So there’s this thing that a few of my friends have been going to for the last five years, le Dîner en Blanc. This (relatively) exclusive pop-up dinner themed all in white has lured me in year after year with its secret location – a location only revealed to its participants on the date of the event. Every year I think, “You know, I’ve done this thing for a while now, and can give it a miss …”, and every year I’m convinced by the enthusiasm of my friends to join in another beautiful night out – and it is indeed very beautiful. Though it does come with some conditions.
Dîner en Blanc as I’ve mentioned, is a pop-up dinner. It will magically assemble with more and more people appearing at the start and the party gradually developing and peaking with music and dancing. And then it all slowly drifts away as people pack their things and wander into the night. The organisers provide the essentials, that is: music, alcohol (and appropriate licensing, pre-purchased), a vague program of activity, and a (usually) stunning location. Participants, or rather dinner guests, round out the event by bringing everything else, including tables, chairs, food, table decorations and of course, themselves. Dinner packs can be pre-purchased along with your booze for the evening, or you can pack your own picnic fare and make it as fancy or casual as you like.
It’s quite something to see all the people descending on the city, in head to toe white carting along a picnic basket complete with table and chairs, all heading to their various meeting points to be led to the secret location. Some years, it’s possible to discern the location based on the different types of meeting points, but generally it is kept pretty broad to keep you guessing. This year’s secret location was Cockatoo Island, a unique venue set in the middle of Sydney Harbour offering the perfect view back towards the Harbour Bridge. The ferry timetable as we boarded actually displayed Taronga Zoo which had us really surprised (we had posited Cockatoo Island based on the meeting points) – but tricksy, this was probably just left up by the ferry staff as it seemed all the boats in Sydney Harbour were booked to take us to our destination. As a former convict settlement and shipyard, Cockatoo Island features vast concrete spaces and former industrial warehouses and artefacts, reclaimed by the local government in recent years for use as a space for cultural activities. It’s a popular space for art installations, glamping accommodation, events and the NYE celebrations. The open expanse of the former docks was really quite perfect for the party! Shame about the overcast weather, but it did keep the temperature nice and cool – who needs golden hour light when you’ve brought the party with you?! Especially a party where everyone looks awesome – it’s really amazing how good everyone can look in white. From full formal white tuxedos to laid back t-shirts and shorts, everyone looks A+ classy. And even more amazing is that I will rarely see two girls wearing the same outfit, though, that said it is a bit of sensory overload, so maybe I’m just not looking closely enough.
So as le Dîner kicks on, there are two key “activities” in the evening that sort of signal different parts of the event. The first is the waving of the napkins, I believe originally signifying the “start” of the dinner, though most of the time people have been long set up and happily eating , so more likely I think it’s marking when the last table has finally set up and everyone has arrived. Later in the evening, sparklers are lit to mark the end of dinner and the peak of the celebrations. When the last fleck of fire has bounced off your arm and you’ve finished (very carefully) taking your selfies with your little stick of firey sparkles, the DJ picks up and it’s time to get on the dancefloor. The music varies year on year, from top 40 to House/EDM, and this year featured some old skool hip hop to kick off the dance party. From here on it’s a solid party to about midnight and people make their way home as it suits them. Usually the music (and the amount of wine we’ve enjoyed) determines when my particular party leaves. This year, the daunting thought of a long line of people waiting for boats back to shore had us leave relatively early.
There is a charm and sort of whimsy to the event that I really love, a sense of community even, that we’re all there to just enjoy a beautiful night amongst friends. I remember the anticipation and excitement of the very first Dîner en Blanc in 2012 where we got onto a mystery bus that dropped us off at The Rocks and we were led to the secret location of the newly refurbished forecourt of Museum of Contemporary Art, looking out to Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay. It was stunning, and so cool. And with limited tickets to each event and the intense lure (for me anyway) of the secret location, I always feel like I can’t waste the opportunity to go again and again. I mean, the event can be such a hassle; the trolleying of tables and chairs, the food, the expense of the wine, the process of getting tickets (released in phases to members first, then general public) especially if you’re trying to arrange a large group, plus the teething issues over the years with the process. The initial novelty of the event has long worn off for me, and some years it has become quite the effort to be inspired to go.
But… it is such a unique event, a different and fun way to celebrate a night with friends. Every year I go with pretty much the same people, and while some faces come and go, there is a nostalgia for me around this event that keeps me coming back. Something about the elegance of the evening, the golden light as the sun goes down, the sparklers creating beautiful sepia-toned memories, the laughter and long conversations… Or perhaps it’s just that it’s an experience that we’ve been able to share since it first kicked off in Australia (we got there first!) and we have all the equipment already so it gets easier to organise ourselves every year (and the event processes have been getting better every year too).
Anyway, I highly recommend it. 🙂 Whether as something a little different, or for some very selfie-indulgent moments with friends, I’d say it’s definitely a unique experience to try at least once!