City Transformation, Events, Food, Neighborhoods, News

Posh ‘sort of secret’ party brings Detroiters together for good company, elegance and etiquette


The A-list people like media stars M. L. Elrick, Tresa Baldas and Toby Barlow get invitations stuffed in their front doors for the once-a-year, secret party in Detroit, where people sit at white tables, dressed all in white, eating a gourmet dinner under the fading summer light. With viral speed, under the radar of Facebook’s public pages, more than 400 people show up and revel in friendships new and old.

The sixth annual Diner en Blanc came to Palmer Park on Sunday, August 21, at 5 p.m. Teens in prom dresses, old guys in Moroccan tunics, dashing gentlemen in form-fitting suits and ladies with the most stylish array of clothes, toast crystal wine glasses amid bouquets of roses and gladiolas.


PJ Ryder

Donna Terek, Detroit News photographer/writer and husband PJ Ryder, owner of PJ’s Lager House, had three tables. Mary Zatina, senior vice president of government relations and community affairs at  Beaumont Health, had a Lebanese feast for her friends, Rich Rice, owner of Detroit by Design, invited 35 people, including architect and feng shui practitioner Susan Hafleigh of Northville.

“I think it’s fascinating to stand in an empty space like the very green Palmer Park and build a party around Merrill Fountain. Then take it away. Watching the creativity of each host group creating their settings, tables, canopies, linens, flowers, and tasting all the great food just caught me up in an atmosphere of friendship,” Hafleigh says.

Over the past six years, the Detroit dinner party has enjoyed locations in Cadillac Square, old Tiger Stadium, Eastern Market, Belle Isle, the Heidelberg Project and most recently Palmer Park.

No formal program. No structure. Just fine wine and good company.

I’d hankered several years for an invitation and finally went down my Facebook list of friends, recalling who was there last year and asked to be included. Dare not say who invited me lest they are banned from the guest list next year. Rumor has it this is true. Some are secretive, others invite an entourage. The precise location and date doesn’t arrive until a week before the event, heightening the sense of exclusivity.

white party2Diner en Blanc is the brainchild of Francois Pasquier of Paris.  He started a nonprofit Diner en Blanc International 1988, inviting friends and friends of friends to dress in white, bring a friend and a meal as a way friends could reconnect with others over a meal they would bring.  The friendly gathering grew so large its Montreal-based organization is involved with more than 100,000 members worldwide and hosts parties in 70 cities.

“Some 25 years ago, my dad unknowingly started a concept uniting people from different cultures and different backgrounds, which is becoming today a truly global phenomenon … maintaining the core of the Parisian concept, says Aymeric Pasquier, executive director of Dinner en Blanc International on its website.

The beauty of Palmer Park came alive as members of the People for Palmer Park, including Rochelle Lento and Clinton Griffin, welcomed people to the refurbished park and chatted up the progress on reviving its century-old log cabin for public use.

I saw friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years, including one member of the Motor City Blade Runners that cruised through Detroit streets in the 1990s. Certainly a love fest.

The evening closed magically with a rainbow in the sky and a promise that next year would be even better.

– Photos by Maureen McDonald

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