News & Politics

A Charitable Tradition With a White House Connection Continues at Villa Firenze (Photos)

The Italian ambassador hosted the annual “Country Barbecue.”

The setting of the annual Country Barbecue on the lawn of Villa Firenze, the Italian ambassador’s residence on Albemarle Street. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

An annual spring party that has its roots in the charitable generosity of a rich woman and the Texas barbecue loved by President Lyndon Johnson continues to thrive at one of the city’s most splendid estates. The “Country Barbecue,” which benefits the Children’s Hearing and Speech Center, was held on Thursday evening on the sweeping green lawns of Villa Firenze, the Italian ambassador’s residence.

According to Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, who strolled through the party with Laura Denise, his wife, the first barbecue was hosted in 1963 by Polly Guggenheim Logan, who was on the center’s board and who then owned the grand Tudor-style home near Rock Creek Park. President Johnson sent over authentic Texas barbecue for the occasion, and a tradition was born. When Logan sold the estate to Italy, she stipulated that the barbecue on the lawn continue, and Italian ambassadors have obliged ever since.

There’s one difference now, and that’s the provenance of the food. It’s still a lavish barbecue, but rather than from Texas, the baby back ribs, grilled chicken, chopped pork, cornbread, and baked beans came from DC’s own Rocklands Barbecue.

The party features what’s probably the longest cocktail hour among Washington social events—about two hours—but heavy hors d’oeuvre kept guests fortified as they sipped beverages from several bars. The options were bellinis, margaritas and other tequila drinks, an assortment of beers and wines, or one’s favorite martini and other cocktails. When the guests sat down to dinner it was under a white tent by the large swimming pool. Dinner was followed by dancing to the music of The Black and Blue Experience.

The event sold out, with 477 people buying $200-tickets and raising a total of more than $100,000. The Children’s Hearing and Speech Center, which is part of Children’s National Medical Center, was founded in 1959. According to the center, last year 13,000 children and families used the skills of their audiologists and speech-language pathologists for a variety of therapies.