This year’s “Taste of the South” was Black Tie meets Big Top at the Washington Hilton.
By Sarah Valerio
This year’s 33rd annual Taste of the South drew 2,100 revelers to the Washington Hilton. The crowd, bedecked in tuxes and floor-length gowns packed the room which felt more like big top circus tent than ballroom in line with this year’s theme, “A Show Unlike Any Other.” Guests were treated to popcorn and plastic red clown noses and a ring toss game with coke bottles. The VIP section featured thematic décor big and small; from carousel horses to funhouse mirrors, Ringling Bros wall posters, bags of cotton candy and tiny red and white swirled straws for the drinks. Guests entered the VIP area through none other than a giant lion’s mouth.
Taste of the South, or “TOTS”, as it is affectionately known, has become a staple of the Washington social scene, especially among those with southern ties, and accordingly sold out in just a few hours, and seven hundred joining the waiting list before it was closed, according to Cheslee Woodey, event Chairman. Those fortunate enough to snag the quickly sold-out tickets got down on the dance floor to the live band or roamed between each state’s booth, each featuring various local swag from orange juice and oranges in Florida to Mardi Gras beads in Louisiana, boiled peanuts in South Carolina, and M&Ms in Tennessee.
The SEC schools participated too, offering various handouts from pens and pencils to tissue packs and hats with the schools’ logos. Southern cuisine from BBQ to caramel cake and praline cake was available for guests to dine on as well. The VIP section featured the specialty cocktail “Ringleader’s Mint Julep”, based on the classic southern beverage.
“Taste of the South is one of the funniest black tie events with lots of great food and fun” said Alabama native and University of Alabama graduate Mandi Howard, who added “I picked up some Alabama swag to rock during football season. Roll tide, roll!”
“This was my first Taste of the South and it will certainly be on my social calendar next year,” said Queenie Bui. “Nothing is better than a glamorous evening that combines southern cuisine and dancing, all for a charitable cause!” Bui’s southern connection is having graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia.
This year, TOTS supported 14 charities; one from each of 13 participant states and a local charity, with this year’s feature charity being Camp Happy Days, a Charleston, South Carolina-based charity that offers children diagnosed with pediatric cancer and their families cost-free programs, events and resources. Each year, TOTS rotates their featured state among those that participate (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia), and that state chooses a local charity to benefit.
Giving a local nod as well, this year TOTS also supported Hands on DC, a nonprofit volunteer organization that organizes projects to improve the physical condition of Washington, D.C. public schools. To date, TOTS has donated over $4 million to charities, with $500,000 raised this year alone.
TOTS was founded in 1982 by a group of southern transplants in Washington D.C. who wanted to share some of their southern traditions. Over the years, the event has grown and evolved into an experience that not only entertains but informs as attendees experience southern traditions and food; an event which truly offers both literally and figuratively a taste of the south.