It was a magical evening! Admittedly, some people just won’t get it. My sister is still scratching her head wondering why on earth I dragged a table, two chairs and tons of other stuff for an outdoor feast on the subway during rush hour.
But, for those 5,000 of us who made the list, donning our very best white attire, schlepping everything on public transportation and arriving at the secret location is worth all of the time and effort.
Le Dinner en Blanc (DEB) – The White Dinner – started nearly 30 years ago by a group of Parisian friends who met at the Eifel Tower for a picnic and decided to wear white so they could easily find one another. (Of course it was the French; New Yorkers would have definitely worn black!) Today, DEB dinners are held internationally and 2016 marked the 6th edition of the New York-based event.
I had been on the waitlist for four years and, after seemingly almost getting in last year, was able to swallow the bitter taste left by their multiple server crashes to try again this year. I was literally poised online at 11:59:30 AM for my high noon registration opening. By 12:07 it was official – we were in!
We spent the next week in a flurry of activity – tracking down our preferred options from among the strict specifications regarding tables, chairs, linens, etc. – adding to the already near-daily arrival of Amazon.com and other deliveries to our Manhattan apartment. Our house guest was quite amused. I turned to Pinterest and blogs for wisdom and inspiration and scoured the apartment for anything white, finding napkins, plates, bowls and flatware that fit the bill, along with crystal accents (a vase and votive holders) that would grace our table. I grabbed a framed photo of our recently-departed (white) pup; wisely choosing the less creepy option – leaving her white box of ashes at home. I also raided my craft box for silk flowers and silver curling ribbon. Additionally, we turned to our friend Amazon.com for other table décor that caught our eye: battery-operated tea lights (candles were forbidden) and twinkle lights.
While hubby kept adding to the shopping cart – white linen jacket, white satin bow tie, white driving loafers – I fortunately had a beautiful, white Catherine Malandrino lace-embellished dress in my closet, just waiting for an occasion. I tried to purchase a fascinator to adorn my hair, but the vendor couldn’t guarantee arrival in time for the event, so instead, I decorated my hair with white blossoms bought at the local market. I’ve never been a fan of white shoes, so I opted for my favorite pair of silver sandals; while off-white was strongly discouraged, metallic accessories were welcomed. My big “splurge” was new nail polish in a new pearlized white shade from Opi.
As suggested by previous attendees, we practiced putting together our new table and did a dry run with the tablescape. But one final challenge remained: figuring out how and in what to bring all of our gear to the site (yes, very, very First World problems). We settled on a white plastic hamper from the Container Store and a collapsible luggage cart, all of which worked perfectly when paired with a gaggle of bungee cords. We were ready to go.
On the actual day, we were blessed with crisp, clear weather and a stunning sunset (the event runs rain or shine), thanks to a change from previous years from an August to a September date.
In other U.S. cities, guests are often bused to the final destination, but in New York, participants meet up at one of dozens of meeting sites throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn before heading out via MetroCard to the secret location.
Given everything that we had to carry, we decided to purchase food through DEB’s catering partner (Great Performances, in collaboration with Todd English) rather than bring our own picnic. In addition, as per NYS laws, alcohol must be purchased through the caterer, with Apothic and Moet & Chandon serving as this year’s wine sponsors. We picked the Southern cuisine option and chose to kick off our meal with Moet’s Rosé Brut and selected the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir to accompany our main course of brisket. We somehow managed to remain spotless – no red wine or barbecue stains despite hubby’s disastrous run in with mustard at Nathan’s only a few weeks prior to the event.
While the event technically doesn’t start until you arrive at the site, the fun begins almost as soon as you step out of your apartment. We immediately attracted attention from strangers on our way to the meeting point and then met other diners on the subway.
Upon arrival at the event, it is a bit chaotic as all 5,000 folks must assemble their tables and set up their food and décor before waving their white napkins overhead as a signal that they are ready to dine. Once underway, live music, fire boats and the usual river traffic up the Hudson River provided additional entertainment to the already festive evening. But, the people watching was the number one attraction, with beautiful outfits, over the top tablescapes and lots of creativity evident everywhere. Overall, we found our friend, enjoyed our delicious food and wine, and danced the night away.
The DEB event itself is $80 per couple, but the actual expenditure is much higher, especially for your first year when you must literally and figuratively outfit yourself. I estimate that we spent $558 (Food & Wine: $$223; Attire: $93; Table, Chairs, Linens, Cart & Bungees: $134; Décor: $30; and Uber home: $78). Of course, experiencing a magical meal under the stars: priceless! But, you still may not get it.