PHOTOS: The Inn At Little Washington’s Decadent 40th Birthday Party

Free-flowing Dom Pérignon and fake mustaches were just the start of a celebration that will culminate in a party at a French château

Chef Patrick O'Connell is escorted by "Marilyn Monroe" and his kitchen team as a birthday cake of the Inn is presented to guests, during Sunday's 40th anniversary dinner. Photography by Daniel Swartz

For a generation of Washingtonians, a trip to the Inn at Little Washington represented the pinnacle of special occasion celebrations. Beyond the famed dining experience, there was the pomp-and-circumstance that came with a visit to chef Patrick O’Connell‘s small, scenic slice of Virginia: the drive through the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, dressing to the nines, and family pictures (long before Instagram made it cool). So of course, to celebrate the Inn’s 40th anniversary, O’Connell went big on Sunday evening. 

A horse-drawn carriage sits outside the Inn, ready to take guests for a spin around town.
The dining room before guests arrived.

Guests were greeted at the door with glasses of Dom Pérignon Champagne and a series of Petrossian caviar-topped canapés. This being an O’Connell production, they were attended to by an army of waitstaff sporting fake handlebar mustaches and vintage sunglasses–everyone was partying like is was 1978.

Attendants and wait staff sported ’70s-era accents on top of their uniforms in honor of the Inn’s original 1978 opening day.
Cameron Smith (Inn at Little Washington’s cheese specialist) with “Faira” (the Inn’s mooing, rolling cheese cart).
Light-hearted photographs of Chef O’Connell over the years were scattered throughout the rooms.
Luray, a rescue dog-turned-Inn-mascot, was at O’Connell’s side during the earlier part of the night.

The evening’s menu was a seven-course affair that featured highlights from the Inn’s four decades of service. Throwback treats included a dish of “Fire and Ice” circa 2001seared, peppered tuna set atop a bed of watermelon radish with a dollop of cucumber sorbet on topand a timbale of jumbo lump crabmeat with spinach mousse from 1978.

“Fire and Ice” (Circa 2001): Seared, Peppered Tuna with Watermelon Radish and Cucumber Sorbet.
Guests were treated to bottomless glasses of Dom Pérignon champage.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a formal birthday without a birthday cake. None other than Marilyn Monroe provided O’Connell with a “Happy Birthday” serenade before escorting the beaming chef and his team throughout the dining room to take a congratulatory bow.

A Marilyn Monroe lookalike entertained guests.
Guests to Sunday’s birthday celebration included Judge Laura Kiessling and Cal Ripken Jr.
Chef Patrick O’Connell jokes with his “little” brother, Sean O’Connell, who worked at the Inn as a busboy when it first opened on January 28th, 1978.

If you’re kicking yourself for missing the celebratory dinner, there will be plenty of other opportunities to wish the Inn at Little Washington happy birthday in the coming months.  On June 16th, O’Connell will host a garden party with French Ambassador Gérard Araud at Mount Vernon as an homage to George Washington, who named the original streets of “Little Washington” during his time as surveyor of the land back in 1749. Tickets begin at $2,500 per seating.

The Inn sits at the intersection of Main Street and Warren Ave in Washington, Virginia.
Dream realized, chef!

Those same streets will be brimming with well wishers come September 2nd, as O’Connell holds an “Innstock” block party modeled after the Woodstock music festival, complete with live musical performances and bonfires.

Timbale of Jumbo Lump Crabmeat with Spinach Mousse, from 1978.
Washington, Virginia Mayor John Fox Sullivan and New York Times food columnist Marian Burros.

The Inn’s final “anniversaire” celebration will be held on September 30th just outside of Paris, at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. O’Connell and his team will recreate a famous fete first held in honor of King Louis XIV in 1661, with an equally regal ticket price of $3,000 per person. 

Party favors.
Live entertainment greeted guests upon arrival.
Petrossian caviar-topped canapes.
One lucky couple took home a bottle of 1978 Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine, from the night’s raffle.
The Inn from different eyes.
The Inn’s very first stove was on display in a pop-up museum chronicling the history of the restaurant and hotel.