What are the ingredients that make a Washington social event rise above the easily forgotten routine, that make one night stand out among so many others? I give you the Meridian Ball of this past Friday at the Meridian International Center in Northwest. Maybe it was the chilled Champagne on the chilly terrace, overlooking the city’s rooftops at twilight, while a string quartet played Lady Gaga. Maybe it was the TV set up in the entry hall, where men in black tie and women in ballgowns stole away from their dinner tables to watch the early, winning innings of the Nationals-Cardinals game. Or maybe it was the after-dinner dancing to a deejay imported from New York, who got a whole room of Washington notables to dance Gangnam-style, including the chief of protocol of the United States, Capricia Marshall. Yes, memorable evenings are made of these.
It was also a coming-out party for a new entry in the league of serious Washington hostesses: former DC “it girl” Ashley Taylor, now with the newlywed name of Ashley Taylor Bronczek, who, with her husband, Matt, was among the evening’s co-chairs. For the past decade, Bronczek has been making a name for herself in the social and fundraising scene—and in the gossip columns, with her brief engagement to the late Joe Robert. But even she agreed the Meridian Ball was a new realm for her, but one for which she is ready. Showing a keen sense of timing, and giving a lesson in how to recover from a gala, the next morning she and her husband departed on a 15-day honeymoon across Europe. They were married four months ago in Mexico.
The Meridian Ball is always preceded by a series of dinners hosted by ambassadors at their embassies around the city, plus the White-Meyer Dinner at Meridian House itself. The Bronczeks, and Loran and Robert Aiken, hosted this year’s White-Meyer, and as in years past the guest list of almost 250 was a mix of ages but tilted toward those under 40. Of the evening’s pre-ball dinners, Bronczek said it sells out the fastest at $450 per person, and it has a distinctly Washington feel. Look around the room and you’ll see mainly people who live and work in the area, who have businesses and families here, who have planted their careers here. A dinner with that kind of guest list is unusual and welcomed.
My dinner companions were partners Christian Edwards and Albert Fonticiella. We were at the Bronczek table, which Ashley called “the kids’ table.” Edwards and his family own and operate Edward Marc Chocolatier, which sells delicious chocolates but, aside from mail orders, is off-limits to most of us because the store is in the Pentagon. He is looking to open a DC shop, and the brand may soon be available in a major big-box chain, but the deal is not yet done. Fonticiella helps with the business, but is principally an MBA candidate at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
It was thoughtful of the hosts to set up the TV set in the entry hall of the mansion where the dinner was held. More than a few partygoers confessed they had to make a choice between the Nationals and the dinner and went with the dinner. Still, they wanted to know the score of the baseball game happening across town at Nats Park. Dinner coincided with the early innings, when the Nats were winning, and between courses guests slipped away to the TV. When Bryce Harper hit his third-inning home run there were as many as 25 people crowded around the TV, hollering and cheering. Some walked away saying, “It’s 6-0, we’re going to do this.” Fortunately they had some serious dancing to distract them from the pain that would come later.
Around 9:30 in the evening, guests began to arrive at Meridian House from the embassy dinners, and the folks at the White-Meyer Dinner pushed away from the table to join the others. The back garden at Meridian House was decorated with little hanging candles, belying the cold temps. It looked warm even if it didn’t feel it, and many gathered there for crepes and Turkish coffee. Inside there was one room with a long table loaded with desserts, prepared by Design Cuisine. Across the hall, New York society band leader Peter Duchin and his combo played swing tunes and other traditional favorites. In an adjacent tent was the other New York music import, DJ Pitch One, giving DC a taste of club land. When he spun “Gangnam Style,” it was amusing to see so many Washington men and women in formal dress successfully mastering the horse-riding dance move. Chief of Protocol Marshall, in long, sparkling gold, was tentative at first but then started replicating the move created by South Korean rapper Psy.
The next day, before she departed on her honeymoon, we received a message from Ashley Bronczek: “I was extremely pleased with the event, and by the looks of the dance floor at 1 AM I think a lot of guests were, as well. Now, I’m off. . . .”