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Though absent from the party, the House of Cards star was still the draw. By Carol Ross Joynt
Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The birthday card was splattered with messages that almost obscured the image of a fedora-wearing, cigar-chomping Kevin Spacey, and the greeting: “Happy Birthday to a man who wears a lot of hats.” Among the scrawls was “Not to mention pants,” from Rachel Goslins, director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, “Happy B-Day,” from White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard, and this from Terry McAuliffe’s friend and fundraiser Peter O’Keefe: “From the Clinton Library opening to your birthday!”

They were among a select group of friends, and current and would-be corporate supporters of Kevin Spacey’s foundation, who gathered on a sunny and breezy Georgetown rooftop Tuesday evening to drink Champagne and sign the custom-made birthday greeting for the House of Cards star, who turned 55 last Saturday.

The fact that Spacey was elsewhere, filming the hit series, didn’t diminish the celebration.

The guests were mostly lobbying insiders, including Heather Podesta, Erik Huey, James Assey, Gerry Harrington, and Melissa Maxfield, who gathered on the Capella hotel rooftop to meet and greet Spacey surrogate Steve Winter, who has worked with the actor for ten years in London and New York and is program director of the four-year-old Kevin Spacey Foundation. Winter was practically dizzy from a whirlwind day that included a first-ever visit to the United States Capitol, where he met the chiefs of staff of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Leader Steny Hoyer. Wednesday, Winter was scheduled for another personal first: a visit to the White House to meet with Bernard, among others.

The turnout at the party and Winter’s access around town is a testament to the power in Washington of Spacey, who has been a political groupie for years, well before helping to create the Emmy-nominated Netflix show in which he stars as Frank Underwood, a devious political animal who begins as Democratic Majority Whip and rises rapidly through the ranks. As far back as Dick Gephardt’s 2004 campaign for the presidency, Spacey was spotted on the hustings. Today, according to Winter, the politician he hangs out with is former president Bill Clinton. Since Spacey is a noted crooner and Clinton is a sometimes saxophonist, we wondered if there’d been any duets. Not yet, said Winter, “but that’s an idea.”

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Posted at 11:01 AM/ET, 07/30/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Get a look at all the over-the-top fun.

Last night, Washingtonian’s annual Best of Washington bash went down at the National Building Museum, offering attendees the chance to sample food from more than 60 of the area’s top restaurants. There were also specialty cocktails, Cirque du Soleil-style performances, a chance to go through the BIG Maze at the museum, and lots more. See what people loved the most in our social-media roundup below. 

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 07/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The event served to thank supporters of Chefs for Equality. By Carol Ross Joynt
Bruce Neal, Patrick O'Connell, Brian Noyes, and Dwight McNeill at the Chefs for Equality party Tuesday evening. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Patrick O’Connell, chef/owner of the Inn at Little Washington, and Brian Noyes, chef/owner of Warrenton’s Red Truck Bakery, both blew in from rural Virginia Tuesday night despite approaching thunder, lightning, and rain. Todd Gray of Equinox was so intent on being there he raced over in his white chef’s jacket, dappled with raindrops. No one was going to let summer storms get between them and a good party.

The event was at Joe’s Stone Crab to thank those who gave of their time and talent (and food) at last year’s Chefs for Equality dinner, and to set the stage for this year’s gala at the Ritz-Carlton West End on September 23.

As the city’s foodie elite feasted on a trough of crab, oysters, shrimp, and scallops, food writer David Hagedorn, a cohost of the gala, praised “the greatest chef community in the entire country” for supporting the LGBT Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which the dinner benefits. As Hagedorn raised his glass to “the chefs, the mixologists, the pastry chefs, the auction donors,” Marcel’s chef/owner, Robert Wiedmaier, interjected sotto voce, “and the sommeliers.” Hagedorn replied, to laughter, “The sommeliers, of course. Thank you, Robert Wiedmaier, my agent, though I think 20 percent is a little high.”

Other food names in the room included Derek Brown of the Shaw trio Eat the Rich, Mockingbird Hill, and Southern Efficiency; Maria Trabocchi of Fiola, Fiola Mare, and Casa Luca; Ris Lacoste of Ris; Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground; Scott Drewno from the Source; David Guas of Bayou Bakery; and Billy Klein of Joe’s, among others.

Robert Wiedmaier, sunburned from a recent fishing excursion, with David Hagedorn, one of the principal organizers of the Chefs for Equality annual gala. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

One chef who wasn’t there, Michel Richard, still got some buzz. Wiedmaier, a close friend of the owner of Central and the shuttered Citronelle, confirmed that Richard has moved back to Washington from New York, where he has more or less parted company with his two dismally reviewed Midtown restaurants. Wiedmaier said Richard is, for the moment, holding court at Central but hinted at the possibility of a resurgent Citronelle.

Trabocchi, who has been welcoming a long menu of celebrities to her new Fiola Mare in Georgetown, mentioned that actor Pierce Brosnan, who has been in a few times recently (his son is interning in Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey’s office), lived up to his charm as the fictional characters James Bond and Thomas Crown.

But Hagedorn made sure to keep the evening focused on the cause at hand. With Virginia’s contested same-sex marriage ban now in the hands of an appeals court, and marriage equality is “within our grasp over the river,” he said, the theme of this year’s fundraiser will be “Virginia Real.” Expect moonshine.

Posted at 11:23 AM/ET, 07/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The organization marked its anniversary with a gala and fundraiser over the weekend. By Maddy Berner
A dog rescued from China is brought onstage at the Humane Society of the United States 60th anniversary gala. Photograph by Pete Marovich for HSUS.

Nearly 500 people gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Saturday evening for a gala celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Humane Society of the United States and the tenth anniversary of Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS. 

Since its inception in 1954, the organization has helped make animal cruelty a felony in all 50 states. In the past decade years, HSUS has been responsible for passing nearly 1,000 anti-cruelty laws. And on Saturday night alone, more than $500,000 was raised to continue the fight.

“Over these 60 years, we’ve established ourselves as the real thought leader, and the biggest impact organization in the field of animal welfare,” said Pacelle in remarks at the gala. “I’m excited that so many people of conscience have gathered together to decide that collectively, we’re going to do something about animal cruelty, and create a better society for animals and for people.”

The evening began with a cocktail reception, complete with a silent auction and opportunities to mingle with notable animal lovers. HSUS chairman Eric Bernthal was in attendance, accompanied by his three sons, one of whom, actor Jon Bernthal, is known for his role as Shane on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Congressman Jim Moran, a staunch supporter of animal rights, also visited with guests.

“We’re in the trenches every day,” said Eric Bernthal. “It’s wonderful to be able to have a night where we’re among friends and celebrating all the great accomplishments of HSUS.”

Jon Bernthal calls himself a “big pit bull guy”—he owns two of them. He spoke passionately about putting a stop to puppy mills and dog fighting. “I just want them to keep doing exactly what they’re doing,” he said of the HSUS. “I think information will breed change and the HSUS is a great organization for getting information out there.”

A vegan dinner—spinach salad, butternut-squash-and-kale lasagna, and chocolate cake—followed the cocktail hour. Guests enjoyed their meals around centerpieces filled with water and floating lilies as two giant screens at the front flashed images of animals and their saviors.

Actor Ben Stein played host for the night, cracking jokes about his fellow animal lovers. Congressman Moran received the evening’s highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Moran, who retires from office after this term, has been at the forefront of several anti-cruelty laws, including the Humane Cosmetics Act. He accepted the award to a standing ovation.

And as for HSUS’s goals over the next 60 years, Pacelle said the organization is focused on expanding its mission internationally. 

Posted at 03:37 PM/ET, 06/30/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The public viewing will feature two large screens. By Carol Ross Joynt
Watch the game at Dupont Circle on Thursday. Photograph by Flickr user NC in DC.

In a bold and possibly brave move—given Washington’s passion for US soccer at the World Cup—the German Embassy plans to host a large soccer party at Dupont Circle Park on Thursday for the US-Germany showdown. The Embassy says it expects the gathering to be “the largest public viewing event in Washington.”

Spokesperson Bradford Elder said the party begins at 11:30, with remarks from Ambassador Peter Wittig at 11:40. At noon, the game will be broadcast on two “large, weather- and glare-proof screens.” The party lasts until the game is over­—win, lose, or draw.

It’s open to anyone who wants to attend. People can bring their lunch, because no food or drink will be served by the Embassy, in compliance with National Park Service rules, said Elder.

We had to ask, though, what will they do if a riot breaks out should Germany win? The spokesman got very serious. “It remains to be seen what the breakdown of fans will be, but we expect as many supporters of the US as Germany, a balanced fan base.”

Where will you be watching the game? We’d love to hear in our comments section, especially if you have a clever way to score a two-hour lunch break.

Posted at 12:11 PM/ET, 06/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Guests gathered at the Dupont steakhouse to kick off the Best of Washington season.
Photographs by Andrew Propp.

STK kicked off the AT&T Best of Washington season with a happy hour on Tuesday, June 17. With a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, party-goers enjoyed a Cucumber Stiletto signature cocktail and STK’s famous mini burgers, mac-and-cheese bites, tuna tartare, and basil-marinated tomatoes. Guests were able to purchase discounted tickets to the main event—the AT&T Best of Washington party on July 16 at the National Building Museum. Join us for the next happy hour on Tuesday, June 24, at Lyon Hall in Arlington or on Wednesday, June 25, at Bethesda Row!

Posted at 05:00 PM/ET, 06/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
More than 500 guests, shaded under a tent, celebrated Missouri with barbecue and an award. By Carol Ross Joynt
Guests relax and listen as Peter H. Raven gives his acceptance speech after receiving the National Arboretum’s Excellence Award. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Holding a tent party in Washington in June requires a well-developed sense of perspective.“Whoever was responsible for the weather, thank you,” Barbara Shea, board chair of the Friends of the National Arboretum, said over the multitude of floor fans at the group’s annual cookout Tuesday night. A crowd of 550 horticulturists, business leaders, and politicians gathered despite the heat, humidity, and threats of gusty thunderstorms. “We’ve sometimes had dramatic weather for this event,” said Shea. “Heat is the least of our worries.”

Each year, according to honored tradition, the cookout celebrates a different state. This year it was the “Show Me” state, Missouri, and for that reason, almost the entire Missouri congressional delegation was in the tent, including senators William Lacy Clay and Roy Blunt, who went table to table to say hello to friends; and representatives Emanuel Cleaver, Vicky Hartzler, Billy Long, Jason Smith, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Earl Blumenauer, and Tom Petri. Representing DC were council members Kenyan McDuffie and Tommy Wells, who was there with his wife, Barbara.

As part of the state recognition, the Arboretum Excellence Award was presented to Peter H. Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a recipient of the US National Medial of Science. He has a long résumé of public garden development, scientific research, and published works, among them Butterflies and Plants: A Study in Coevolution and the textbook Biology of Plants. When she introduced Raven, Barbara Shea recalled that earlier in the day he had participated in a public “conversation” about his work. “Most of our interns came to that event because they wanted to see the man who wrote the book they learned plant sciences from.”

Raven, who just turned 78, was gracious and appreciative in his acceptance speech, but seemed, too, to be keenly aware of politics, given the mix of elected officials listening to him. He talked about global warming. “Liberals love to say that global warming is happening and that everybody should shut down everything.” On the other hand, he said, “Conservatives are still hanging on to the outmoded view that it isn’t really happening at all.” His opinion? “Global warming is merely a consensus of the world’s scientific community arrived at by a rational process.”

Posted at 04:49 PM/ET, 06/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Due to something she ate, Jacqueline Mars was a no-show at the Japanese soiree. By Carol Ross Joynt
A view of the Japanese ambassador’s koi pond, which enhanced the serene mood of the annual Opera Ball. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The laid-back vibe at the 40th annual Opera Ball this past weekend might be explained by its return to its usual place at the end of the formal spring social season. Last year the ball was moved to April, to get out in front of the gala crush, which translated into high energy.

Or perhaps it was the ball’s tranquil location, at the Japanese ambassador’s sprawling residence with its mesmerizing interior koi pond. Guests were warned to not get too close or they might fall in. That would have been a party.

The ball, which raised $1 million for the Washington National Opera, traditionally circulates among the city’s diplomatic residences. After attending seated dinners at one of 18 embassies around town, this year’s guests flowed toward Nebraska Avenue as the clock moved toward 10, and then spilled into the home of Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae and his wife, Nobuko, for dessert, entertainment, and dancing.

Joining the ambassador and his wife as hosts were the ball’s co-chairs, Sachiko Kuno and Phebe Novakovic, and a welcoming committee of one, Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein.

Rubenstein was to have been joined on stage by Opera chair Jacqueline Mars, but she was a no-show. “She’s a little under the weather,” Rubenstein said. “She went to an ethnic-food restaurant the other night,” it was not Japanese, he assured the crowd, “and maybe the food wasn’t as good as it should have been.”

Had Mars attended the ball, a white-hot publicity zone with the entire DC grapevine in attendance, it would have been her first major public appearance since pleading guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge in a fatal car accident that happened last year in Aldie, Virginia.

There were others to keep Rubenstein company on the stage—Kuno and Novakovic, Washington National Opera president James Feldman, and Ambassador Sasae all took turns, and the ambassador shared in the big moment of announcing the winner of the door prize. The name pulled from a glass bowl, alas, wasn’t a Washingtonian, but David Espinosa of Palm Beach, Florida, who said after, “I want to move to Washington.”

The prize was a round trip for two to Tokyo, which Espinosa said he would take with his partner, Daniel Biaggi, also of Palm Beach.

Each year the diplomatic hosts transform their residences into statements of splendor, and this year was no different. A party tent included a chandelier that was custom-made of 1,000 origami paper cranes, a symbol of good luck. A dessert buffet created by Susan Gage Caterers included Asian and Western confections. For a late snack, the embassy’s chef produced a buffet of sushi and tempura. There were also performances of opera and chamber music.

All in all, a beautiful, successful, and calming evening, and now, for the social establishment, summer can begin.

Posted at 11:15 AM/ET, 06/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Italian ambassador hosted the annual “Country Barbecue.” By Carol Ross Joynt
The setting of the annual Country Barbecue on the lawn of Villa Firenze, the Italian ambassador’s residence on Albemarle Street. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

An annual spring party that has its roots in the charitable generosity of a rich woman and the Texas barbecue loved by President Lyndon Johnson continues to thrive at one of the city’s most splendid estates. The “Country Barbecue,” which benefits the Children’s Hearing and Speech Center, was held on Thursday evening on the sweeping green lawns of Villa Firenze, the Italian ambassador’s residence.

According to Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, who strolled through the party with Laura Denise, his wife, the first barbecue was hosted in 1963 by Polly Guggenheim Logan, who was on the center’s board and who then owned the grand Tudor-style home near Rock Creek Park. President Johnson sent over authentic Texas barbecue for the occasion, and a tradition was born. When Logan sold the estate to Italy, she stipulated that the barbecue on the lawn continue, and Italian ambassadors have obliged ever since.

There’s one difference now, and that’s the provenance of the food. It’s still a lavish barbecue, but rather than from Texas, the baby back ribs, grilled chicken, chopped pork, cornbread, and baked beans came from DC’s own Rocklands Barbecue.

The party features what’s probably the longest cocktail hour among Washington social events—about two hours—but heavy hors d’oeuvre kept guests fortified as they sipped beverages from several bars. The options were bellinis, margaritas and other tequila drinks, an assortment of beers and wines, or one’s favorite martini and other cocktails. When the guests sat down to dinner it was under a white tent by the large swimming pool. Dinner was followed by dancing to the music of The Black and Blue Experience.

The event sold out, with 477 people buying $200-tickets and raising a total of more than $100,000. The Children’s Hearing and Speech Center, which is part of Children’s National Medical Center, was founded in 1959. According to the center, last year 13,000 children and families used the skills of their audiologists and speech-language pathologists for a variety of therapies.

Posted at 12:45 PM/ET, 06/06/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The black-tie dinner also launched a new exhibition. By Carol Ross Joynt
Beautifully bejeweled: Ellen MacNeille Charles and her aunt, Ann Close. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

For Ellen MacNeille Charles the annual Hillwood Museum gala on Tuesday night was a celebration to mark two milestones. She was stepping down as Hillwood’s board chairman and stepping up to celebrate her 77th birthday.

For a benchmark event, this was the way to go—a gorgeous evening, beautiful tables arrayed on the lawn, flowers everywhere, men in black tie and women in evening gowns, a steak dinner and fine wine, and the French jeweler Cartier as sponsor. The French were also well represented by the guests of honor, Ambassador Francois Delattre and his wife, Sophie. Charles had Delattre seated on her left during the meal of Coquilles Saint Jacques, Onglet de Boeuf, and chilled orange soufflé.

There were plenty of stories for Charles to tell Delattre of her family’s long relationship with Paris through her grandmother, Marjorie Merriweather Post, a globetrotter who made Hillwood her DC home, where regular guests included White House officials, diplomats, business tycoons, and movie stars. There are two actresses in her family: Charles’ aunt is Dina Merrill and her cousin is Glenn Close.

Delattre was in good spirits as he moved around the table to say hello to other guests. When asked if the rumors are true that he will soon switch assignments with Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United Nations, Delattre gave a charming Gallic shrug but opted to not make any news.

It was a big night for Cartier, too, as Hillwood launched its newest exhibition, “Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems.”  Visitors to Hillwood will be able to ogle the emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds from this weekend through the end of the year.

The evening’s theme was an inspiration for many of the female guests, who pulled out some of their best baubles. In particular, Adrienne Arsht, the Washington philanthropist, who gleefully brandished her diamonds: a tiara, earrings, and two spectacular bejeweled Cartier cuffs.

When dessert was served, the few hundred under the tent sang “Happy Birthday” to Charles and anyone else who was marking their special day.

Posted at 12:25 PM/ET, 06/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()