Partying in the Presence of History
We Washingtonians know the National Mall to be the tourist destination of D.C. Fanny packers, frisbee throwers and families regularly populate the green strip of grass lined by museums between the Capitol and Washington Monument. But this past Saturday night, women in colorful ball gowns with finely coiffed men at their arms decorated the mall for the 5th Annual Ball on the Mall.
The L’Enfant Society hosts the annual ball to benefit the Trust for the National Mall, which is dedicated to restoring and improving the National Mall. Volkswagen was the hero of the society’s fundraising efforts, investing $10 million in National Mall restoration.
Arriving at the National Mall in high heels and a full length dress was a first for me. I walked down the gravel paths up to the big white tents in the middle of the mall filled with excitement and anticipation. What was usually a grassy field was transformed into an elegant ballroom filled with beautiful lights, music and an aura of the unreal.
On the tent walls hung large paintings of the Founding Fathers at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, silhouettes of unknown famous figures donned the bars, and just beyond the bottles of wine and top-shelf, either the Washington Monument or the Capitol stood vigil.
“It’s not bad for one of these charity events,” a lawyer-turned-lobbyist told me. “It’s not so stuffy and high-strung. It’s more informal and relaxed.”
He was right. For a black tie event, I was expecting a much more uptight crowd; but it felt like a true party, minus the mini-dresses and with classier gentleman. I bumped into a councilman from Virginia who also agreed that of D.C.’s exclusive events, Ball on the Mall was one of the best.
Emcee Kelly Collis of 94.7 Fresh FM introduced Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, who looked like the classic designer Carolina Herrera with pulled back blonde hair, a crisp white button-up blouse and popped collar, and long black skirt. She gave a few remarks, to which the crowd only slightly paid attention while conversations and drinks kept flowing. What a rambunctious group!
Milling around and people watching, I noticed a surprising number of women in Gatsby-inspired, ’20s-era dresses: high necklines, ornamented straps, sequins or shimmery embellishments and headbands. The vivacity and pure enjoyment everyone was having, for a moment, also transported me back to those legendary intoxicated parties in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel.
However, for a dance held in the name of a good cause, I’d say it’s worth going more for the food and staying for the fun. Highly acclaimed culinary couple of Equinox Restaurant, Todd and Ellen Kassoff Gray, and executive chef of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Xavie Deshayes, provided delicious tasting-plates to VIP ticket-holders. My favorite dish, though, had to be a spoonful of tuna tartar and a shot of yellow tomato gazpacho prepared by Central’s Michel Richard. Also noteworthy was the “American Favorites Fritter Station” with fritters of fried codfish, crab meat and black-eyed peas with corresponding dipping sauces to match. Scattered about the room were also tables full of splendid crudites, shrimp and grits, seasoned meats and rolls. Needless to say, I could have spent the whole night snacking and would have left a very contented guest!
Oddly enough, I have to say one of my favorite moments of the night was at the end, walking on the Mall away from the tents. It reminded me of a first date I once had walking the monuments at midnight. Something about the brisk clean air, flushed cheeks, cold fingers and open night sky reminded me of how spectacularly romantic our city can be. With street lamps lit and in the awesome presence of history, the Hill no longer carried the significance of being a political epicenter. For a night at least, it was merely a place of joy, celebration and dancing.