Among a certain group of D.C. partygoers, Diner en Blanc — the pop-up, mystery-shrouded picnic whose attendees arrive decked out in all white — is the big event to end the summer.
Over the last six years, the party has taken over iconic D.C. spaces including Yards Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, the grounds of the Carnegie Library, Henry Bacon Park near the Lincoln Memorial and even Nats Park.
This year, though, revelers will have to break out their white dresses, top hats, pressed pants and linen shirts and celebrate from home.
That’s what Bryer Davis, one of the key organizers of each year’s D.C. party, told the 125 volunteer “team leaders” in a message Monday morning.
“We’re all incredibly bummed and sad to not be able to celebrate it this year,” Davis said in an exclusive interview with WTOP.
“I think the toll a lot of us are feeling [in the coronavirus era] is the (lack) of relationships and spending time with family and friends. So to not have this to look forward to at the end of the summer to round out what are a great couple of months of reconnecting with people, it’s just a huge bummer.”
Davis estimated that in August 2019, about 5,000 revelers celebrated D.C.’s edition of Diner en Blanc, an event that started in Paris and is celebrated in big cities all over the world, all summer long.
Last year, the event took up a section of Pennsylvania Avenue just east of the White House, close to the Trump Hotel and Freedom Plaza.
In recent weeks, those same blocks have been the meeting place for protests in outrage over George Floyd’s death.
This year’s event, at a yet-to-be disclosed location (part of the event’s mystery), was scheduled for Aug. 22.
At the beginning of the coronavirus mandated stay-at-home order, Davis said she thought there could be a chance that Diner en Blanc, scheduled for the end of summer, could still happen. But ultimately, she and her colleagues realized that it’s not an event that can be easily recalibrated for social distancing.
It’s designed, after all, to bring strangers together.
“The whole concept is to sit next to strangers and share a meal, and leave after you’ve done that as new friends,” she said.
That mission even calls into question whether the event will happen in 2021. For example, she said, at the 2019 event, groups placed their tables 6 inches apart.
“We don’t have any wiggle room there,” she said about some venues.
“When you have an open field like Henry Bacon Park, you obviously have much more room and you can spread out. So it’s something we’ll be thinking … about the 2021 venue.”
Davis said this year the Diner en Blanc organization is considering doing a worldwide virtual recognition of the event.
She and her crew are still finalizing plans for a virtual version of the D.C. event, which they aim to announce at some point this summer.
Other iconic events planned to be held along Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall have gone virtual this summer, too.
Diner en Blanc brings out a diverse and creative crowd from D.C., Maryland and Virginia excited about showcasing their best looks and decorations.
Last year, people brought theater-style marquees for their tables, white Christmas lights, tiered platters with white cupcakes, flamboyant centerpieces and gourmet dinners packed in wheeled coolers. People took photos with angels on stilts.
They danced with strangers wearing eye masks and feathers. They lit sparklers at sundown.
It’s a release and a summer’s-end celebration that Davis said will be welcome when it comes back in person.
“Having a lapse in a year of celebrating will make the next year even more electric,” she said, “because the energy is just so incredible in the crowd and the excitement in the days leading up to it on social media and then that night is so great.”
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