Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Friday, July 17, 2009

A crowd of 20-somethings stood in line on a drizzly Thursday evening outside the Sackler Gallery. But the gloomy weather didn't dampen the anticipation of the Smithsonian's first Asia After Dark cocktail event.

Pre-event tickets had sold out, so more than 200 patrons eagerly waited to buy tickets at the door. Once they were inside, the warm Asian decor of the Sackler wiped away any memory of the overcast evening sky.

"We were trying to target a younger demographic and reach that younger audience. We just wanted to get them into the gallery and get them engaged," says Lyz Bridgforth, advertising coordinator for the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The event succeeded, drawing mostly 20- and 30-somethings but also "a hip older crowd, which was kind of cool," says Heidi Souerwine, 27, who works for the American Society for Microbiology.

Just inside the entryway were two large, free buffets covered with Asian-inspired food, catered by Mie N Yu and Johnny's Kabob.

One level below was a DJ and dance floor immediately in front of the double staircase. The open exhibit halls on either side of the dance area wrapped around the rest of the floor. Sackler employees and volunteers were stationed throughout the galleries to give tours.

On the bottom floor, guests could wander through the featured exhibit, "The Tsars and the East: Gifts From Turkey and Iran in the Moscow Kremlin," but they couldn't bring their drinks in with them. At origami stations, visitors learned to make paper business card holders.

One of the highlights of the evening was a performance by the Silk Road Dance Company.

"It was a really good draw, and I think people were really interested in seeing the traditional style of dance. I loved seeing how the traditional dance contrasted with the more modern Persian DJ," Souerwine says.

Attire: Some people will be decked out in their "going out" attire, but most will be wearing cute work outfits. It is completely acceptable to come straight from the office in dressy-casual pants and heels.

Museum time: Absolutely; you can check out exhibits until 10:30 p.m.

Don't miss: The Freer's Peacock Room is the most famous portion of the gallery. The former dining room, from the London home of shipowner Frederick R. Leyland, was painted by James McNeill Whistler from 1876 to 1877. In 1904, Charles Lang Freer purchased the room, which had become known as the Peacock Room, and it was installed in the gallery after his death.

Drinks: Multiple bars make it easy to get beer and wine or a specialty drink. Your ticket gets you one drink. Additional drinks cost $7 for a cocktail and $4 for beer and wine.

Food: At the Sackler, there was plenty of food available, but the lines bottlenecked near the entrance. This is expected to be reworked for the September event, but it might be a good idea to have a snack before coming.

The next Asia After Dark event is Sept. 3 from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Freer Gallery of Art. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door and will go on sale Aug. 3. Get them early as they will probably sell out. Jefferson Drive and 12th Street SW (Metro: Smithsonian). Call 202-633-1000 or get tickets at

-- Bennett Sumner

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