As darkness descended on the de Seversky Mansion in Old Westbury, the manicured grounds were brightened by 1,000 people dressed lavishly in white. Long Island’s first Diner en Blanc was underway.
A harpist played on the stately home’s front porch; around back a soprano trilled. There was even a trio of white-clad ballerinas pirouetting on the steps that led down to the lawn. But guests were not relaxing. Their first order of business was to set up the folding tables and chairs they had brought with them. They laid the tables with white tablecloths and set out china, cutlery and stemware. Creative centerpieces abounded: flowers, candles, Mason jars filled with tea lights.
The planning that went into these tablescapes was in stark contrast to the central mystery of the evening. After submitting to a complicated lottery system and paying $49 per person (exclusive of food), all of the guests had driven to one of more than a dozen pickup locations in Nassau and Suffolk and gotten aboard a bus that took them to an undisclosed location.
White outfits. Alfresco dining. Secret location. Dancing under the stars. These have been the hallmarks of the Diner en Blanc since its inception in 1988 when Frenchman François Pasquier invited a group of friends to dine in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne. He asked his guests to wear white so they could find one another. During the next 29 years, the tradition grew into an institution: 100,000 diners have convened at events in more than 75 cities around the world.
Bridget O’Brien, a public relations and events specialist who organized the Long Island gala with Donyshia Boston Hill and Shanoy Skeete, said the de Seversky Mansion was chosen for two main reasons. “The event relies on imagery and visuals,” she said. “We needed a beautiful location that says ‘Long Island.’ Second, we wanted to highlight Nassau County. The Hamptons get so many interesting events — we wanted to show that Nassau is hip too.”
The buses started arriving around 6 p.m. and by 7:30, everyone had set up their tables. O’Brien gave the signal and the evening was inaugurated by everyone twirling their white napkins in the air. The party began in earnest. After they finished their dinners, guests began to gravitate toward the dance floor, where the soprano had been replaced by a DJ spinning hip-hop, techno dub step and R&B classics.
Joy and Dan Flynn had made the trip to Old Westbury from Quogue. “We had our passports and everything,” said Dan, dashing in a white suit and top hat. His wife, resplendent in a ruched, low-cut number with lace sleeves, said “it was highly organized, but somehow so spontaneous. You arrived and there was instant camaraderie.”
She viewed the dress code as more than ornamental. “The white really binds everyone together.”