Inn at Little Washington recreates ‘greatest party ever thrown’

The facade of the Vaux le Vicomte castle, outside Paris, France. At dusk the castle and garden are illuminated by 2,000 candles to recreate the atmosphere of the festivities held by Nicolas Fouquet on August 17th, 1661 in honor of Louis XIV. In 2018, Patrick O'Connell, chef and proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington, will host a party, channeling Fouquet's, in honor of The Inn's 40th anniversary. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
The facade of the Vaux le Vicomte castle, outside Paris, France. At dusk, the castle and garden are illuminated by 2,000 candles to recreate the atmosphere of the festivities held by Nicolas Fouquet on Aug. 17, 1661, in honor of Louis XIV. In 2018, Patrick O’Connell, chef and proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington, will host a party, channeling Fouquet’s, in honor of The Inn’s 40th anniversary. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Pascal Le Segretain)
The Inn at Little Washington is known by critics and clientele as one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. But 40 years ago, it was far from fancy. What serves as the main building today was once an old garage with a junkyard on one side and the town dump in the back. (©2012 Gordon Beall/Gordon Beall)
The Inn at Little Washington is known by critics and clientele as one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. But 40 years ago, it was far from fancy. What serves as the main building today was once an old garage with a junkyard on one side and the town dump in the back. (© 2012 Gordon Beall/Gordon Beall) (©2012 Gordon Beall/Gordon Beall)
Patrick O'Connell is the chef and proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington. He's transformed an old auto garage in a small Virginia town into one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. (Gordon Beall) 
Patrick O’Connell is the chef and proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington. He’s transformed an old auto garage in a small Virginia town into one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. In 2018, The Inn is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and O’Connell is pulling out all the stops with three different events. (Gordon Beall) (Gordon Beall)
In 2016, The Inn at Little Washington was one of three restaurants in the D.C. area to receive two stars from D.C.'s first Michelin Guide. (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington)
In 2016, The Inn at Little Washington was one of three restaurants in the D.C. area to receive two stars from D.C.’s first Michelin Guide. (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington) (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington )
A photo of a bathroom at The Inn at Little Washington. In the last 40 years, Patrick O'Connell has transformed The Inn from an old auto garage into one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington)
A photo of a bathroom at The Inn at Little Washington. In the last 40 years, Patrick O’Connell has transformed The Inn from an old auto garage into one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington) (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington )
A view from the ballroom at The Inn at Little Washington, located about 70 miles outside of Washington, D.C. (Gordon Beall)
A view from the ballroom at The Inn at Little Washington, located about 70 miles outside of Washington, D.C. (Gordon Beall) (Gordon Beall)
As its reputation grew, so did The Inn’s footprint. Over the last four decades, O’Connell has acquired about 20 buildings in the small town of 133 residents. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
PARIS - AUGUST 21:  Tourists enjoy a visit by candlelight at the Vaux le Vicomte castle on August 21, 2010 in Maincy, outside Paris, France.  At dusk the castle and garden are illuminated by 2000 candles to recreate the atmosphere of the sumptious festivities held by Nicolas Fouquet on August 17th, 1661 in honour of Louis XIV.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Tourists enjoy a visit by candlelight at the Vaux le Vicomte castle, outside Paris, France. At dusk, the castle and garden are illuminated by 2,000 candles to recreate the atmosphere of the festivities held by Nicolas Fouquet on Aug. 17, 1661, in honor of Louis XIV. Next year, Patrick O’Connell will try to recreate that same party. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Pascal Le Segretain)
Visitors Fanny and Patrice wear costumes and lunch in the Vaux-Le-Vicomte castle during the "Journee Grand Siecle", the Great Century Day, in Maincy, outside Paris, France, Sunday June 21, 2015. The event aims at recreating King Louis XIV's 17th century atmosphere in the castle and its gardens. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Visitors Fanny and Patrice wear costumes and lunch in the Vaux-Le-Vicomte castle outside Paris, France. The event aims at recreating King Louis XIV’s 17th-century atmosphere in the castle and its gardens. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu) (AP/Kamil Zihnioglu)
In the last 40 years, The Inn at Little Washington has attracted high-profile guests from around the globe, including three queens, one king, a number of heads of state and “too many celebrities to count.” (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington)   (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington )
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The facade of the Vaux le Vicomte castle, outside Paris, France. At dusk the castle and garden are illuminated by 2,000 candles to recreate the atmosphere of the festivities held by Nicolas Fouquet on August 17th, 1661 in honor of Louis XIV. In 2018, Patrick O'Connell, chef and proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington, will host a party, channeling Fouquet's, in honor of The Inn's 40th anniversary. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
The Inn at Little Washington is known by critics and clientele as one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. But 40 years ago, it was far from fancy. What serves as the main building today was once an old garage with a junkyard on one side and the town dump in the back. (©2012 Gordon Beall/Gordon Beall)
Patrick O'Connell is the chef and proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington. He's transformed an old auto garage in a small Virginia town into one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. (Gordon Beall) 
In 2016, The Inn at Little Washington was one of three restaurants in the D.C. area to receive two stars from D.C.'s first Michelin Guide. (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington)
A photo of a bathroom at The Inn at Little Washington. In the last 40 years, Patrick O'Connell has transformed The Inn from an old auto garage into one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. (Courtesy The Inn at Little Washington)
A view from the ballroom at The Inn at Little Washington, located about 70 miles outside of Washington, D.C. (Gordon Beall)
PARIS - AUGUST 21:  Tourists enjoy a visit by candlelight at the Vaux le Vicomte castle on August 21, 2010 in Maincy, outside Paris, France.  At dusk the castle and garden are illuminated by 2000 candles to recreate the atmosphere of the sumptious festivities held by Nicolas Fouquet on August 17th, 1661 in honour of Louis XIV.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Visitors Fanny and Patrice wear costumes and lunch in the Vaux-Le-Vicomte castle during the "Journee Grand Siecle", the Great Century Day, in Maincy, outside Paris, France, Sunday June 21, 2015. The event aims at recreating King Louis XIV's 17th century atmosphere in the castle and its gardens. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
November 29, 2019 | An anniversary party like no other (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON Forget Taylor Swift’s 25th birthday bash or Diddy’s famed white parties. The most epic party ever thrown took place in 1661 at a grand château 40 miles outside of Paris.  

“Many think it was the finest house ever designed and built in the world, and it served as the inspiration for Versailles,” said Patrick O’Connell, the chef and proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington.

The host of the famous fete was Louis XIV’s finance minister.

“It was thought to be the greatest party ever thrown. … Louis became so jealous at the extravagance that he realized his finance minister must be embezzling. He put him in jail and the man actually died in jail. Louis then took all the craftsmen and went on to build Versailles,” O’Connell added.

This year, O’Connell’s plate is plenty full. The James Beard Award-winning chef is striving for a third Michelin star, expanding his five-star country inn and writing a memoir.

But he’s also gearing up to recreate, even rival, that famous French party in its original location, Vaux le Vicomte, as part of The Inn at Little Washington’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“We love a party, and throwing a party, and the elation that comes from attending a great party, and we love channeling different eras,” said O’Connell, who is keeping the guest list to a lucky 150 for the September 2018 event.

“To be able to dine inside the palace at long tables looking out at these gardens on brilliant food that was inspired by the actual menu served to Louis XIV will be a rare treat.”

Of course, if you can’t make it to France for the affair, there are opportunities to celebrate The Inn’s big anniversary closer to home. O’Connell will host a party on the lawn at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in June 2018 (guests will arrive by boat and dine on a meal inspired by the period) and a Woodstock-style street-food festival in the town of Little Washington, complete with fireworks, a bonfire and glamping in September 2018.

The Inn at Little Washington is known by critics and clients as one of the most luxurious destinations in the country. But 40 years ago, it was far from fancy.

What serves as the main building today was once an old garage with a junkyard on one side and the town dump in the back. O’Connell scooped up the property for $200 a month in 1978 and opened a restaurant in the tiny Virginia town, just 70 miles outside of D.C.

“If you tell somebody it was once a garage, they think you’re goofing on them,” O’Connell said.

Within a year of opening, O’Connell purchased the former auto shop and began building its legacy. The Inn quickly became known as one of the best restaurants in the D.C. area and has since gone on to collect a number of awards and accolades. It’s also attracted high-profile guests from around the globe, including three queens, one king, a number of heads of state and “too many celebrities to count.”

As its reputation grew, so did The Inn’s footprint. Over the last four decades, O’Connell has acquired about 20 buildings in Little Washington, which is home to about 130 residents.

“And one by one, they’re being transformed, restored, brought back to life, and you’re beginning now to get the feeling of stepping back into time and experiencing what is almost extinct in America a living, breathing, charming, historically accurate colonial village,” he said.

Despite The Inn’s accomplishments and growth, O’Connell shows no signs of slowing down — he’s even started planning The Inn’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

“It’s rare that a place can hold it together for 40 years, but to continue to evolve and exceed expectations is quite exhilarating,” he said. 

“I’m thrilled we’re still having fun. Each day is an adventure.” 

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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