Washington’s younger set fashions its own dinner party scene


From left, guest Dana Pelzman and founders Danny Harris and Noah Karesh at a Feastly dinner featuring Egyptian food. (Rebecca D'Angelo/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
June 7, 2012

Most Washington 20- and 30-somethings can count on having a few things in common: Leon Panetta isn’t on speed dial. Cokie Roberts hasn’t been in their living rooms. They won’t be taking Lindsay Lohan to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. But echo boomers are just as interested in getting together, and unlike their elders, they’re more willing to socialize with strangers, try new things and seek out new ideas. With entrepreneurial and intellectual zeal, they’re reconfiguring the Washington dinner party scene for themselves.

Consider this gathering in an Adams Morgan living room: Eleven people sit on a couch or crisscross style on the floor. An adjacent table is resplendent with falafel, maashi and fuul. It would seem this Egyptian-themed meal is a way for old friends to break bread and catch up. In reality, the participants in this “Feastly” event are meeting for the first time.

Oscar Scolari, 29, is one of them. Though wary of showing up at a home he has never been to eat with people he doesn’t know, he soon becomes absorbed in learning about his fellow diners. “Everyone has an interesting background,” he says, describing the guests as “like-minded people who want to do something different.”

Feastly was launched in November by 32-year-old Danny Harris and 30-year-old Noah Karesh to provide Washingtonians with unique dining experiences. For about $30, “feasters” enjoy repasts such as ramen or Jewish soul food at private homes. (Similar concepts include underground meet-ups such as Hush Supper Club in the U Street neighborhood and Chez le Commis in Clarendon.)

While running Feastly as a
business, Harris hosts similar monthly gatherings at his Adams Morgan pad without charge. He calls them “Dinn-ovate” parties: Each guest, usually a friend of a friend or someone with whom Harris wants to get better acquainted, shares an area of expertise with the other diners, such as dancing the samba or performing an exorcism. At the end of the meal, Harris says, guests leave “with full stomachs and nine new skills or talents.”

Josef Palermo, 27, a planner at Philippa Hughes’s art events company the Pink Line Project, also doesn’t hesitate to reach out to folks he doesn’t know. Last June, he threw a potluck soiree on Hughes’s U Street terrace for 30 people under 30 that he thought were “doing really cool stuff.”

“We had a really good mix of people who come from the emerging D.C. tech scene, people who are doing stuff with menswear and fashion; we had activists who came from Bread for the City,” says Palermo, who hosted a similar event this month. The parties are “redefining what the experience is in D.C. It’s not just ‘Washington.’ ”

Philippe Lanier, vice president of the real estate development company EastBanc, can relate to the desire to go beyond official Washington. The 34-year-old and nine friends host “Entrepreneurs Quarterly Gathering” at L2 Lounge in Georgetown. The 100 invitees to the free events include younger Washingtonians whom the hosts see as innovators and forward-thinkers, such as Eric Kessler, founder of Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors and Kelly Muccio, owner of the popular men’s boutique Lost Boys.

When making the guest list, Lanier says he asks himself: Is this someone I think is actually out to engage and make the world around them better? Or is this just someone looking for a cool party?

The sixth-annual Fashion for Paws fundraiser for the Washington Humane Societyin April was both: a cool party out to make a better world. The event features socialites strutting down a runway with adoptable pooches and attracts young donors; half of the $10,000 tables were purchased by 20- or 30-somethings this year. “It really is a testament to a group of young people wanting to make a difference,” says founder Tara de Nicolas, 32.

The connections de Nicolas has made through Fashion for Paws have enriched her social life in other ways. Every few months, she dines with some of the other organizers — including EarthEcho International co-founder Philippe Cousteau and Heather Guay, a public relations manager at Bloomingdale’s — at one of their homes to catch up and brainstorm about Fashion for Paws, as well as to seek advice on personal goals and career moves in a friendly and supportive environment. “That’s what keeps us sane, I think ... that friendship that’s come out of all of this,” she says.

Kris Coronado is a frequent contributor to the Magazine. To comment on this story, send e-mail wpletters@washpost.com.

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