8 Most Elaborate White House State Dinners in History Slideshow
October 13, 2011
1. Obama State Dinner for China: January 20, 2011
Dressed in a flaming red Alexander McQueen dress, first lady Michelle Obama pulled out all the stops for this 2011 Obama State Dinner in honor of Chinese President Hu Jintao. An all-American menu featuring dishes like D ’Anjou pear salad with fresh goat cheese, poached Maine lobster, and dry-aged rib-eye with buttermilk-crisped onions was served on gold-rimmed plates. One of the first lady’s favorite sweets was served for dessert — pastry chef Bill Yosses’ classic, old-fashioned apple pie à la mode.
2. Reagan State Dinner for Prince Charles and Princess Diana: November 9, 1985
While many remember Princess Diana's 1981 wedding as being a lavish, fairy-tale affair, it didn't compare with the star-studded guest list of this state dinner President Reagan and his wife hosted for the newlyweds in 1985. Accompanied by well-known names like Neil Diamond, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Charles and Diana dined on lobster mousse at dinner. Later, the princess took to the dance floor in her midnight blue velvet gown, dancing in the arms of John Travolta.
3. Grant State Dinner for King Kalakaua of Hawaii: December 12, 1874
It was the first state dinner and it set the precedent for dinners, both simple and elaborate, that followed. While only 36 guests were in attendance, they were well fed, says Barry H. Landau in his book The President’s Table. Nearly 30 courses, all French, were served.
4. Bush State Dinner for Queen Elizabeth II: May 7, 2007
At the end of a six-day trip to the U.S., the queen’s fifth, she and Prince Philip were treated to a visit to Washington unlike any other. The day began with a 21-gun salute and a parade attended by nearly 7,000, and concluded with a decadent soirée where white-tie dress was required, attended by individuals like Colt’s quarterback Peyton Manning, Elisabeth Hasselbeck of The View, then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, and violinist Itzhak Perlman. And if that wasn’t enough, guests dined on spring pea soup and roast spring lamb, served on gold-rimmed, ivory china set on damask-clothed tables decorated with gilded silver candelabras.
5. Nixon State Dinner for Apollo 11 Astronauts: August 13, 1969
Landing on the moon is certainly worthy of a celebration — a 1,440-guest party (versus the traditional 140), the costliest, at about $50,000. Nixon himself saw to the details of the party, held at the Century Plaza Hotel, with gold table linens, a Clair de Lune dessert — ice cream topped with an American flag — and a song written and performed just for the occasion.
6. Kennedy State Dinner for Pakistan: July 11, 1961
First lady Jackie Kennedy entertained with style. Under a 30-by-30-foot tent, blue on top, a lemony-yellow underneath, and decorated by Tiffany, at George Washington's former home, she hosted an elaborate affair honoring General Muhammad Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan. Guests arrived by boat and were greeted with bourbon mint juleps and frosted orange drinks before sitting down to a multi-course French meal, transported from the White House (as there was no modern kitchen at Mount Vernon), that was served at long banquet tables decorated with grand arrangements of baby's breath and blue delphiniums.
7. Clinton State Dinner for Nelson Mandela: October 4, 1994
This black-tie affair is known as one of the largest state dinners ever held at the White House, taking place in the East Room rather than the more typical State Dining Room, because of its size. Invitations to the event were considered "the hottest tickets in town," gathering together guests like Maya Angelou and Harry Belafonte to honor the President of the Republic of South Africa. After dining on red curry and lemongrass-scented summer vegetables, sesame-crusted halibut, and a Bibb salad with wild-ripened New York State cheese, the night was complete when Grammy award-winning songstress Whitney Houston took the stage in front of the nearly 200 guests.
8. Carter State Dinner for Latin American Heads of State: September 7, 1977
In celebration of the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty, President Carter hosted 28 heads of state at the White House, tempting guests with a decadent four-course meal, complete with wine pairings. After dining on Maine lobster en Belle-Vue paired with a chenin blanc, a roast veal saddle with a rosé of cabernet sauvignon blanc, and a chocolate “surprise” with a bubbly blanc de blancs, guests were entertained by famed opera singer Martina Arroyo and a duet by Isaac Stern and André Previn.