HughE Dillon: Philadelphia’s Diner en Blanc

The Paris-inspired picnic pops up on the Parkway.

Diner en Blanc was a magical night under the stars for which Philadelphians packed their own dinner, brought their own chairs (even tables), and waited until the 6:30 p.m. phone call that told them where their “secret” dining location would be. More than 1,300 people dressed in white to take part in the pop-up culinary event. It was spectacular and something to remember; it was one of those moments you’d tell people, “I was there that night.” This très chic picnic began in Paris 24 years ago and is now taking over elegant public spaces in 22 cities around the world. Last night’s romantic dinner took place at Philadelphia’s Logan Square on the Ben Franklin Parkway, which was designed in 1917 to emulate the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

There was such a demand to attend the popular event, it sold out quickly and there was a waiting list. I was surprised, considering people had to carry their dining equipment to the event, from waiting points all over the city—some as far away as Second and Spring Garden streets. Imagine 100 people on the El dressed in white and carrying tiny tables and chairs. Below: Sophie V. Steuer, director of major gifts, Women’s Way, and Gary Steuer, chief cultural officer for the City of Philadelphia.

The invite said: white, elegant and originality counts. It was a wonderful site to see so many people adhere to that. There was a contest for best table setting, and another for best-dressed. Below: Standing near the fountain is Susan Gish, who won for best-dressed. Her husband Sam Gish, Philadelphia Casting, is next to her. (The guy in black on the left is security.)

Below: Charles and Nicole Paloux, with Joshua and Kristina Jenkins, were so excited that the Diner En Blanc came to Philadelphia. A moment after this, the diners stood up and began waving their napkins to note the start of dinner.

Below: The London Grill gals and alum, Nicole Kelly, manager, Cristina Tessaro, bar manager, Terry Berch McNally, owner, Brooke Honeyford, and Kately Drake dined on quiche and cupcakes.

Below: The Franklin Fountain guys, Eric and Ryan Berley, at their luxurious table.

Below: One last hurrah before these teachers head back to the Marple Township school system: Marybeth DeFruscio, Denise DeRosa, and Michelle Bodnar had a fabulous dinner and then joined in the lighting of sparklers to begin the dancing segment of the night. The trio kicked up their heels for the next three hours to the tunes of DJ Bruce.

Below: After dinner, I found Four Seasons executive chef Rafael Gonzalez with Toni Gonzalez dancing on the edge of the fountain.

Below: Stephanie Choroser, Brandon Brauer, Jessica Willingham, and Cara Coates dined on cheese and wine. Brandon is moving to D.C. on Saturday and was glad to spend this unique night of dining under the stars with his good friends.

Below: Michael Buttich, Brittany Randle, Ashley Pearson and Bill Castro told me that Diner en Blanc was the perfect primer to get them ready for a season of tailgating at the Eagles games. They have to bring all their own stuff and more every Sunday to the parking lot at the Linc.

Below: Justin Rentzel and WMMR’s Marisa Magnatta take the spontaneous plunge into Swan Fountain with many of the other diners.

Below: Jackie VanOrden, Stephanie Gill, Kate Montgomery and Joe Atar were last-minute adds after being on the waiting list. Joe ran around town looking for the specific size table that was required; it had to be 28 x 32. No luck in the stores that normally carried them, but he finally found a TV stand at a thrift store near his house in the Northeast.

Below: Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way Center, Marcia DiMatteo, Brad Richards, Laura Senlica and Dora Loretta McKinney. Chris tells me he picked up his furry sleeves from Philadelphia AIDS Thrift, but didn’t see Miley Cyrus there on Tuesday when she was shopping.

Below: Sergio Cultrera, Julie Hixon, Thandeka Myeni and Michael Bing liked the mysteriousness of the dinner, which seemed to turn into an art performance where diners participated.

Below: Brendan Walsh and Brian LaPann, of Mole Street Productions, which provided the dinner music with gypsy jazz band Hot Club Philly; they played many French tunes to set the tone. (DJ Bruce is also from Mole Street Productions.) It was really a great combination of a relaxing, romantic dinner that transformed into a rocking, rambunctious dance party when DJ Bruce came on.

Below: Lola and Kevin Burkenstock. No doubt this was a party to remember, as I tweeted it may have been the best party I’ve gone to in the past five years in Philadelphia. I think we have a new event space that is at the center of everything.

Below: Sadly, the night had to end, but there were many smiles on the face of the partygoers, who all had a memorable night, especially Christine Schadow Fritsky, and Michael Fritsky, whose table won the best prize. They got a $500 gift card to Williams-Sonoma. Although most of the diners had packed up and left by the end of the evening (11 p.m.), the duo was still savoring the moment. Check out for videos of the night.