The view from the 1,400 square foot private rooftop patio terrace just above a 12th floor condo penthouse of the historic El Dorado Lofts in downtown Los Angeles is both impressive and expansive. It is especially so under a canopy of stars…and especially for a select group of people who gather there once a week during Summer for a gourmet feast in celebration of equally historic downtown Los Angeles, its heritage, its culture and its celebrity chefs. All this happens courtesy of a visionary LA native and entrepreneur named Josh Gray-Emmer. But, before we tell that story, let’s take a closer look from that penthouse rooftop view. And let’s dig up a little backstory on the legendary El Dorado.
Several noteworthy landmarks and scenic vistas are visible from the El Dorado’s unique vantage point. LA’s Chinatown is north, the Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center) is west, the Fashion District is south, the city’s financial district is west and the historic Broadway Theater District is literally two streets over west on South Broadway. And that’s just a taste of all the iconic settings that surround the El Dorado.
One obvious landmark that’s easily recognizable to disaster movie fans is the unmistakable 73-story US Bank Tower looming to the north. This is the high-rise tower that was completely obliterated from directly overhead by a gargantuan alien spaceship in the 1996 film, Independence Day. It was destroyed again by a tornado in the 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow and once more five years later by an earthquake in the film, 2012. Yet, almost miraculously, it still stands today in clear view of the El Dorado.
As for longer range vistas, the expansive Santa Monica Mountains are visible running west down to the Pacific coast, the towering San Gabriel Mountains can be seen stretching out to northeast and the glistening nighttime skyline of the beautiful port city of Long Beach lies to the south.
The 3-sectioned El Dorado condo’s address at 416 Spring Street is ideally located for such views. And, when that LA sun goes down, the panoramic 270-degree El Dorado perspective also gives you an ocean of glittering LA city lights below stretching out in all directions. And above is another ocean of celestial lights as wide and deep as infinity.
Formerly the Hotel Stonewell, the 12-story El Dorado is a true historic downtown LA landmark built in 1913 and opened for business a year later. It featured a highly stylized and brightly colored façade made of enameled brick and terra cotta plus an equally stylized tile-covered hotel lobby.
The 264-guestroom Stowell was initially built to cater to those who had business dealings in the financial district of downtown LA commonly known as “The Wall Street of the West”. But it also became known for hosting a regular stable of Hollywood silent film stars as well as actors performing in LA’s renowned local theater district.
One of that era’s classic female silent film movie stars and Stonewell residents was Miriam Cooper. Cooper was misfortunately cast as a co-star in the infamous D.W. Griffith film, The Birth of a Nation, but later starred in romantic dramas such as Evangeline which was based on a Wadsworth poem. It’s said she moved to the Stonewell from the nearby Gates Hotel to save money. Indeed, her Stonewell room rate in those days was a whopping $7.00 per week. And she could have dinner in the hotel’s dining room for an outrageous 35 cents.
But the hotel’s most famous celebrity guest back then was world-beloved silent film comedic star, Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin took up residence there in 1915 while making films such as A Night Out, In The Park and The Tramp for Essanay Pictures studios. Like other Stonewell guests, Chaplin’s bedroom enjoyed the luxury of ice-cold running water and a type of vending machine or predecessor of a mini-bar, where he could also purchase a toothbrush, tooth powder, cold cream, talc powder, shaving soap and a safety razor all for 25 cents.
The Depression took its toll on the Stonewell and, over the years, it saw a steady decline until it became completely abandoned by the end of the 1980’s. But in 2001, it was purchased by new owners and in 2008 it was restored and converted into the condo complex it is today with its name changed to the El Dorado Lofts.
That brings us up to date and sets the stage—or table, to be specific—for our story. It’s a story about that 12th floor condo rooftop patio and the exceptionally creative and inspired penthouse owner named Josh Gray-Emmer who has turned that rooftop into an exclusive summertime Wednesday night social dinner setting known as the “Downtown LA Dinner Club”; or as it’s locally known, the “DTLA Dinner Club”.
This by-invitation-only gathering hosts 30 of downtown LA’s most energetically devoted supporters including occasional celebrities. “It’s open to residents of Downtown Los Angeles, members of The LAAC and select individuals who contribute to making DTLA a better place,” notes Gray-Emmer. Anyone who lives in downtown LA, is a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club or is a founder or CEO of an L.A.-based company is welcome to sign up to be invited.
So, what extraordinary entrees await DTLA Dinner Club guests? Here’s just a small taste sampling…
All gourmet dinners are cooked from scratch by many of downtown LA’s most lauded celebrity chefs. And, to “turn it up to 11”, everything is (wait for it) FREE—yes, FREE! No charge to guests and no costs to the chefs. Chefs purchase their ingredients and bring their receipts for reimbursement. Then they take over the penthouse kitchen and that’s when the party begins. Guests can bring their own favorite beverages but are not allowed to tip the chef or host. And that brings us back around to the aforenamed, Josh Gray-Emmer. He foots the bill for each and every dinner.
Josh Gray-Emmer is a long-term resident of downtown LA. “I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I’m currently celebrating 20-years living here in the middle of historic downtown LA,” he proudly emphasizes. Although he moved to Bali in 2016 to experience first-hand the lure of that exotic Indonesian paradise, after about a year and a half, he came back home to LA. “It didn’t take long before I realized that Bali’s tropical island lifestyle wasn’t for me. I’m a city guy. This is the heart of LA. This is where LA was born. And I love the energy and close community feeling of downtown LA,” he adds.
While the DTLA Dinner Club is a major cause-celeb for Gray-Emmer, it isn’t, by any measure, his only local LA commitment. “I am the Founder and CEO of BridGE, a full-service agency specializing in community engagement, website development and social media,” he offered when pressed for a little more professional background. “Our focus is on data-driven, action-oriented websites that drive support for large scale real estate developments, issue-oriented PACs, non-profit groups, governments and corporations.”
Now…as if that wasn’t impressive enough, it also turns out that Gray-Emmer was, in his words, “…a lucky 24-year veteran of The Sundance Film Festival…” with a film he wrote and produced which premiered at Sundance in 1997 when he was only 18. Since then, he’s been busy enough founding three successful companies, including BridGE, AirParty (parties on airplanes for executives and celebrities) and AP Consulting, a marketing and branding firm for Downtown property owners.
How did DTLA Dinner Club first get started and what was the inspiration for creating these rooftop gourmet gatherings? For that, we have to travel back to 2011. “It began as simple, informal weekly Wednesday night dinners that I cooked from my 12th floor loft kitchen for a few special friends and downtown LA guests,” recalls Gray-Emmer. “I managed to keep that up every Wednesday for 52-weeks the first year. But it was a lot of work. So, the next year, I swapped my role as cook for the role of host and welcomed legendary downtown LA chef, Ilan Hall, to do his magic in my kitchen. We also began limiting the Wednesday night dinners to just the warmer summertime months and created a protocol for inviting guests.”
Exactly 30 special guests are invited for each exclusive festive feast. Why only 30? “I only have room for 30 chairs,” quips Gray-Emmer. “Those 30 special invitees are made up of 15 previous guests and 15 new ones each dinner. The seating is arranged on the basis of encouraging people to get to know each other and make new friends…to share their own stories. And we use social media profiles of guest to help arrange seating assignments.”
Except for Gray-Emme’s Bali adventure in 2016 and a COVID break in 2020, the DTLA Dinner Club hasn’t missed a beat and has become the talk of downtown LA attracting extensive area focus across print, TV, online and social media. And, since that first pop-up dinner eleven years ago, the who’s who list of celebrity chefs has continued to make news. “These Wednesday night events are all about spotlighting top local chefs and their multi-course dinners as well as being all about building community and promoting non-profit,” Gray-Emmer is quick to note.
Generally, there’s a different chef each week—sometimes paired with others on special occasions—and all have indeed earned the status of “celebrity chefs”. As mentioned above, the first local chef to do the honors was Top Chef two-season winner, Ilan Hall. Along with his role as the first celebrity chef to be in the spotlight, Ilan also has several restaurants around the country including Ramen Hood, a nearby local favorite ramen spot at Grand Central Market.
Another DTLA DC favorite is Joe Sasto, a formidable pasta cuisine chef of both Quince and Lazy Bear fame impacting their rise from one-to-three and one-to-two Michelin stars, respectively. With a star resume and starring performances on both the Food Network’s “Chopped” and Bravo’s “Top Chef”, Sasto is also famous for his focus on fresh handmade pasta, with influences from coastal Italy and the bounty of California.
And to keep the lineup star-studded, there’s Sami Udel, a private chef for the likes of Ludacriz, 2 Chainz, DeMarcus Cousins, NBA players and many other celebrities…including 2000 Miss World winner, model, singer and one of India’s highest paid actresses, Pryanka Chopra Jonas; who also happens to be the wife of American singer, songwriter and actor, Nick Jonas. Sami loves to cook with fresh vegetables and sustainable meats; and DTLA Dinner Club guests are always excited with she is on board in the kitchen.
When guests arrive at Gray-Emmer’s 12th floor condo suite, they work their way up a metal spiral staircase to his private open terrace. On their way to the staircase, they pass by his unmatched collection of original pre-1930’s street-level maps of old Los Angeles. Up on the roof guests find long dining tables and booths with assigned seating, electric table-top candles, fresh flowers from the downtown flower mart, loosely strung lighting above and all those spectacular rooftop views.
All the seating was selected from Westminster Teak’s Maya Collection including their deep seating sectional sofa system. With the design help of Westminster Teak’s senior sales rep, Shelley TenBroeck, some of the teak pieces were paired with tables to make booths for the dining setup. And the choice of Westminster Teak’s Maya Collection was as artfully made as everything else Gray-Emmer does.
“I had used other outdoor furniture for about eight years, but it didn’t hold up, kept falling apart and I kept having to replace it. Eventually I decided to shop for a higher grade of outdoor furniture. I checked over 100 sites, compared quality, reputation, pricing and durability before finally deciding on the MAYA Collection from Westminster Teak. When working with their rep, Shelley, she spent a whole month helping me plan the right setup and did an entire design layout for my rooftop setting. Shelley’s dedication to my needs was a big factor in my satisfaction with WT. I’m happy to say that their furnishings are high quality and their service is exceptional,” says Gray-Emmer.
That El Dorado rooftop terrace with its panoramic views is casually furnished and enhanced with just the right touch of subtle aesthetic charm to make for a warm and comfortable social setting. And, if you’re fortunate enough to receive one of the coveted dinner invitations, you’ll have a truly entertaining and meaningful evening with exceptional people, exquisite food and a dinner party that has become the talk of downtown LA. And each occasion is well-chronicled with scores of photos capturing virtually every dinner party moment and guest; with many candid photos posted on the DTLA Dinner Club website.
And that’s at the heart of what makes these festive feasts so compelling. Gray-Emmer carefully crafts the mix of guests, businesses, organizations and special interests within an atmosphere of celebrating creative people, celebrity chefs, incredible dinners and local culture to both foster and promote a core dynamic that continues to unfold within the community long after the party is over. New relationships are formed, new friendships are forged and new collaborations are created with a common theme and vision. And this may very well be an ideal workable model for other such urban communities to follow.
The DTLA Dinner Club will once again ascend to Gray-Emmer’s scenic rooftop terrace as of April 27th. There are eighteen events scheduled in 2022 and the lineup of celebrity chefs will be as impressive as ever. Given the legacy of these downtown LA skyline social gatherings, you can bet this season’s dinner parties will be the best yet. And the DTLA spirit which feeds these events will be every bit as rich and fulfilling as the gourmet cuisine cooked and served from Josh Gray-Emmer’s penthouse kitchen.
If you live or work in historic downtown LA, share the Club’s passion for the city, an equal passion for celebrating good friends and good food and would like to get on their much-sought-after limited guest list, visit the website at www.dtladinnerclub.com. And, while there, plan to spend a good amount of time browsing through their photo gallery spanning a 10-year history of DTLA Club Dinners, celebrity chefs and those incredible views from the 12th floor rooftop of the historic El Dorado Lofts.
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-Story by Steve York, York & Company
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