It’s perhaps the best kept secret in the City of Light: the location of an annual clandestine dinner that brings together 11,200 Parisians, all dressed impeccably in white, to set up one massive candle-lit picnic in the heart of the city, much to the chagrin of local police and the delight of passers-by.
The Diner en Blanc in 2009 at the Place de la Concorde
This year, as in the past 23 years, thousands of impossibly chic Parisian picnickers will converge flash mob style on a designated spot in the city — always a major landmark — taking throngs of tourists by surprise as they saunter past carrying picnic baskets laden with bottles of champagne, foie gras, baguettes and candles.
What started out as a small, modest affair in 1988 for a group of Parisian gourmands looking to dine out al fresco-style, Diner en Blanc has turned into an international phenomenon in recent years, catching on in cities like New York, Montreal, Boston, Las Vegas, Singapore, Barcelona, and most recently, Kigali, Rwanda.
This year’s Diner en Blanc at the Place des Vosges in Paris
But after 23 years of hosting the soirée — an event that requires no small matter of logistics, including ways of eluding the police — it’s Paris which is the standard bearer for the event. Against the theatricality of the city’s backdrop, be it in the court of the Louvre, outside Notre-Dame, or in front of les Invalides, and on the strict orders of event organizers, 11,200 picnickers will assume their designated space, setting up their strictly prescribed, foldable dining tables and chairs into military rows.
There are no paper plates or plastic cutlery at these events. In fact, they’re forbidden, as is beer, and any attire that’s not white.
Diners pull out candelabras, candles and giant flower arrangements to grace the tabletops and sup off fine china and polished silverware, clinking crystal glasses and goblets.
In the past, Diner en Blanc has been organized at sites like the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysées, and the Château de Versailles. And while it wasn’t easy to bypass police in its infant years, Parisian authorities tend to turn a blind eye to the annual event, organizers say, given that revelers abide by strict orders to leave nothing behind.
Though details of this year’s location won’t be revealed to media until 8:30 pm Thursday night, organizers have indicated that like last year, the event will be split into two sites. Last year, revelers were divided between Notre Dame and the Louvre.
If you want an invite, however, it takes one to know one. While you can register online, most guests are invitees from former Diner en Blanc regulars, lending the event an air of exclusivity.
Meanwhile, here are the confirmed cities which will be hosting their own version of Diner en Blancthis year:
Canada: Montreal, Quebec, Toronto and Vancouver
United States: New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Francisco
International: Singapore; Mexico City; Sydney and Brisbane (Australia); Barcelona (Spain); Kigali (Rwanda)