How To Host a Progressive Dinner Party

- Lifestyle

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting our twist on a progressive dinner party at the gorgeous new living space, AVA NoMa.  Traditionally, this moving feast is a collaboration with several friends held at each of their homes in succession, with a single course served at each one.  It’s a great way to entertain a group of friends without shouldering the whole responsibility (or cost) of a multi-course dinner party.   But since when do Chelsea and I follow the norm?



Instead of the typical progressive dinner party, we partnered with AVA NoMa to host our friends in different spaces in the building.  I’m a self-professed control freak so sharing host duties with several friends in their homes a little bit unhinges me so for the sake of my sanity this worked out much better!  We were able to enjoy different parts of the meal in different spaces throughout the building and still had time to focus on our friends.  Thinking about doing the same?  Read on, Darlings.



And Now We Dine Like Kings


Let’s open at the close (Harry Potter reference… anyone? Anyone?)  On the day of the dinner, we checked in with the team at AVA NoMa to make sure everything was all set with the caterer, mixologist and event set-up.  No surprise when she said everything was all set.  Another plus to hosting with such a professional team.  We arrived 30 minutes before so we can get some pictures and the caterers, event planners and mixologists already did the hard part for us!  Now we could relax and enjoy the evening with our guests.


AVA has the most beautiful amenities for their residents.  Everything you can think of from fire pits, pool tables, a jukebox, lush seating areas, a massive outdoor tv for screening movies under the stars, you name it.  I mean, they even have the subway and uber time of arrivals available electronically in the lobby.  Living here you have access to so many great spaces in the building, and the rest of the Nation’s Capital on your doorstep.


We started with a welcome cocktail in the AVA NoMa courtyard.  They had the CUTEST courtyard.  The eccentric couches, multi-person swings, cafe tables, colorful furniture and ping pong gave us all the feels!


Then we moved up to a model apartment for hors d’oeuvres and selfies.  No seriously, the natural lighting coming in from the floor-to-ceiling windows was beyond perfect for pictures.  The part I’m joking about, is that it wasn’t selfies.  We had a professional photographer with us, no need to hold our arms out unless it’s to cheers.  TBH, I was ready to sign a lease the second I walked into that apartment.  They checked off my must-haves and most of my wishlist at first glance (and the rest at second glance).


Must Haves:

  • Hardwood floors are a must because of my fluffy dog and also I just think carpets are gross.
  • Plenty of natural light not only because it’s the best for taking pictures for TheDistrictDarlings, but it also just makes me feel better to have the sun shining in.  And saves on electricity because I can leave the light off so there’s that.
  • Closet space.  Like, a LOT of closet space.  Huge walk-in closets with customizable shelving that is right next to the bathroom.  I can have a whole Carrie Bradshaw situation where she walks through her massive closet and says hello to her shoes on the way to the shower.



  • Industrial features.  Something about exposed ductwork just makes me smile.  Exposed ceilings also make a room feel taller without the added energy bill you’ll get with high vaulted ceilings.
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows.  Beyond just natural light I always wanted an apartment with windows like this and these not only have that but it’s wall-to-wall too!
  • Keyless entry.  It’s the new thing.  I like my push-to-start car and I want my apartment to have that feature too so I never have to dig into my purse.  Is that so much to ask?!  Not for AVA.  They took it a step further and you can now open your door on an app.  That’s pretty awesome!  “Hey Mom, I’m stuck at a meeting, can you go to my apartment and let my dog out?  I’ll open the door for you from here.”


There are a few studio, one-, and two-bedrooms left to rent.  If your must-haves and wishlist line up with mine, or heck if you just want all the cool amenities and an awesome apartment is only second on your list, then in my best Mr. Roger’s voice “Won’tcha be, my neighbor?”  Unless you’re psycho, then I heard the apartments down the street have a great view of the dumpsters I’m sure you’d love…


Cocktails, check.

Appetizers, check.

Now we were ready to move to the next space for dinner.  There’s this perfect chill space at AVA NoMa on the rooftop where there’s even a wet bar for residents to use so you can crank the jukebox, your friends can play a round on the pool table, and you can mix up some mojitos before you all head over to the outdoor screen to watch Prisoner of Azkaban… or, ya know, whatever you want.  I’m definitely picturing a family day where we relax at the pool, grill burgers on the rooftop and then laugh for hours watching home videos.  While we didn’t grill anything for our dinner, we did have this great vegan taco bar set up on the roof and timed it so we’d be able to take in panoramic views of the sun setting over DC.  Of course, we couldn’t eat just yet.  We were still breathless over the view by the infinity pool to sit and eat!

The tablescape was the cutest with wildflowers and shabby chic placemats!  They even had cute little name settings with our Instagram handles.  Between the space, the food and the company, we couldn’t have asked to end the night on a higher note.  Get it… because we were on the roof… Ah so punny, don’t be surprised if you see that in one of my Instagram captions soon.



Back to the Beginning: The Pre-Party Planning


So how did we get here?  Let’s talk the Who What Where of progressive dinner party planning.


The Where.  If you’re looking to do a normal progressive dinner, this is the part where you’ll figure out your fellow hosts and hostesses and if the proximity to each other will work so your guests will have time to walk to each house between courses.  For us, however, we needed a space where we could enjoy a progressive dinner all in one building and have access to different spaces throughout it.  AVA NoMa fit that perfectly.

AVA is a brand new living space in the heart of NoMA, just steps from the red line and awesome DC hot spots like Union Market, H Street, and Capitol Hill. The apartments and penthouses come in studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom layouts and feature an industrial design and features such as stainless steel appliances and quartz stone countertops. They have a rooftop chill space which includes an infinity edge pool as well as an outdoor mega big-screen where you can catch the latest episode, cheer on your favorite team, or enjoy a movie set against panoramic views of the city. There’s even a fully-loaded indoor/outdoor fitness center and a WAG Pet Park!

This was the perfect place to have our dinner party because there were so many unique and truly beautiful spaces.  Our friends are all fellow influencers so the fact that AVA is also Instagram gold was a definite plus.

The Who. Now we’re ready to sketch out the guest list.  The most important part of any dinner party is the people who attend, and a progressive dinner party is no different.  First you need to figure out if you’re going for a big block party or an intimate evening.  We wanted to do something cozy with a max of 10 friends that don’t necessarily know each other super well but we knew would mesh well together.  These were amazing and intelligent local women with like interests that would get to enjoy getting to know each other better in an intimate environment.  We would’ve loved to invite the whole blogging community and hate excluding our other friends, but we didn’t want it to be everyone who normally hangs out together.  We also didn’t want it to be a panel dinner.  We knew these ladies would be able to just come together and chat without any blog questions: who’s your contact at this brand, what’s your website contact, can you get me in with this person…  I am all for women supporting women and don’t mind helping others but just not that night.  That night we wanted it to be enjoying good company in a beautiful space.


So, who was on our guest list?


    1. Ascia Sahar.  Ascia is the inspirational voice behind i am ascia and her YouTube channel.  She supplements her fashion posts with insightful information about her personal journey, making the content on her blog unique and distinctive.  I cannot wait for the release of her journaling book! 
    2. Dani Sauter. Dani is the blonde bombshell behind Blonde in the District and Bubbles and Bloggers.  She loves the way style and makeup make her feel as a woman.  Her goal as a blogger is to share her personal life, style, beauty, and travel experiences with her readers, to encourage self-confidence and the confidence to chase after their dreams. disclaimer: I maybe stole this pictures from her blog, this isn’t at AVA…  But seriously, how cute is that print skirt?!
    3. Julien Garman. Julien is DC’s down-to-Earth sweetheart behind it’s Julien.  Her blog is catered to women looking for budget-friendly inspiration for everyday style. Julien aims to conquer style challenges and loves sharing her favorite local shops, and coverage from DC’s most fashionable events.
    4. Tanvi Rastogi. Tanvi is the wanderer behind  Here she shares an everyday style diary with  her sartorial and travel adventures along with her uncensored thoughts and opinions about all-things-life.  Her travel adventures will give even the biggest homebody a serious case of wanderlust.
    5. Sylvia Colella. We’ve all heard someone say #goals before.  Well Sylvia is #goals.  Her blog, Simply Sylvia, is a style diary of a former Parisian who brings that effortless, “je ne sais quoi” touch to life and style.  She is a former lawyer, frequent world traveler, fitness enthusiast, and an avid style seeker all while being the matriarch of a household with three teenagers and a son in London.  Yeah.  Goals.
    6. Marisa Gonzalez. Marisa is a crazy talented personal stylist with dcstylefactory.  She believes style is a powerful tool that can help you put your best foot forward in life and helps her clients realize that through her work everyday.  Marisa has styled photoshoots, fundraisers, CEOs, authors and stay-at-home moms.
    7. Roxanne Birnbaum. Roxanne is the brilliant mind behind Glass of Glam.  Lawyer by day, Influencer by night, Roxanne’s witty writing is always enjoyable.  Glass of Glam is a place where she shares fashion, beauty, and lifestyle inspiration and always has the best drink pairing to go with each of her posts.
    8. through 10.) The Santa Family. That’d be me and Chels and our brother, Lawrence.  Lawrence is a professional photographer and founder of CORE Estate.  Photographer, Videographer, Drone Operator, Designer, and Marketing Guru, we are truly lucky to be able to call him our brother.  Beyond the fact that he always get amazing shots for our blog (like literally every picture on this page except the two I borrowed from Dani’s blog… all Lawrence), he also gives great Christmas gifts.  I can’t wait to see what he gets me this year when he reads these nice words I just said about him.  But I digress…

The What. Now is the time to brainstorm the menu.  A theme menu, an evening juicing party (oh man, I would be so upset if I showed up and had to drink my dinner…), whatever you choose for the menu, you should have an idea of things that work well together.  Plan ahead for dietary limitations. You want every guest to be full and happy at the end of the party, so make sure everyone has something to eat!  We went with a vegan, gluten-free menu for the evening catered by DC Vegan.

DC Vegan’s talented team of outstanding vegan chefs and experienced event professionals worked closely with us to create a seamless experience complete with a delicious, eco-friendly, compassionate menu of homemade cuisine loved by vegans and non-vegans alike.

If you’re not in DC and won’t be able to try the food from DC Vegan, we found a great vegan taco recipe by the Minimalist Baker.  We’ll include it for ya below.  Honestly, Chels was a little skeptical at first about vegan tacos.  She was the picky-eater kid that ate nothing but peanut butter and graham cracker sandwiches for lunch and chicken fingers for dinner for like 11 years straight.  I mean, the girl ate chicken fingers so often one night at dinner she started calling herself “Chicken Chelsea”.  But I digress again… Anyway… These vegan tacos were so good that even our pickiest, non-vegan eater was impressed.

And what’s a party without a little champs, amirite?  The incredible team at BAR RO’D (yea, say it out loud, it’s “borrowed”) were the mixologists for our dinner.  Bar Ro’d is a mobile bar-tending service in the DC area that sets up your bar, complete with experienced bartender, wherever you’re partying.  Sign. Me. Up.



After the Party it’s the After Party.  Just Kidding, it’s the Thank Yous


After it’s all said and done, don’t forget to thank your guests for joining you.  They took the time out of their lives to enjoy an evening with you and time is something to be treasured and appreciated.  So on that note, thank you so much for virtually coming with us on our mobile feast around AVA NoMa.  If you’re in the area, you should definitely check them out.  The apartments are as amazing as the amenities and it’s worth a look.  But don’t take my word for it, schedule your own tour here.  Meetcha on the rooftop, Darlings!  *insert joke about on the rooftop and my last name being Santa here*







QUINOA TACO MEAT by the Minimalist Baker

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Amazingly flavorful taco “meat” made with quinoa, smoky seasonings, and salsa! Baked until hot and crispy. A healthy substitute for ground beef (just 9 ingredients)!
Author: Minimalist Baker
Recipe type: Entrée
Cuisine: Vegan, Gluten-Free, Mexican-Inspired
Serves: 3 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup (184 g) tri-color, white, or red quinoa
  • 1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth*
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (128 g) salsa (slightly chunky is best – I love Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1 Tbsp (3 g) nutritional yeast
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp each sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive or avocado oil
  1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add rinsed quinoa and toast for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add vegetable broth and water and bring back to a boil over medium-high heat. Then reduce heat to low, cover with a secure lid, and cook for 15-25 minutes, or until liquid is completely absorbed. Fluff with a fork, then crack lid and let rest for 10 minutes off heat.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C).
  4. Add cooked quinoa to a large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients (salsa, nutritional yeast, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and oil). Toss to combine. Then spread on a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20-35 minutes, stirring/tossing once at the halfway point to ensure even baking. The quinoa is done when it’s fragrant and golden brown. Be careful not to burn!
  6. This quinoa taco meat goes extremely well in crispy taco shells and soft taco shells, and I also think it would be perfect on nachos, taco salads, tostadas, and in enchiladas. Dream big!
  7. Store leftovers in the refrigerator up to 4-5 days. Reheat in the microwave, in a 350 degree F (176 C) oven, or in a skillet on the stovetop.
*The vegetable broth infuses more flavor into the quinoa. But if you don’t have it, just sub water and adjust spices/salsa as needed.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate for 1 of roughly 6 (1/2 cup) servings.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: ~1/2 cup Calories: 147 Fat: 4.5 g Saturated fat: 0.6 g Carbohydrates: 21.4 g Sugar: 0.8 g Sodium: 415 mg Fiber: 2.6 g Protein: 5.7 g
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  • Reply
    Tanvi Rastogi
    July 8, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Love this post! Had such a wonderful time at the dinner with you ladies.Let’s do this again soon!

    P.S. Thank you for such a warm introduction.

    • Reply
      July 8, 2017 at 11:54 am

      Thank YOU for making our evening even better by being a part of it. XOXO

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