I have always looked at Diner en Blanc from afar in a critical way.
When I received the opportunity to attend this year's event, I thought maybe I should give this a shot before I judge.
Around 6 p.m. Thursday evening, hundreds of partygoers gathered at the corner of Broad and Walnut streets awaiting the announced dining location. Some stayed above ground in the rain and others opted for the shelter of the stuffy subway platforms.
We all waited eagerly in crisp, clean white linens.
Some ladies adorned their heads with flowers crowns and a few men sported fresh flower boutonnieres. As I waited on the Subway platform, I bumped into Philly rapper Chill Moody and a couple, Shadi and Lucas, who were attending their second Diner en Blanc.
In matching ponchos, Shadi told me, "I can't wait to find out where we are going to be. And how we are all going to deal with the rain. We will dance in the rain with our ponchos on."
When I asked Lucas about the prospect of white clothes being see-through when wet, he replied, "That's when we all start getting a little bit more personal with each other."
People started going down into the subway and I watched as 50-something people lugged huge wire shopping carts full of dining gear down the stairs. Yes, even though attendees pay $40 to attend, the supplies are their responsibility. That means everything from folding chairs & tables to wine glasses & food.
Then we got word of our secret dining location. It was the Philadelphia Navy Yard, which Billy Penn revealed days earlier. Yawn.
Our subway was one of the first to arrive at the AT&T station. As the doors opened, the scene was chaotic. At the top of the escalator, at one of the exits, a huge bottleneck was preventing people from getting off, and the gates at the turnstiles weren't up, which prevented the massive crowd from exiting in an orderly fashion. Luckily, no one was hurt and everyone kept calm.
I realized if a zombie apocalypse happened, I would want to be surrounded by Diner en Blanc partygoers.
Along the rainy streets, people stood around confused. It appeared some folks were waiting for buses while others began walking in the direction of the dining destination. Some even pulled up a chair and popped open some bubbly. Despite mild frustration, but still everyone was smiling.
While the event was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., by the time we arrived almost no one was there. The field was empty, except for David, a lone saxophone player from North Philly who was squeaking out some jazz. How long have you been playing? "Long enough," he responded.
As people started filing in, the task of set-up begin.
According the event's PR coordinator Kory Aversa, there was an estimated 4,500 guests.
A Pinterest-aholic's dream, partygoers began setting up tables ordained with elaborate settings and centerpieces. John and Zac of King of Prussia went for something a tad prehistoric.
A self-proclaimed dinosaur freak, John said, "They should be here now with us. The idea of dinosaurs having a Diner en Blanc is quite fun."
Mary Downes had a more elaborate centerpiece, spelling out "#DEB" stacked high in bright lights. This was her 10th DEB – she's attended four in NYC, two in D.C., and this her fourth in Philly. But this, she noted, was the first one where it rained. "I do it for the adventure."
Now – the food. It is called "diner" after all.
Tim's table had sushi from Vic's, while Jamie and Brigit dined on meats and cheeses from DiBruno. I saw a Whole Foods rotisserie chicken pulled from the tote of one couple. Some opted for the catering that was offered from Garces, and others choose to bring their own home prepared meals.
Valentina Noursa and PJ Hopkins had a jar of their locally made pickles, Brine Street Picklery, on hand. The couple live in Washington Square but make the delicious spears in Fishtown.
Now, onto the wine: Lots of Rosé and bubbly flowed lavishly, with a few bottles of Bulleit whiskey being pulled out for shots.
Fashion blogger Sabir M. Peele looked absolutely decadent in an Indochino cotton suit with a custom-made double-breasted vest. He was of the esteemed fashion judges, later awarding "Most Elegant Man" to TJ Tarrant, who was dressed in an Express suit and white Vans sneakers. His fabric flower boutonniere was fab.
Women wore lots of lace. Crop tops were out and about too. Shauna Goodman from Old City bought a white bob wig for this year's event. "I wanted to do something eccentric and it actually worked out well that it rained because I didn't have to do my hair."
One person, whose parade wouldn't be rained on, was Martha Graham Cracker.
But that doesn't mean she wasn't nervous. "I am worried," she told me, dressed as Marilyn Monroe. "Everybody is saying we are going to get electrocuted if we play. I am excited to perform but the nature gods might be against us. I don't understand the physics but water and electricity don't mix."
That didn't stop the hairy diva from putting on a killer show.
Starting with "Tell Me Something Good" and ending with "Purple Rain," she kicked high and made the spirits of the audience soar even higher.
"This one is dedicated to the gods of weather and to all of you beautiful white clad people who were once rain soaked and who are now throbbing and writhing before us."
Wilmington's Tricia Julian was seeing Martha for the first time. "She has a great voice, great moves and she looks better than me!"
Brandon Thomas tweeted:
It all goes back to location, location, location. While pretty much everyone I asked had a great time, everyone unanimously agreed that last year's location was far superior.
Two Street's Neely Gindhart had a good point. "Last year was great because it was dry and on pavement and now we are on the rain and on grass," she said. "Everyone is sinking and heels are sinking into the grass and mud."
This year's event fell short.
It was a tree-lined field in the shadow of an office building with no view. But one of the group leaders told me that after last year's central location on Broad Street caused some ruckus, organizers were forced to pick a spot far off the beaten path.
But after attending the event for the first time ever, I still don't get it. It obviously makes a lot of people happy. Even in the pouring rain, smiles were abundant and guests made the best out of everything. Who is anyone to begrudge the happiness of anyone else?
So to all the haters - stay home and shut it. To all the Diner en Blanc-ers - party on you crazy people. I just probably won't be joining you next year.