Dispatch: Dîner en Blanc Returns to Chicago, an Outdoor Dinner Party with Style and Community to Spare

Billed as Chicago’s largest dinner party, Dîner en Blanc is an annual, one-night-only pop-up event held in major cities all over the world for no other reason than to celebrate good food, good community and, in the case of this year’s event held August 17 on the riverfront plaza at the Merchandise Mart, stellar views of our beautiful downtown skyline. Founded in Paris in 1988, the event has been on hiatus locally since 2019, and this year’s return saw roughly 2,500 attendees decked out in all white gather for an evening to remember in one of Chicago’s most captivating public spaces.

If half the fun of the international Dîner en Blanc is the veil of secrecy around it (past attendees get priority access; the location is kept under wraps until the day of the event), the rest is made up of the pomp and circumstance attendees infuse the evening’s happenings with. Once registered, guests are instructed to bring all the essentials for an al fresco dinnertime picnic, from tables and chairs to flatware, napkins and, in the case of many of the night’s most enthusiastic attendees, table centerpieces and decorations—and they all have to be white, too. Dinner is entirely up to each party, but many at this year’s event seemed to lean into the French inspiration of it all, including charcuterie boards, baguettes and macarons.

Diner en Blanc is hosted at Merchandise Mart Plaza.. Photographer: Christopher Dilts / Dîner en Blanc Chicago

As a guest of the event, we arrived just before 7pm and witnessed the plaza fill in with controlled chaos, as volunteers ushered their attendees into predetermined sections to set up tables and settle in for the evening. By 7:30, the festivities were underway with the event’s traditional white napkin twirl; the sight of a thousand white napkins twirling overhead, the Merchandise Mart towering above on one side and architecture boat tours floating by on the other, was quite welcome after the last few years of separation. And with that, diners set in on their picnics as a DJ provided background music and the city buzzed on around us.

From our base at the media lounge, where wine and appetizers were generously provided by event organizers, our only goal for the evening was to take in as much of the sights as we could, from the absolutely stunning fashions being sported by attendees (so many fascinators!) to the clever, elegant and often elaborate table decorations on display throughout (the Eiffel Tower seemed to be a running theme). As tables finished dinner and dessert, the dancing began and, by the time the sun set over the skyscrapers lining Wacker Drive, the façade of the Merchandise Mart was lit up with the city’s video art exhibit.

Organized by a committee of revelers dedicated to celebrating the city, the community and the value of coming together without agenda or objective, Dîner en Blanc is wholly unique and entirely unforgettable. Maybe it was the flush of being back among throngs of people after so long; maybe it was the white wine and white color scheme as far as the eye could see; maybe it was the magic of the setting, an oft-overlooked but breathtaking riverfront plaza with views for days; whatever the reason, an evening at Dîner en Blanc cultivates a sense of connection, celebration and camaraderie, all recognized far too infrequently in our everyday lives.

Dîner en Blanc at Merchandise Mart Plaza. Photographer: Christopher Dilts / Dîner en Blanc Chicago

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone