Maybe it was the thick haze of cigar smoke or the rose-tinted glasses that one dons around the fifth bourbon of the evening—whatever it was, the Hilton Washington Thursday night was a picture of camaraderie and back-slapping happiness for the well-heeled crowd at the 19th annual Fight Night charity gala.
Sure, the Dow dropped 929 points in the last two days and is down some 34 percent for the year. Sure, the housing bubble—which had helped make many of the developers in the room crazy amounts of money—has burst in a major way. Sure, the nation just Tuesday elected a new president who, despite his historic campaign, has been quite vocal about raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year—which would be nearly every one of the 2,000 or so people in the ballroom.
Fight Night, though, is a worry-free zone, a throwback to the era of Mad Men, when heavy drinking and cigar smoking were socially acceptable—rather, the norm—and men dominated the working world. Each year, however, the outside world seems to encroach more and more on Fight Night. Last year, the DC smoking ban forced the event to start getting a special dispensation to allow its trademark cigar-focused revelry—which wasn’t that hard because the city’s movers and shakers, including ex-mayor Tony Williams and current mayor Adrian Fenty, all attend—and this year there was a noticeable increase in the number of women at the tuxedo-heavy event. It’s still nearly all-male, but there was a time when the entire female population of the dinner consisted of the Redskinettes, the cocktail hostesses assigned to each table, and Washington Post gossip columnist Roxanne Roberts.
Then, of course, there was a tiny sign that the economic woes of late did make an impact on the dinner: Where 192 tables usually sit in the ballroom, there were only 184 this year, although that didn’t slow down the fundraising pace; Thursday night’s gala again set a record for money raised—well over $2 million for the DC charity Fight for Children—thanks in part to a $500,000 donation from the government of the United Arab Emirates.
Dinner had the usual pomp and ceremony: big steaks and endless booze; auction items such as a flag that had been flown over Camp Fallujah in Iraq, which went for nearly $100,000 (the flag will also be displayed at Nationals Stadium on Opening Day 2009 when President Obama is expected to throw out the first pitch); a custom chopper motorcycle signed by the Nationals; a trip to the Masters aboard a private jet; a four-night stay at any Ritz-Carlton hotel in the world; a Marine Corps honor guard; a laser light show; a performance by Blood, Sweat and Tears; and lots of boxing champs and live, in-your-face bloody-nose boxing.
Dinner founder Joe Robert took center ring for his usual patriotic-laced remarks and victory lap. Smokin’ Joe Frazier, battered by years in the ring, still looked lively. Oh, and lots of cocktail hostesses in sexy eveningwear and Redskinettes wandering through the crowd in, well, not very much at all. Maybe that was the cause of the cheer.
After all, buying a ticket implies that the it will take you somewhere—and maybe, for last night, it was enough that the $1,000 price took everyone in attendance away from their worries for the evening.
Then, as always, after the boxing, the men caravaned over to the Ritz-Carlton in the West End to meet up with the ladies at the sister event, Knock Out Abuse.