September 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Donna Terek: Donna's Detroit

'Diner en Blanc' in Detroit a true French original

Diner en Blanc in Detroit draws hundreds
Diner en Blanc in Detroit draws hundreds: Riffing off a 24-year Paris tradition, a flash mob of 300 Detroiters dressed in white converged on Cadillac Square for a "secret" formal dinner party for which they brought everything with them, from tables to candelabras and, of course, food.

On a recent Sunday evening, hundreds of people dressed in white converged on downtown Detroit's Cadillac Square Park. They carried folding tables, chairs, white tablecloths, candelabras and food — oodles of it.

A swirl of white clothing and nappery quickly evolved into a formal flash mob dinner party in the urban canyon formed by the Compuware and First National Buildings.

Passersby gawked. The park's security guard was nonplussed. When he asked people who was in charge of this gathering, the answer every time was "we have no idea."

And they didn't.

Here's the back story: Sometime in late June, an indeterminate number of people received mailed invitations to save the date for a "Dîner en Blanc" — a white-themed dinner. It gave a date and time and the mysterious notation "Location will be revealed at the proper time."

Invitees were instructed to invite others and bring their own food, drink, tables, seats and "table finery" —all en blanc, of course. Oh, and please make sure the white attire is "formal."

Friends started inviting friends. Then they invited friends. Calls and emails requesting more details about the event began circulating. The answer: You already know all that we know. It was all very intriguing.

About a month later invitees received a follow-up, a postcard that read: "Cadillac Square Park, August 19, five o'clock"

This was Detroit's second annual Dîner en Blanc, modeled on the Paris White Dinner that's been popping up in public locations around Paris for the past 24 years. In Paris, it's grown so large it requires two locations. This June it drew over 10,000 revelers to two outdoor spaces.

Many other cities including New York, in its second year with more than 1,000 diners, San Francisco and Sydney, Australia have borrowed from the Paris party's script. Many of these cities use websites where a predetermined number of guests can sign up. But the Detroit edition is true to the French original: You must be invited to attend.

In Detroit, unofficial counts estimated 300 to 400 dinner guests, at least twice as many as last year's group, who dined on Belle Isle. They came from the city and the suburbs. They table-hopped, made new friends and encountered old friends they didn't expect to see.

There was a mostly white dog and a babe-in-arms. A virtuoso on flute and a state representative. There were flowers, bubbles and champagne.

Toasts rang out, white balloons decorated chairs and sparklers brightened the night. Food offerings ranged from watermelon gazpacho to deep-fried turkey and lobster paella. Attire ran the gamut from contrarian T-shirts to white tails.

After all the secrecy and speculation, it was magical.

They ate, they drank and, as darkness fell, they packed up and slipped away as if they'd never been there at all.

Over 300 people thronged Cadillac Square Park for the second annual Diner en Blanc. Invitations from an unknown source gave a date and time, but said the locations would be revealed at a later date. / Donna Terek/The Detroit News
An estimated 300 to 400 dinner guests attended the dinner in Detroit this ... (Donna Terek/The Detroit News)
On a recent Sunday evening, hundreds of people dressed in white converged ... (Donna Terek/The Detroit News)
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