Chicago in White: Tips for the Best Pop-up Party



As a self-confessed preppy, a party where there is a theme for attire is a place I want to be. The part that I was not used to, however, was the ‘pop-up.’ This is the new phenomenon of the digital age. As a novice, I had no idea what to expect of a party where you buy tickets ahead of time, don’t know the location, and must bring your own food. But finding out that two Junior Leaguers founded the party put my mind at ease, and I quickly realized we were all going to be in for a good time.


Chicago in White.

No longer a novice, I have a few pieces of advice for those ready to pop up at Chicago in White next year:

First tip: the website was very easy to use and worth taking a moment to get acquainted with. Because you cannot bring your own alcohol, it needs to be purchased ahead of time online. When you arrive at the party, they have the wine and champagne chilled, and it is one less thing to bring; a fantastic touch, and the selection of wines were very well priced.

So, I had the wine and tickets ordered—what next? I invited a millennial friend to come with me so she could help me navigate the waters of this new pop-up world. Waters being the operative term—it poured rain for a few days before the party. Knowing that in the past the party had been held all over the city, including Ravinia, I was very concerned about white clothing and high heels mixing with mud.

This brings me to tip number two: don’t wear high heels. Pull out your favorite Jack Rogers or Stubbs and Wootton sandals (in any color) because you might have to walk across grass or a little ways from where you park. While we were there, we spoke to many veterans of the party who repeated this sentiment.

When the Chicago in White Party, founded by Jen Luby and Kelly McCoy Williams, started 6 years ago, people met at an ‘L’ stop, and the group traveled together to the secret pop-up location for that year. Many of the regulars told us that they were pleased this was no longer the case so they could bring everything (see tip number four) without having to worry about their items getting broken on the CTA journey. With the destination announced the morning of the party, as is the practice now, attendees can really plan out their dinner.

Tip number three: Chicago in White doesn’t use your e-mail address for anything other than communicating about the party, so it is important to stay connected with your most-used email address. The party was moved from the original location that was first announced this year because of the rain, so staying in touch with the Facebook page and giving your correct email is important.

As novices to the party, my friend and I had no idea what we were in for at the appointed destination. We decided that the best course of action would be to stop by the club and order to-go dinners. We knew the club would give us everything we needed and the food would be good. We thought we were really smart and had it all pulled together. We thought our carryout burgers and curry chicken salad would be the envy of our seatmates. This was not the case, which brings us to my next tip.


A glittering gold and white table set by The Festive Frog.

Tip number four: the more effort you put in, the more fabulous the experience. As we walked through the rows and rows of long white communal tables to get to our assigned seats, we passed by beautiful centerpieces, fine china and crystal, sterling silverware and serving pieces, and candelabras. There were side tents set up for people who had hired caterers, buckets overflowing with champagne and wine bottles . . . and then there was my friend and I with our club food and plastic cups and silverware.

Thankfully, we were seated next to some true veterans that took pity on us: one a chef, one a food blogger. In addition to homemade fried chicken and biscuits, they had a make-your-own s’mores station that they invited us to participate in for dessert. There were many chefs that had made tons of extra goodies and were giving it to the food bloggers to try. Seated next to our very own food blogger, we were in the fortunate position to partake in these treats, too.

The event had an elevated sense of fine food, fine wine, and fine china. It was like being at the most fabulous picnic under the stars with dancing and camaraderie. And to burn off a few of those well-worth-it calories, there was a dance floor set up, adorned with beautiful fairy lights and presided over by a skilled DJ.

My last and final tip is to attend next year’s Chicago in White Party. This is a special party tailor-made for our special city. If bringing all of the crystal and food sounds like too much of a hassle, the founders have a solution to that objection: there is a ticket level you can purchase that includes a catered dinner complete with beautiful centerpieces and china waiting there for you, no picnic baskets or tote bags necessary.

While those tickets are more expensive, sparing oneself of hard work in the kitchen (and heavy lifting) may feel more than justified. And the best part of it all is knowing it is for a good cause. Chicago in White partners with a not-for-profit every year, and a portion of the proceeds go to that designated charity. This year they partnered with the South East Chicago Commission.

My friend and I spent the entire car ride home getting excited for next summer’s Chicago in White. We are going to have to step up our game next year and break out the Bernardaud!


Painted leaves by elliestyled mark places at the table.


Gary and Connie Lawrence, Richard Coasby, and Ellie Nottoli of elliestyled.


Elegant looks in white.

Chicago in White Co-Founder Kelly McCoy Williams; SECC Director, Wendy Williams; and Chicago in White Co-Founder Jen Luby.


The famous waving of the napkins, a Chicago in White tradition.


Jane McClenahan of The Festive Frog, at left, and Whitney Reynolds, at right, with another lovely guest.


Attendees find their seats.


Lace, feathers, and breezy white cotton looks at Chicago in White.


Enjoying the festivities.


Pink drinks and white dresses.


Conversation at the table.


Dan Luby and Pamela Carreira.


A toast on the lawn.


Photo credit: Chuan Vo, Vo Fotos