Last year on Valentine’s Day, we were taking in the Paris views from high up in the Eiffel Tower, with two babes baking in my belly. It was pretty hard to top.
But this year, we spent the holiday having an entirely different kind of travel experience that was much less far flung, but also in some ways much more exotic. Aviation fans and general travelphiles: You’re going to want to check this one out.
Our date was to — wait for it — the Pan Am Experience, a 1970s aviation-theme dinner party set in a 747.
The whole thing takes place at Air Hollywood, which is a studio (actually in Pacoima, not Hollywood) filled with airplanes used for filming — and was the location for many movies you’ve seen, like Bridesmaids, The Wolf of Wall Street, Airplane!, and on down the line.
Within it is a special new dinner-theater-like experience that takes place in an impeccably recreated jet (built from components of an actual retired 747 along with newly fabricated pieces), all decked out to resemble the first-class cabin of a Pan Am plane from the golden age of air travel, when being hot was a legally allowable job requirement for stewardesses, and when winging away was chic and toni and generally the province of the elite class. [Insert a list of the various indignities of modern air travel here.]
The whole experience began with arrival at the studio, mocked up outside to mimic LAX with its giant illuminated letters. Inside, we checked in and picked up our first-class boarding passes — faithfully recreated and very convincing — and browsed amid an exhibit of Pan Am archives.
Next, an announcement called for boarding, and we strolled into the plane, welcomed with gracious hospitality by uniform-clad stewardesses and cabin crew. We were invited to have cocktails in the upstairs lounge by way of that iconic spiral staircase, before making our way down to our seats on the main deck. Yes, actual first-class airplane seats from the ’70s in a first-class cabin where back in the day a giant coffee-table-like thing holding magazines and a vase of flowers had the audacity to take up an amount of space that would these days be filled with 42 coach seats. The wave-pattern wallpaper, carpeted wall on the forward bulkhead, and other minute details — all authentic. (There was no smoking, however. One significant departure — ahem — from the real deal.)
First came cocktails and nuts, followed by a four-course meal we chose from a recreation of a fancy printed menu (ours to take home, along with all the other groovy printed souvenirs). All the while, we felt a real sense that we were actually in that magical cocoon of an airplane in flight — and the “captain’s” announcements over the loudspeakers during the roughly three-hour “flight” contributed to that sense.
Punctuating the courses — as a vegetarian, I had a Caprese salad followed by the pasta dish, but many had the beef carved seatside — were copious offers of wine and cocktails from a reproduction of a real drink menu. And there was a fashion show of Pan Am stewardess costumes through the years, accompanied by a bit of cultural background on what inspired the looks.
Following dessert, the captain also announced all the people participating that night (I’d say there were just about 30 in all) who were acknowledging or celebrating something special. There was a retired Pan Am stewardess of 25 years, whose family had surprised her with this night, and there was also a retired captain of 31 years. Then, there was a 25-year wedding anniversary, and a few birthdays — including David’s. For that, they brought out a whole additional cake with a candle, which by then we were much too stuffed to eat. But the crew wrapped it up in a box for us to take home (again the gracious hospitality) — but not before announcing that we would be landing shortly, and passing out Pan Am-logo passport covers as destined-to-be-cherished takeaways.
All in all, it was a super evocative and memorable night that we won’t soon forget. Plus, I just love how baffled and intrigued people are when we tell them about the experience. It’s a lot more eyebrow raising to describe than any typical dinner-and-a-movie recap — and it affords a special kind of buzzworthy bragging rights.
Interested? Book way ahead; they’re sold out until July.