Attendees Flock to White-Meyer Dinner Before the Annual Meridian Ball (Photos)

The decadence of this year’s Gatbsy-themed ball was tempered by talk of the shutdown.
Cocktails under a full moon on the terrace of the White-Meyer House at Meridian International Center. This was one of 22 dinners before the actual Meridian Ball. Photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.
Cocktails under a full moon on the terrace of the White-Meyer House at Meridian International Center. This was one of 22 dinners before the actual Meridian Ball. Photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.

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.

Partying under the moon and stars and dangling beads in the garden of the Meridian International Center. 
The ample, festive dessert buffet. 

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