White out: an annual secret-party-in-public returns to Sacramento

At Sacramento’s second Le Diner en Blanc, drumlines thumped and horn ensembles riffed. Nearly 1,700 guests dressed in white descended upon the Memorial Auditorium on October 7, towing carts that contained their own tables, chairs, place-settings and, in the majority of cases, dinner.

Wearing a shoulderless white dress, purple lipstick and 10 diamond studs in her ears, Airreea Hayes said she made a “fabulous” dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes and green beans that she and her husband enjoyed. Despite the bring-your-own-meal premise, the exclusive dinner was mostly by invitation. Hayes scored an early sign-up on the waitlist—home to 5,100 hopeful future attendees, said Christine Ault, one of the six members in the host team that organized the Sacramento rendition. The event exists in 87 cities worldwide.

“[Diner en Blanc doesn’t] want a city to run it,” Ault said. “They don’t want an event agency to run it. They want it to be organic. It’s a pop-up picnic. It’s not for profit or for a cause. People do it [because] they want to.”

The host team assembled the original guest list. Those on it could invite one guest, and one friend, who in turn could invite another guest to the event, which debuted at the Golden 1 Center last year. The semi-private affair is “like a wedding,” said Ault, who added that organizers also reserve 15 percent of the space for wait-listers.

On Saturday, guests arrived in pairs at the lawn surrounding the auditorium and sat next to strangers. This is meant to encourage a cross-pollination of social circles. Ault’s table included Patrick and Bobbin Mulvaney (Bobbin is another organizer). The host team and their guests dined on rabbit and filet mignon. But others who paid $48 to attend brought more humble gourmet fare like a caprese salad, a charcuterie plate and bacon-puff-pastry-twists, a recipe that participant Christy Jewel found on Pinterest. Wine and ready-made food could also be purchased.

Although the rules mandated white outfits, the limitation prompted an astonishing range of styles. Women ignored post-Labor-Day fashion norms and dazzled in an array of dresses and rompers. A man named “Buzz” wore a white kilt. Patrick Mulvaney rocked white crocs. But the flossiest was Tre Borden, a member of the host team who donned high-top Nikes, a powdered wig and a revolutionary-era jacket with gold-fringed epaulets.

After a weird a capella interpretation of the National Anthem, the entertainment included a ballet performance, a try-hard comedy sketch by B Street Theatre and a set by cover band Take 2, who came on around 8 p.m. to open the dance floor—an occasion marked by the lighting of more than 1,000 sparklers.

The imported French concept that looks positively elitist earned mockery from a few passersby. And despite being by and for Sacramentans, the event felt mildly out of place and symbolic of a bourgeois cultural change. But if not for the Diner en Blanc, the Memorial Auditorium—one of the most historic, beautiful and underused buildings in Sacramento—might have been dead on a Saturday night.