From Alejandra Owens. You can find her at her food blog, One Bite At A Time. Alejandra also writes for City Eats DC, a Food Network site, where you can book dinner reservations. Follow her on Twitter at @frijolita and email her at alejandra[AT]borderstan.com.
It’s the most outrageous, awe-inspiring dinner party you’ll never be invited to — and you probably won’t be able to buy a ticket either. I had never even heard of the DC Progressive Dinner before, so when my friend Russell emailed to ask if I’d be a food judge for the 2012 annual dinner, my initial response was, “Sure, but, what is this thing again?”
This year’s dinner benefitted the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL). The non-profit organization works in the D.C.-metro area and its mission is to “promote and support self-confident, healthy, productive lives for LGBTQ youth ages 13-21 as they journey from adolescence into adulthood.”
Where to Start?
How shall I describe the event? Let’s start with the format, perhaps? Three teams: appetizer, entrée and dessert. Fifty people per team, mostly gay men. Each team is judged on three categories: food, theme/decor and performance.
This year’s Progressive Dinner was held at three different venues (none of them private homes, too small), including an unused warehouse and even Town Danceboutique. The teams competed in each of the three categories at each venue. There really aren’t any “invites” or perhaps just a few — it’s just the teams and a smattering of people who are judging (like me).
At first I thought, “Okay, this sounds pretty basic.” I figured I’d bop around with my fellow judges from row house to fabulous row house where I’d nibble on some fancy snacks, sip a cocktail or two and enjoy a little dinner theatre.
“Progressive Dinner started about eight years ago with a group of 30 guys who were looking to do something different. It has evolved a lot from that simple dinner to include fundraising and more,” Bradley Schurman, founding member of DC Progressive Dinner, told me.
Evolved a lot would be an understatement. I never expected to see a svelte “Hermaphrodite” (appetizer team’s theme was The Olympiad) disrobe to reveal a clam shell and pearl bikini (not to mention he was sporting 5-inch gold glitter heels). Or watch a tall, lanky Asian Tinkerbell (pictured above, dessert team’s theme was “Neverland”) immerse her face in a pile of fairy dust while wearing an itty-bitty tulle skirt! Nor did I expect to eat the best homemade madeleine I’ve ever tasted and be plied with luscious wine drinks, home-brewed beer and wicked potent shots.
Committees and Months of Planning
As anyone who’s ever tried to host a dinner party for more than four people knows, cooking for a crowd is no small feat. Cooking for a band of 150 raucous, costumed gay men who have been performing complicated dance routines in hooker heels all night is a challenge of a whole other level. More than four months of planning these teams of 50 means breaking the planning and work into subcommittees wherein menus are planned, costumes are designed and built, and spaces large enough to handle the crowd and embody the chosen theme are procured.
Abandoned warehouses and nightclubs are transformed, home kitchens turn into well-oiled catering machines turning out tomato bisque by the gallons, roasting thousands of cubes of root vegetables. There are no rewards for teams who outsource their work — originality and a Drag Race-style flair for do-it-yourself is where winner takes all.
What started seven years ago as a small, traditional, progressive dinner amongst friends has evolved into a fanciful event where participant and attendee alike can escape into a whole new world. Then the 2008 recession hit and it was a game changer.
“For the most part, we were all well-employed and felt that giving back to our community was the one component that was really lacking,” said Schurman. “In light of the very public teen suicides in the past years, our decision to fund SMYAL, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League makes the event even more rewarding.”
No Room to Grow
Every judge who was new to the event asked the same question, “Why not open the event to a larger audience?!”
In a town drowning in over-priced events that don’t quite deliver, DC Progressive Dinner is a rare gem. “At 150 people we are already bursting at the seams. We do most of the fundraising at the front end, so we can enjoy the evening in the end. There has been talk about opening it up to a larger audience, but I’m afraid that could destroy something that is really special to us,” said Schurman.
Until then, you’ll have to find a friend who’s already participating and see if you can join the team. See, you’re all in or you’re all out. According to Schurman, “The best part of progressive dinner is that it is a lot of work that always pays off.”
The stakes are quite high, and though everyone is definitely in it for the fun, friendship and charitable cause — they make no bones about wanting the glory too.
As one member of a losing team said to me at the end of the night, “Mm. Mm. Wrong. Like when Jennifer Hudson lost American Idol.”
The theme of the 2011 Capital Pride celebration is “Celebration and Opportunity: Paving the Way,” created in recognition of the many pioneers who fought for LGBT rights over the previous decades. Borderstan.com is proud to be among this year’s sponsors.
You can find the entire list of Pride events on the Capital Pride website calendar. What follows are some highlights, with a special emphasis on events in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area. Dupont, and increasingly Logan, is the heart of the D.C. LGBT community, so many of the events are close to home.
Remember to check event details for cover charges, ticket prices and ticket availability.
Two big events: The parade is Saturday, June 11 at 5:30 pm, starting at Dupont Circle and winding its way to Thomas Circle NW (check out Luis’ photos from the 2010 parade). The festival on Pennsylvania Avenue is Sunday, June 12 at 11 am. DJ Tony Moran will DJing on stage at Capital Pride Sunday June 12 to premiere the title track of his new album “Magic” with legendary singer Jennifer Holliday.
Taste of Pride runs June 6 through 12. There are seven establishments here in the neighborhood — Cafe Saint-Ex, Floriana, Hank’s Oyster Bar, Level One, Local 16, Policy and Tabaq. Check the Taste site for details — when you eat at one of the participating restaurants a donation will be made to Captial Pride.
Also, keep an eye out for our Breaking News section on the landing page — we will be highlighting Pride events of the day.
Below the fold: Events listed by day.
From Matty Rhoades and Luis Gomez
“Paving the Way” is the theme of the 36th Annual Capital Pride, which is the celebration of D.C.’s lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Appropriately themed “Celebration and Opportunity: Paving the Way,” it recognizes the pioneers who have fought for LGBT rights over the years.
The 12 days of Pride begin June 1, and run through the festival on Sunday, June 12.
The Dupont Circle neighborhood has long been considered the center of the gay community in D.C. and Borderstan.com is proud to be among this year’s sponsors. We will cover a number of Pride events, including the June 11 parade (from what better perspective than inside the parade itself!) and the June 12 festival.
Two big events: The parade begins Saturday, June 11 at 5:30 pm at Dupont Circle and winds its way to Thomas Circle NW. The festival on Pennsylvania Avenue is Sunday, June 12 at 11 am. Check out Luis’ photos from the 2010 parade.
Dog lovers that we are here, it should come as no surprise that we will also cover the 18th Annual Pride of Pets Fun Dog Show, which benefits PETS-DC; this year’s dog show in Dupont Circle is Saturday, June 18, at 4 pm.
You can find the entire list of Pride events at the Capital Pride website calendar. Dupont, and increasingly Logan, are the heart of the LGBT community in D.C. We created a list for you of events close to home in the Borderstan area. Also, keep an eye out for our Breaking News section on the landing page — we will be highlighting Pride events of the day.
From Mike Kohn. Got a news tip for Mike? Send him an email.
D.C. Council Race: Dickson in, what about Weaver?
The April 26 special election to fill an At-Large D.C. Council seat is getting more interesting. Logan Circle resident and realtor Wayne Dickson told The Washington Post last week that he is definitely in the race (14th & You has more on Dickson and his entry). We happened upon Dickson Sunday at the Q Street entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro stop. He told Borderstan that he has 15 people out collecting petitions; you need 3,000 valid voter signatures to get on the ballot.
The Capital Pride Festival continues Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 3rd and 7th Streets. RuPaul headlines on the main stage. Full listing of events at Capital Pride’s Web site (links in Flash at top of page), including Saturday parade and Sunday festival maps. Also, see RWDC: MTV Crews Shooting at Pride Events this Weekend.