While I admittedly have other posts that I should be wrapping up right now, I can’t help but chime in with the media chorus singing the praises for this year’s Diner En Blanc Philadelphia. On the off chance you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, here’s a primer: DEB is an international phenomenon in 40 cities wherein thousands of preregistered guests, dressed in head-to-toe white, converge for a picnic/party on a public space, the location of which is unknown to all of them until moments before.
I’ll confess I was skeptical. I did not attend the inaugural Philadelphia DEB in 2012, but I did hear rave reviews from some very trustworthy sources. Still, I wondered how the organizers would make the responsibility for diners to provide their own, food, drink, tables, seating, etc. worth the price of admission. Obviously, I’d have to find out for myself.
So, on Thursday, August 22, I met up with a few other press peeps in center city just before the appointed 7pm call time. On our way out, the building security guard asked where we were headed. We all had a bit of a chuckle when we told her we weren’t quite sure and she replied, “What kind of party is that?” Out on the street, however, anticipation started to build. The area around City Hall was suddenly speckled with similarly-dressed groups milling about. Just then, everyone’s phone began to buzz with the location notification: JFK Blvd. Bridge at 30th St. Station. Having always been a fan of this spot’s stunning construction, I was starting to get psyched.
30th St. Station, looking regal awash in white.
Minutes after we received the alert, we saw other groups of white-clad citizens making their way towards our destination. Everyone we passed was asking “What is all of this about?” Still not 100% certain of an exact address, we jumped in a cab and told the driver to take JFK to 30th St. None of us wanted to wait even for a short subway ride more. Sure enough, as we got closer, we saw the street was blocked off up ahead. The driver took us as far as the barricade and we walked towards the growing cluster of white ahead. Suddenly, we went from empty asphalt to a street-side café that was getting larger by the second. The media area was situated in the center of it all, right outside the PECO building. By the time we took the five minutes to check-in, we were surrounded by a sea of white. In honestly took a few minutes to soak it all in.
Why wait for the dance floor to get your groove on when there are drum lines strolling through?
A stage at the station end of the bridge hosted modern jazz group Carte Blanche during the dinner hours, with speakers set-up along the road so that all guests could enjoy. As the sun began to set (and let’s be honest, bottles began to be drained), guests began to shuffle from table to table. This party was just getting started. A ceremonious sparkler lighting signals the official end of dinner. Shortly after, throngs of people came past in waves, heading towards the stage, now occupied by DJ Bruce. People were literally dancing in the street as they came through.
The bridge itself now resembled the dance floor of a popular club, like an officially-sanctioned rave, minus the drama often accompanied by excess alcohol consumption by a crowd. No, tonight, everyone was smiling, polite, even friendly. As residents of a major metropolitan East Coast city, Philadelphians can be a little harsh with each other in our day-to-day interactions. That night, there was seemingly no one who wasn’t swept up in the sense of community and the spirit of the moment. There were even three proposals.
In juxtaposition, The Circa Center showcases Philly's old and new architecture.
I can’t imagine otherwise having had the opportunity to enjoy the station view in a soiree setting. More than 2,500 people partook in this pop-up party. Friends and strangers alike enjoyed the revelry of the evening together. I think we all knew we were partners in a singularly magical experience. Next year’s festivities will be held in another similarly-secretive venue, which will come with its own mystique. Still, no DEB will ever be quite the same. It’s official: you can count me among the Diner en Blanc devotees in the years to come. You only have to go once to get it.