Where: National Museum of American History.
When: November 18, 7:30 to 11.
Ticket price: Free but by invitation only.
Who: In the Smithsonian realm, the gala was full of important people: G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Brent D. Glass, director of the museum; and John Rogers, chair of the museum’s board, were all in attendance. Invitations were extended to high-profile guests, friends of the Smithsonian, and other staffers.
Scene: After two years of renovations, the National Museum of American History opened its doors to celebrate the successful construction and the new display for the Star Spangled Banner, the American flag from 1812 that inspired what became the national anthem. Dress varied from fancy pantsuits to cocktail dresses to ball gowns for women, suits and tuxedos for men. Guests could explore most of the museum and three levels of music, historically themed food, and beverages. Every corner of every floor featured a different style of music, including a harpist, a violin and guitar duo, a jazz band, and more. Men clad in powdered wigs and Colonial-style garb walked the floors, posed for photos, and helped keep the buffet tables full. Were they waiters or entertainment? It wasn’t clear. The entertaining highlight of the evening came when guests made it to the third floor for dessert. A red carpet was sprawled on the ground leading to the entertainment, sports, and music wing. Men acting as 1920s journalists—decked out in rain slickers, fedoras with reporters’ cards, and pen and notepad—interrogated guests venturing to the west wing. “How’s it feel being off the wagon?” one journalist asked as a man sipping a glass of wine passed. Most people laughed and enjoyed the playful banter.
Food and drink: The buffet selections and drinks made the evening complete. First-floor selections included cocktails of red (pomegranate, cranberry, Triple Sec, and lime), white (sparkling water with a flickering light), and blue (rum and curaçao) . A Julia Child impersonator served French food including coq au vin, croque monsieur, boudin blanc, braised hearts of fennel, and garden salad in the west wing (where Julia Child’s kitchen is located). Additionally, guests could pick plates of sushi from a conveyor belt, enjoy a baked-potato bar, and dip beef, chicken, and pork satay into red chili-pepper, green pesto, and yellow pineapple sauces. The sauces were displayed as spin art, squirted in a circular design on a round table that a waiter spun while people dipped their sticks of meat. Who says you can’t play with your food?
The atrium on the second floor held a spread of seafood (mussels, lobster, and calamari). The wings on this floor were dedicated to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The west-wing/Washington spread included bourbon-glazed smoked turkey, rockfish Provençal, corn pudding, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, Welsh rarebit, and harvest breads. The east-wing/Lincoln spread had a selection of duck with pecan stuffing and a huckleberry-claret sauce, oyster bisque, chicken fricassée suprème, Delmonico potatoes, winter vegetables with a mustard-seed emulsion, and a Greek bread basket.
If guests had room for more, they could venture to the third floor for a wide array of desserts. The east wing had a simple display of a variety of pies (Boston cream, coconut cream, and apple), house-made doughnuts, coffee, and more. The west wing included a shelf full of miniature pies, brownies, cookies, and cupcakes. Once making their way past the torments of the red carpet, guests could indulge in a quilt cake that featured depictions of objects from the “Thanks for the Memories” exhibition.
Waitstaff walked around with trays of hors d’oeuvres including crab with caviar, shrimp cocktail, and much more. At least three full bars were located on every floor, with a wide selection of beers, rail drinks, and wines. The drinks flowed until security rushed the last people out 30 minutes past closing time.
Food highlight: A tossup between the juicy chicken from the Lincoln spread and the house-made doughnuts.
Gift-bag contents: Guests were given a copy of the book The Star-Spangled Banner: Making of an American Icon upon exiting.
Ratings (see our ratings explanation here):
Boldface names: 2 out of 5
Swankiness: 4 out of 5
Food and drink: 5 out of 5
Overall exclusivity: 4 out of 5
Total score: 15 out of 20