Some untactful decorating gave LivingSocial’s “7 Deadly Sins” party last Saturday an eighth offense—perceived anti-Semitism. Partygoers who attended the ticketed Halloween event said the decorations in the “greed room” included dreidels, four-sided tops used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“I was very offended. I just thought it was completely inappropriate,” one attendee told Washington Jewish Week.
LivingSocial, the DC-based online coupon and events company, converted its storefront at 918 F St., Northwest, into a “night of tricks—and sins” with themed rooms for each of the cardinal vices. Advertising for the event, which drew 643 people paying $59 or $79, billed the “greed room” as a “shimmering room full of silver and gold” along with games and a cocktail named after King Midas.
No one in the ballroom came right out and shouted, “William McRaven for elected office!” but the idea hovered like a thought bubble over the OSS Society’s William J. Donovan Award Dinner Saturday night, where the commander of US Special Operations was honored—including by President Obama—and even sounded himself a bit like a candidate. The annual celebration commemorating the World War II spy agency and predecessor of the CIA—for the intelligence and special operations communities, it’s the prom and the Oscars wrapped in one—is a time for reminiscing and gossiping for both the smooth-skinned, ramrod-spined young operatives and the retired spies and warriors with more medals than hair or teeth. But McRaven, the Navy admiral who oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden and who received the Donovan award, gave this year’s gathering a political edge.
President Obama addressed the audience and the honoree via taped video, his image filling three ceiling-high screens. He called McRaven “one of the finest special operators our nation has ever produced. Few Americans will ever see what you do, but every American is safer because of your service.” Also lauding him in taped messages were two other individuals who were directly involved in the bin Laden mission, former CIA director Leon Panetta and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
A third official who was a player in that historic episode, John Brennan, now director of Central Intelligence, relived the experience in his remarks. He said the deliberations to undertake the mission were “difficult and fraught with uncertainty.” He said there was “a key moment in those deliberations when President Obama seemed to move a step closer to his final decision. It was when Adm. McRaven looked at the President and said, ‘Sir, we can get this job done.’ You could hear a pin drop. It was at that time that everyone in that room knew the decision was made and we were going forward.”
McRaven was the last act after at least nine toasts, as many speeches, and several videos (including one of soldiers singing a spoof of At The Hop), a jazz performance, and repeated standing ovations. It probably helped that waiting for each guest at his or her place, was a gin martini with onions, to be raised in a toast to Ernest Hemingway, who famously liberated the Paris Ritz at the same time as the allies liberated Paris. It’s a ritual of the dinner.
Except for the televisions over the bar, F. Scott Fitzgerald himself might have fit right in at Thornwillow Press’s party for A Fitzgerald Companion, a slim and precious homage by Steve Garbarino to one of his heroes, whom he calls “the literary mascot of the Jazz Age.” The Great Gatsby scribe’s favorite drinks were served as a combo played Jazz Age tunes. And, of course, the Washington area is Fitzgerald’s home, after a fashion: He and his wife, Zelda, are buried at St. Mary’s Church in Rockville, Maryland. Their only daughter, “Scottie,” lived in Georgetown, wrote for the Washington Post and other publications, and was an occasional participant in and chronicler of the social scene. (She died in 1986.) Garbarino, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a culture writer for the Wall Street Journal, has his own connection to the area: “I spent the summers in Rehoboth, which led to a love of DC,” he said.
Aimed smartly at the Christmas stockings of Fitzgerald fans, the 32-page volume was handmade with love at publisher Luke Ives Pontifell’s tiny press in upstate New York. “You can touch the type, you can feel it—on very beautiful paper,” said Pontifell, the book in one hand and an Old Fashioned in the other. There are only 250 signed and numbered copies, $65 a piece, and another 26 partly leather-bound special editions in a clamshell box, at $585. Both are available at the Thornwillow boutique at the St. Regis.
Garbarino, who described himself as “the bearded guy with the very fat Michael Caine glasses,” said the book was inspired by a story he’d written on New York bars Fitzgerald liked in his time and bars he would possibly like today, and by the puzzle of our enduring fascination with Fitzgerald. “People relate to him,” said Garbarino. “Fitzgerald walked that weird line of telling a cautionary tale but going, ‘Ain’t we havin’ fun?’”
And why wouldn’t we? Waiters passed marinated scallops with caviar, gougères, pork belly canapés, and calamari sliders. The bartenders stayed busy pouring Champagne, mixing Old Fashioneds, Sidecars, and French 75s—still standards on the St. Regis cocktails list.
If you want to replicate the good life at home, note that Garbarino includes a few recipes for what he calls “bee’s-knees-terrific signature drinks.” He gave us permission to republish this one, called Fitz’s Gin Rickey.
Washingtonian selected ten extraordinary individuals to be honored with the Washingtonian Excellence in Nursing Award for their contributions in the field of nursing. The 2013 honorees—Christy Baxter, John Bing, Joni Brady, Janeen Constantine, Sue Eckert, Lieutenant Dwight Hampton, Lindsey Kennedy, Maria Reinitz, Teresa Wenner, and Carol Whitney—celebrated their achievement at the second Excellence in Nursing awards dinner at the Loews Madison Hotel on Wednesday evening. The Madison wowed guests with a lovely cocktail reception followed by a delicious three-course seated dinner. Karla Chisholm from Elan Artists performed before and after the emotional awards presentation. Washingtonian thanks Children’s National, Fair Oaks Anesthesia Services, Inova, Maryland Association of Nurse Anesthetists, MedStar Health, and Montgomery Hospice for supporting their award-winning nurses by purchasing a table sponsorship.
After 35 years in one downtown building, one of Washington’s best-known think tanks, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has moved into a stunning new $100 million building on Rhode Island Avenue, Northwest, near 16th Street. The members celebrated on Monday night with a reception, a seated dinner, and a few speeches, followed by the pièce de résistance: a rollicking country music performance by Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer and his band, Honky Tonk Confidential. Would it shock if I reported that during the performance, rather than looping arms and dancing do-si-do, the guests—among them Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison—sat in rows of chairs as if at a seminar? (We did see some tapping toes.)
Besides those named above, the crowd included George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, former defense secretary Bill Cohen, CSIS board chairman Sam Nunn, Lynda Bird Robb and Chuck Robb, former housing and urban development secretary Carla Hills, EADS North America chairman and CEO Sean O’Keefe, and dozens of others, who gathered first in the glass-and-marble foyer for cocktails. Dinner followed on three floors of the building, with tables named after monuments and popular tourist attractions, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.
The speeches came after dinner and focused on the achievement of designing and constructing the new headquarters building. There were remarks from Nunn, CSIS CEO John Hamre, vice chair Linda Hart, and finance and audit chairman Michael Galvin, who said the new building “was about erecting a monument to bipartisanship.” On its website, CSIS defines its mission as “practical solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.”
The influence of Top Chef in restaurants around DC has been obvious for a while, with kitchen and front-room staffers who look like they walked off the Bravo set—a preponderance of tats, piercings, and sensational hair. But it goes both ways: The show is also teaching everyday foodies the language of judging and being judged. This weekend at the International Gold Cup Races near Middleburg, Virginia, I had my own Padma Lakshmi moment. Along with the 88th running of the Gold Cup, an event with a long history in the Virginia hunt country, came the tailgate competition, and I was one of the judges.
We gathered at noon near the winner’s circle at the Great Meadow race track just as the announcer started to call the first of the point-to-point races. Blustery weather, a moody sky, the horses, and the jockeys’ colorful silks combined to give the feeling of having walked into a Wolstenholme painting—not to mention the endless parade of hats and other race fashions. It goes back to when it was held only in the spring in Warrenton, then a more low-key event compared with its higher-voltage corporate iteration at Great Meadow. It’s also now held in the fall, as well. A big part of the newer Gold Cup is the growth of the tailgate scene, not quite on a par with the pregame feasts at FedEx Field, but getting there. This race was also the first fall Gold Cup race to have parimutuel betting.
The tailgate contestants were all Top Chef-ready as the judges arrived to taste their food. We had ten tailgates to judge and each amateur chef was ready to woo us, offer us tastes, answer our questions, and tell their stories. They eagerly provided inspirations—a mother’s birthday, for example—and detailed explanations of the preparation scheme.
Once the less-expensive, younger alternative to the lavish dinners held at embassies across town, the Meridian Ball’s White-Meyer dinner is gradually emerging as the hottest pre-ball venue. Traditionally, the more than 800 attendees of the ball, thrown each year to support the programs of the Meridian International Center, start the evening with an intimate dinner at one of 20 or so embassies before they descend, in black tie and evening gowns, on the Meridian Center for the ball itself. Friday night, as has been the pattern in recent years, the White-Meyer dinner bulged to capacity at 150.
Aimed at the under-40 “professional” crowd, the White-Meyer dinner, held adjacent to the Meridian Center, has increasingly become a mix of all ages. Why do they prefer it over an embassy dinner? It has the advantage of being right there, longtime attendees say. Walter Cutler, a former ambassador many times over and the president emeritus of the Meridian International Center, thinks it’s a reflection of our hectic times. People don’t want to have to move from one location to another, he says.
At the ball, the gaiety—it is one of the year’s most beautiful and best parties—was tempered by a slight sense of fatigue, as if the three-week shutdown ordeal had left Washington a little shell-shocked and perhaps in less of a party mood. The theme of this year’s ball was “Gatsby,” though organizers did not say whether they recognized the irony. One of the guests, a Washington lobbyist who attends a lot of parties, said, “The shutdown and all the divisive politics have left folks a little glum.” It was the same at the Freer/Sackler gala last Thursday: lots of sparkly dresses and smiling faces, but also dark humor about the federal government shutdown.
Hollywood and Washington got together for some laughs at the Kennedy Center Sunday night on behalf of Carol Burnett, one of the legends of American sketch comedy. The 80-year-old Burnett was awarded the 16th Mark Twain Prize, which has been given in the past to Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, and George Carlin, among others. Those who came to sing her praises included colleagues, friends, and a younger generation of women comedians, many of whom are graduates of Saturday Night Live and who consider her one of their pioneers. Tina Fey opened the show; Amy Poehler did a routine as her “assistant” with the help of half a dozen dogs; Rashida Jones and Maya Rudolph told anecdotes and introduced clips from Burnett’s enduring moments on television and in movies.
David Rubenstein, the chairman of the Kennedy Center board, was the warmup act, though he didn’t dare try to do comedy. Not in this company. He came onstage to thank the show’s underwriters and producers, and appeared later to introduce Burnett. The concert hall was nearly packed, with Burnett sitting prominently in a red-draped box adjacent to the stage with her husband, Brian Miller, and daughters Jody and Erin Hamilton. In the President’s Box were House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and DC Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. The room had the lights, cameras, and other trappings of a TV show, because it was being taped by WETA for broadcast on PBS on Sunday, November 24.
The Freer/Sackler Some Enchanted Evening soiree on Thursday night was a glamorous gala, and also something of a well-timed shutdown roast, with the help of Alec Baldwin. The theme was yoga—Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria, is a yoga instructor—and the actor said that while they toured the associated art exhibition they had an idea for a yoga position for Congress that could prevent future government shutdowns. “What did you think was the best idea, honey?” he asked her as they shared a microphone on stage at the Mellon Auditorium. “The bed of nails,” she said. “It’s a good idea, right?” The audience applauded. The Baldwins, new parents, said their daughter was home “practicing happy baby pose.” Hilaria added, “There will be no tummy time or cobra pose while we’re here in Washington because there’s too many cobras here already.”
Originally the dinner was scheduled to be held among the works of the new exhibition, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” at the Freer/Sackler Gallery on Independence Avenue. When the gallery was closed by the shutdown, the venue was changed to the Mellon Auditorium across the Mall. Even though the shutdown ended early Thursday, it was too late for the dinner to be switched back to its home base—but no one seemed to mind. The Mellon was done up in shades of cinnamon, gold, and green, and everywhere you stepped there were limber yoga practitioners—courtesy of Lululemon—performing poses with the impenetrable focus of mimes or guards at Buckingham Palace.
Still, the shutdown was mentioned in just about every principal speech. In his remarks, Sackler Gallery director Julian Raby praised the staff of the Mellon “for their hospitality and flexibility as we navigated the shoals of the federal government shutdown,” which he called “the tragi-comedy of the last few weeks.” He said he had to remind himself “never to use the C word: challenge. Instead I’ve had to learn how to purse my lips and say O. Not as in Oh, dear, but as in opportunity”—the opportunity to swap his gallery for the columned Mellon ballroom. “Look around you. The splendor of this place makes me think of the fall of the Roman Empire.” He paused for a beat. “I’m not referring to the events of the last few weeks.” He asked everyone, in the spirit of yoga, to take a moment to close their eyes and inhale deeply, and the room fell silent. “Now, what did you see?” he asked. He said he hoped it was India, which plays a major role in the exhibition, the first of its kind in the world. The works include stone yogis from a tenth-century temple and numerous folios from the first illustrated manuscript of yogic postures.
Despite the unsettled feeling of a city in the midst of a government shutdown, the 25th gala for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction was just about a perfect evening according to Michael Witmore, the president of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “I got read to,” he said as he sat down to dinner, “and now we will be fed. Read and fed.” To Witmore’s left, Frazier O’Leary, a Cardozo High School English teacher who is in his second year as president of the PEN/ Faulkner Foundation board, beamed. Earlier he’d heard novelist Christopher Tilghman call the foundation “a jewel” and to declare the event “what this young city does best.”
While the shutdown does not directly affect the Folger or PEN/Faulkner, Witmore and O’Leary noted that the city’s overall mood is subdued, and that carries into everything. Not subdued was the glorious sunset visible as the evening began, with the Capitol dome as the centerpiece, causing guests to stop, stare, shoot a smartphone photo or two, and likely wonder if any progress was being made in the House chamber.