WASHINGTON — Some 5,000 revelers, all dressed in white, descended on Nationals Park on Saturday night to celebrate the District’s fifth Diner en Blanc, a white clothing-only pop-up dinner party.
Many saw the party as the highlight of their summer, having gone through weeks of preparation, carefully selecting white dresses, shoes, pants, linen shirts — even custom-made hats and headgear for the event.
Registrants must be invited by someone who has attended the event in past years, or be selected from a waiting list that organizers say has thousands already in queue. This year’s event accepted 500 more applicants than last year, and organizers say interest remains steady for the exclusive D.C. party.
Bryer Davis said the planning for the next year’s event starts as soon as the current year’s party ends, and when she and her local team of volunteers are working with a city such as the District to coordinate street closings and other logistics for 5,000 people, it takes a lot of work.
In past years, the dinner party, whose location remains unknown to the thousands of attendees until the last minute, has been held at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, along the Anacostia River at Yards Park, in front of the Carnegie Library and along the National Mall on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Partygoers buy tickets in advance ($84 per couple, not including wine, which must be purchased on site) and meet a team leader at a designated spot in D.C. They must bring their own chairs, tables, tablecloths, food, decorations and more. When they leave, they have to take everything with them.
This year’s event took place while the Nats were out of town, which made the baseball stadium a logical choice. For baseball fans, the opportunity to walk on the same ground as Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman was exciting, but for those wishing to celebrate one of the last weekends of summer in a glamorous setting among the District’s monuments, the venue seemed more like a strikeout than a home run.
Cyneatria McCrae and Marcus Boddie, both of D.C., were taking photos at the edge of the infield while a D.J. worked the crowd. “I’m underwhelmed,” McCrae said. “It’s a closed space, it was very chaotic getting in with the security gates. I’m underwhelmed with the dance floor, dancing in the dirt with the white doesn’t seem like a Diner en Blanc experience.”
Boddie said he wasn’t sure that he could fully enjoy the experience due to the concern that his woven fabric shoes might pick up some infield dust. “Oh my goodness,” Boddie said, with exasperation in his voice. “I had to go buy some white shoes, that I didn’t have. I think they’re pretty slick, but I don’t want to mess up my nice new shoes.”
McCrae bought her flowing white dress months ago in preparation for her “most bougie affair” of the summer.
“Last year on Pennsylvania Avenue was just magical,” she said, “And this seems … not.”
The white clothing-only dinner party started 30 years ago in Paris, Davis said, when people decided to have a spur-of-the-moment party in a park in the French capital. Friends told each other to wear white so they could easily find each other, and a viral community event was born.
Many of this year’s partygoers said they would have liked to be able to see the thousands of other people in the stadium and feel the same sense of community they felt while dining in a field near the Lincoln Memorial as they did in 2016.
At Nats Park, tables were sequestered in the limited open sections of the stadium’s lower level. For example, some 500 people were in the space just inside the center field gate, while thousands of diners were spaced out along the concourse, mixed in among the concession stands in the 100-level of the stadium.
Other attendees were frustrated with some of the restrictions that came with having the event at the baseball stadium. For example, event security guards were counting how many people were dancing on the infield dirt at a given moment, and only letting some people onto the base paths after others left. As a result, there was never a time when all 5,000 partygoers were dancing at once.
Victor Thompson of D.C. and Michael Cole of Virginia were celebrating with perhaps the most flamboyant group at the event. All the partygoers wore silver, light-up unicorn hats, with a white Eiffel Tower in place of the mythical beast’s horn, in honor of the event’s Paris origins.
“This is an amazing event,” Thompson, a first-timer, said. “It takes a lot of coordination. You can go simple, or you can go over-the-top. This is over-the-top, and I absolutely love it.”
Cole said this year’s event, despite some criticism, is a much bigger deal than the first year. “It’s so much more elaborate, there are so many more people. I think there’s a wider awareness of the event and greater excitement about its possibilities. I’d honestly prefer if it were a bit simpler, but it’s nice to see so many people involved.”
Thompson said he appreciated how the event drew people from all of Washington’s diverse communities. “When you walk into a place in Shaw, you don’t see the diversity,” he said. “But right now, I see so much diversity here, and it’s amazing. There are so many people here I never would meet otherwise.”