellent food and diverting rather than distracting entertainment.

The way it works is simple: Phase Tunes happens every Friday and Saturday night and all you have to do is show up from 6pm-9pm (reservations are needed for parties of three people or more) and slap down $20 per person. Your money gets you an entrée—a recent iteration of the series included a choice between Culture Cafe’s seriously delicious take on loco moco, a spring salad or chicken pot pie—libations in the form of either cocktails or beer (Skagit’s Farmstrong Brewing is a partner in the series and their contribution is their easy-drinking Mexican-style lager La Raza) and discounts on food and drink for the rest of the evening.

That’s a great deal and I haven’t even mentioned the music.

Dining establishments that used to offer musical entertainment have been trying to figure out how to continue doing so in our new socially distant era, and most are opting for small performances in outdoor spaces. That seems to check all the necessary boxes.

The other route is to provide music via a DJ because it only requires one person to fill a room with sound. That’s the way of Phase Tunes, and the soundtrack will come courtesy of a couple of DJs with long local resumes: DJ Little of Girl Meets Boy (pictured) and DJ Will, who is no stranger to the Culture Cafe. No telling at this point if special guests will be roped into the musical mix, but one can only assume that if Phase Tunes enjoys some success and Phase 2 of the Safe Start plan continues in Whatcom County for some time—which is appearing to be the case—anything can and possibly will happen, as long as it falls within accepted regulations and guidelines.

But in a society and town in which businesses are having to use creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to make a solid go of it, Phase Tunes is an innovative way to offer a complete night on the town and at a price that works for the Culture Cafe while being respectful of the economic strain that’s been put on our wallets by pandemic pressures. And it certainly blows my antiquated ideas about dinner theater right out of the water, not to mention the ersatz home variety I’ve been subjecting myself to. Loco moco, DJ music and some refreshing La Raza seems well worth putting on pants and leaving the house for—especially since we only have to do it two nights a week.

Phase Tunes happens 6pm-9pm every Friday and Saturday during Phase 2 at the Culture Cafe, 210 E. Chestnut St., entrance in the alley behind the Herald Building.

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