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.”