The White House billed the event as just a couple of guys sitting down for a beer.
"There is no formal agenda, there is no legislative agenda," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, adding that the sit-down is "not an after-action report," and he did not expect they will go over the details of what happened at Gates' house.
"To get together and talk about what's going on in this country is a positive thing, even if you're not able to hear each and every word of it," Gibbs told reporters. "I think that kind of dialogue is what has to happen at every level of ... our society if we're going to make progress on issues that ... we've been dealing with for quite some time."
Gates' and Crowley's families arrived separately at the White House at different times but met up as both groups were taking tours of the president's residence before the beer meeting. The Gateses and Crowleys continued their tours together, which Crowley called "a start."
So would the beer fest steer the conversation in the direction the president is hoping for?
"It's a teachable moment if it's larger than the cop and the professor," said Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and law professor at George Washington University. "The president isn't some civilian dispute mediator. He's got the biggest soapbox in the world and he's an African American man whose been [racially] profiled himself, so if he doesn't cave in to the politics and doesn't like he took back his comment about the police -- if he keeps it real, there's the opportunity for real change."
The president last Friday said he helped "contribute to ratcheting" up the media frenzy surrounding the Gates arrest.
"I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley," the president told reporters Friday.
The seemingly heart-to-heart session has been the butt of many a late-night joke, but underneath the humor simmers a real controversy.
Gates has repeatedly demanded an apology from the officer.
Crowley is sticking by his claim that he was just doing his job and that Gates was loud and hurled allegations of racism when police arrived at his house in response to a 911 call reporting a possible break-in.
A spokesman for Crowley said, "It is his understanding that they are all going to agree to disagree" at the suds summit tonight.
"I think that he is probably trying to protect himself," Gates said of Crowley in an interview with Gayle King on Sirius Radio. "I think he feels very vulnerable. I think he knows that A, what he did was wrong and B, that he falsified his report."
That's a reference to Crowley writing in his report that Lucia Whalen, the 911 caller, "went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of Ware Street. She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."
But Whalen denied she ever mentioned race in her conversation with the police.
On her 911 call, Whalen didn't mention the race of the men whom she said might be residents of the house, though when asked, she said she thought one man looked "kind of Hispanic" but she couldn't tell.