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4 White House Correspondents’ Dinner Parties, 3 Hours, 1 Reporter

We braved ABC News, Thomson Reuters, Newsweek/Daily Beast, and BuzzFeed so you didn’t have to.

Kerry Washington at the ABC News cocktail party. Photograph by Sophie Gilbert.

As the old adage goes, if you’re going to get wet, you may as well go swimming. And if you’re going to eat miniature crabcakes and drink Chardonnay at one White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner pre-party (now there’s an event that predates Twitter and resolutely refuses to fit into 140 characters), you may as well eat miniature crabcakes and drink Chardonnay at four of them. Here, without fear or favor, is a blow-by-blow account of what happened at the Hilton on Saturday night.

5:30 PM: ABC News cocktail party on the lawn

The sun was shining, unlike last year, so the ABC News party offered something that’s typically at more of a #WHCD premium than selfies with Diane Sawyer: space. Even at this early hour, The Daily Show’s John Oliver and Aasif Mandvi were hanging out on the periphery with Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, and Arianna Huffington was wandering around schmoozing in elegant black lace. The second ABC star to wander in was Tony Goldwyn, a.k.a. Fitzgerald Grant, a.k.a. El Prez, and he was promptly mobbed by fans, as was Kerry Washington, a.k.a. Olivia Pope, when she followed on his heels. Even Shonda Rhimes wasn’t safe. Apparently Washington really loves Scandal

6:15 PM: Thomson Reuters cocktail party downstairs

Downstairs at the Hilton is the Playboy Mansion grotto of the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner parties—it’s dark, cramped, and more than a little claustrophobic, but oddly enough you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a famous person. In the Thomson Reuters party, which was elegantly decked out in shiny red fabric, Kathleen Turner walked in looking slightly bemused by it all, while Steve Zahn stood by the bar smiling and chatting animatedly. No sign of Jeremy Renner, at least while we were there, but on the other side of the room the real prize— Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens—was taking pictures and sporting a handlebar mustache. Maybe he thought it would make him look less like someone who broke a million fan’s hearts when he [spoiler alert if you’re not caught up] left the show and widowed Lady Mary? If so, no dice.

6:30 PM: Newsweek/Daily Beast cocktail party downstairs

What’s that we hear? The sound of a thousand iPhones snapping pictures and the hum of Washington fandom reaching peak frenzy? Sure enough, Nicole Kidman was walking down the hall with Harvey Weinstein close behind her, and Bradley Cooper hanging around nearby with what looked like either Brylcreem or eight weeks of unwashed hair on top of his head. They sauntered into the darkness of the Newsweek/DailyBeast/Newsbeast/Death Knell for Print Journalism party, which was about the busiest and least cheerful of all the parties, and Nicole somehow managed not to look completely freaked out by the fact that she was now crammed into a room with 800 people who all wanted to take a picture with her. She’s a pro.

6:45 PM: Corridor

Little-known WHCD fact: If you can’t get an invitation to one of the downstairs parties, you can hang out in the hallway and wait for people to pass, which is what lots of fans seemed to be doing. CNN’s Piers Morgan walked into the Time/People/Fortune/CNN party with Gerard Butler. Giancarlo Esposito, better known to Breaking Bad fans as Gus Fring, tried (and failed) to scurry through the throng without being noticed. Paul Rudd, who stopped on his way into a party to take a picture with a fan, was also sporting a terrible mustache (we’ll forgive him if it’s for Anchorman 2). And back by the Thomson Reuters party, Eric Cantor was in the middle of a pile of photographers and Capitol Police, chatting to people and smiling. This is Washington, folks. Eric Cantor gets five bodyguards, and Nicole Kidman gets Harvey Weinstein with a grimace on his face.

7 PM: Escalator

An otherwise ordinary trip up an escalator was notable for a Matthew Perry sighting. Walking through the hallway at the top of the escalator: Conan O’Brien, Katy Perry, and Jon Bon Jovi.

7:05 PM: Back to ABC News

Things were heating up on the lawn. The New York Times’s David Carr was smoking cigarettes with BuzzFeed DC bureau chief John Stanton. Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere had arrived, as had their Nashville co-star Charles Esten (Deacon). We also spotted US attorney general Eric Holder. Everyone wanted their picture taken with Sofia Vergara, and she cheerfully obliged. Then came the announcement that the dining room was now open, meaning all the real celebrities left, and all the hangers-on (us included) sighed.

8 PM: BuzzFeed party at Jack Rose

To counter the fact that it couldn’t get a table at the dinner this year, BuzzFeed threw its own party at Jack Rose. The lines outside were long, and we mean long. When we finally got in, downstairs (decorated with cutesy posters and stickers saying things like “OMG” and “Win”) was packed and upstairs was full of people smoking under the canopy. Every journalist who hadn’t managed to snag a dinner invitation was there, and very few were paying attention to the broadcast of the dinner itself. But as far as a place to kill time while you’re waiting for the post-parties to begin goes, it wasn’t a bad one.

What did we learn this year? If you love daylight, the ABC News party is the place to be. If you love stars and selfies, stalk the corridor outside the Washington Post party. The food and drink are exactly the same at every Washington Hilton party, so don’t switch rooms hoping for better sushi. Wear the highest heels you can, because the taller you are, the more you’ll be able to see celebrities over everyone’s heads. And resist the free mouthwash in the ladies’ room, no matter how hard it is, because it’ll inevitably leak all over your clutch bag and make you smell like a dental hygienist.

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