What: Opening gala of the Sant Ocean Hall.
Where: National Museum of Natural History.
When: Thursday, September 25, 7:30 PM.
Ticket price: Free but by invitation only.
Who: The main focus of the night was top staff members at the Smithsonian, including Wayne Clough, its new secretary, and Christian Samper, former acting secretary and current director of the Museum of Natural History. Roger W. Sant, the hall’s namesake—in honor of the $15 million he and his wife donated for the renovation of the hall—was also present. He’s the billionaire president and cofounder of AES Corporation and chair of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez was also in the house. Other guests included donors to and members of the science community.
Food and drink: Multiple bars were set up in every room to keep drink lines blissfully short. The themed drink of the evening was the Blue Ocean, a concoction made with rum, orange juice, and blue curaçao and garnished with a pineapple wedge. Red and white wines were available at every bar, and waiters also carried around trays offering glasses to thirsty guests.
The Ocean Hall, Mammals Hall, and Dinosaur Hall were open to guests, and each had a different food offering. In addition to small ceviche stands, the main rotunda featured a boardwalk with hush puppies, pizza, fried claims, and French fries, which could have benefited from being heated up. In the Mammals Hall, the spread included surf and turf, with shrimp, pineapple, and beef skewers and small cones stuffed with Caesar salad, turkey, and pasta. The Dinosaurs Hall held the culinary highlight—a seafood selection including oysters on the half shell; salmon; seaweed salad with cucumber, shrimp, and scallops; and a corn relish to accompany it all. For dessert, there were shell-shaped chocolates.
Scene: The beautiful and grand museum was a captivating background for the party. The soaring rotunda was bathed in blue-green light. Three giant cloth jellyfish hung from the ceiling, their tentacles floating softly in the air, giving the room a surrealistic feel. Large white cutouts of fish were also suspended above the crowd, and their silhouettes danced across the rounded ceiling. The music had a connection to the ocean, whether it was Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea,” “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, or evocative New Age instrumental music meant to evoke water. The event was listed as black tie, and attire ranged from cocktail dresses to gowns to the odd pantsuit for women, while men wore either tuxedos or suits—one even sported a kilt.
After short speeches given by Clough, Samper, Sant, and Gutierrez, the Ocean Hall was opened and guests flooded in. It features a replica of a right whale hanging from the ceiling, a giant squid, and a live coral reef, among other things. Looking at the exhibits was entertaining, and because many of the guests were part of the scientific community, conversations moved beyond typical gala talk into the realm of academia.
The exhibits and multiple open halls kept the event from stagnating, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Boldface names: 2 out of 5
Swankiness: 3 out of 5
Exclusivity: 2 out of 5
Food and drink: 4 out of 5
Total score: 11 out of 20