Once the less-expensive, younger alternative to the lavish dinners held at embassies across town, the Meridian Ball’s White-Meyer dinner is gradually emerging as the hottest pre-ball venue. Traditionally, the more than 800 attendees of the ball, thrown each year to support the programs of the Meridian International Center, start the evening with an intimate dinner at one of 20 or so embassies before they descend, in black tie and evening gowns, on the Meridian Center for the ball itself. Friday night, as has been the pattern in recent years, the White-Meyer dinner bulged to capacity at 150.
Aimed at the under-40 “professional” crowd, the White-Meyer dinner, held adjacent to the Meridian Center, has increasingly become a mix of all ages. Why do they prefer it over an embassy dinner? It has the advantage of being right there, longtime attendees say. Walter Cutler, a former ambassador many times over and the president emeritus of the Meridian International Center, thinks it’s a reflection of our hectic times. People don’t want to have to move from one location to another, he says.
At the ball, the gaiety—it is one of the year’s most beautiful and best parties—was tempered by a slight sense of fatigue, as if the three-week shutdown ordeal had left Washington a little shell-shocked and perhaps in less of a party mood. The theme of this year’s ball was “Gatsby,” though organizers did not say whether they recognized the irony. One of the guests, a Washington lobbyist who attends a lot of parties, said, “The shutdown and all the divisive politics have left folks a little glum.” It was the same at the Freer/Sackler gala last Thursday: lots of sparkly dresses and smiling faces, but also dark humor about the federal government shutdown.
Graced with a beautiful, cool but not cold October evening, guests arrived for a cocktail party on the terrace, where a combo played jazz and the bars were stocked with premium brands plus buckets of Moët & Chandon Champagne. Waiters from Occasions caterers passed an assortment of small bites, including salmon rolls, cheese fritters, and pâté de foie gras. It didn’t hurt at all that as twilight fell a full moon rose in the sky, hanging over the soiree with an effect right out of the movies. Shutdown conversation carried through cocktails, into dinner, and to the after-party. Guests asked each other, “Were you furloughed?” or, “Did your business fall off?” We asked a government official who had been furloughed if he’d grown tired of the days at home. Confidentially, he said no, but he was also glad the shutdown ended.
At White-Meyer a course of wild mushroom salad with warm local Camembert was followed by boneless beef short ribs with tomato marmalade; the dessert was apple tart with caramel ice cream. Yes, dessert, even though the Meridian Ball has become as much dessert party as dance party, with a miles-long buffet of layer cakes, marshmallows, meringues, chocolates and chocolate mousse, pudding, tarts, and white jelly beans—appropriately decadent for a Gatsby-themed soiree.