When people ask, “If you could attend only one party during the White House Correspondents dinner weekend, what would it be?” the answer is easy: the pre-event dinner on Friday night hosted by Atlantic Media’s David and Katherine Bradley at their grand Embassy Row home. Why? Because it is the one sanctuary from the crush and roar of humanity that defines the weekend’s other parties. The wine is excellent, the food delicious. More important, the party is a vestige of what the WHCA dinner was originally conceived to be: an event for and about Washington. In other words, there were no movie stars but lots of reporters and their sources in politics, government, and the corporate sector.
If I were asked to pick one other event, that choice is easy, too: the Saturday night after-party at the French ambassador’s residence on Kalorama Road, officially hosted by Bloomberg and Vanity Fair but in truth run almost entirely by the varsity event team at Vanity Fair. At this party there aren’t many reporters, but it is packed to the rafters with celebrities of every kind: film, television, music, business, high society, low society, and, this year, even the four-legged variety—in the form of Uggie, the dog from the Oscar-winning film The Artist.
The "Vanity Fair party," as it's called, represents the best of what the weekend has become, Washington's one moment of the year when it joins the celebrity pro-am tour, wherein the tribe of the famous globe trot from circus-like occasion to circus-like occasion, enjoying guaranteed room and board, limos on demand, and publicity. In return they share the shimmer of their own celebrity magic dust. This tribe will alight next at the Cannes Film Festival; the circuit also includes Sundance, South by Southwest, the Paris and New York fashion weeks, the Oscars and Emmys, and various resort openings in Las Vegas, Dubai, South Africa, and points beyond.
What's in it for the celebs? They will tell you it's the gobsmacking thrill of being in the same room with the President of the United States, rubbing elbows with the people who run the country--from members of Congress and the Cabinet to members of the Supreme Court and the joint chiefs of staff--and an assortment of parties in some fairly amazing mansions. These include the French ambassador's, as well as two power-packed brunches in Georgetown, one on Saturday at the home of Mark Ein, formerly the home of the legendary Katharine Graham, and the other on Sunday at the historic Bowie-Sevier House, a federal period mansion with views over the whole city, hosted by Allbritton Communications. (For accounts of other WHCAD parties, see Sophie Gilbert's recaps.)
Katherine and David Bradley have hosted their dinner party for several years. It's a way to thank and entertain their tony advertisers, but they lift it above the routine by mixing up the guest list so the corporate executives from Exxon, General Motors, Shell, Novartis, PepsiCo, Boeing, and United Healthcare are seated next to media executives and reporters from all the networks plus Washington Business Journal, Roll Call, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Facebook, and their own publications, such as the Atlantic, National Journal, and Government Executive. There are quite a few lobbyists, too, and some diplomats and politicians. This year California governor Jerry Brown was quite the attraction. The closest the guest list got to Hollywood glitter was Sex and the City creator Darren Starr, who attends most years with his friend and former college roommate, The Atlantic's man-about-town, editor Steve Clemons.
The other special feature of the Bradley dinner is the way the food is presented. There's a different theme each year. This year it was the foods of Africa. Acclaimed Atlantic food writer Corby Kummer takes a microphone and between courses tells the guests the provenance of what they are about to eat. He designs the menu, which is prepared by caterer Susan Gage and her team. The wines are chosen to complement the menu, of course, and they flow freely, getting everyone in the mood to move on to the Bradleys' after-party, named the First Amendment Party and cohosted by Funny or Die and the Impact Arts & Film Fund.
The Vanity Fair party has its own circuitous provenance. It began in the Kalorama apartment of the late Christopher Hitchens and his wife, Carol Blue. Then it moved to the Russian Federation building, which, like the Hitchens apartment, is close to the Washington Hilton, where the WHCA dinner is held. After a few years, editor Graydon Carter pulled Vanity Fair out of the after-party mix, handing it over to Bloomberg. Bloomberg carried on alone for a few years, and then Christopher Hitchens resumed hosting a Vanity Fair party at his apartment. A few years ago, Hitchens, working out an agreement with then-French ambassador Pierre Vimont, moved the party to the ambassador's residence, a splendid chateau on expansive and handsome grounds. There's room for hundreds. Bloomberg joined as cohost, giving us the party we have today.*
This year the guest list was culled and the party benefited, even though a cold rain kept guests crowded together inside rather than out on the back terrace or by the pool. But through the windows and doors they could see the trees were painted with lights that changed colors. The front lawn was a vast expanse of little balls of light, planted on stems in the grass. The French ambassador, François Delattre, and his wife, Sophie, greeted each guest as he or she came in out of a pouring rain. There were a lot of hugs and kisses. The arrival of George Clooney caused a happy gridlock. He was visibly excited to be there. In fact, he said, "Now this is a party." Clearly true, because he was practically the last guest to depart, too, at almost 3:30 in the morning.
The male waitstaff were a sight to behold, sporting a look that hinted of Adam Lambert chic. Before the party began they were sent to hair and makeup, where their faces got powdered and rouged, their lips colored, and their eyes lined in black, with black mascara. They wore white jackets and silver ties and passed trays of ice cold Dom Ruinart and Henriot Champagne, sometimes remarkably balancing as many as a dozen filled flutes. The food was everything from savory--mac and cheese, lobster rolls, shepherd's pie, pigs in a blanket, shrimp in peanut sauce--to sweet, including cookies, candies, and chocolate in lots of forms, plus an espresso bar. No one went hungry or thirsty.
Who was there? Where to begin? Here's a short list: Claire Danes, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Goldie Hawn and daughter Kate Hudson, Bo Derek and John Corbett, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann, Jimmy Kimmel, Sophia Vergara, Barbara Walters, Viola Davis, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, CIA director David Petraeus, Rachel Zoe, Woody Harrelson, Rashida Jones, attorney general Eric Holder and Sharon Malone, New York police commissioner Ray Kelly, Elle McPherson, Kyle McLachlan, Piers Morgan, Eric Schmidt, Christiane Amanpour, Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Rudd, Kevin Spacey, Martin Short, Andrew Sullivan, Howard Wolfson, Katharine Weymouth, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Kerry Washington, Kate Upton, Tory Burch, Christine Baranski, Haley Barbour, David Axelrod, Eric Stonestreet, Andrea Mitchell, Charlie Rose and Gayle King, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Daniel Dae-Kim, and White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard.
Who wore the most eye-popping dress? That's easy. Rosario Dawson arrived in green silk that was more cleavage than actual dress--remarkable, balloon-like cleavage. After that it would have to be Sports Illustrated cover girl Kate Upton, wearing soft cream chiffon over a body that posed the dilemma of whether to look or look away; her "fitness" is that intimidating. The most elegant dress was Rachel Zoe's gold Valentino, but then she's a stylist and also as thin as a pin. John Corbett couldn't have been handsomer or friendlier. Ditto girlfriend Bo Derek, always by his side. Also quite friendly was Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who found the whole weekend to be something of a mind bender. What did he like best? A Saturday visit to the White House to meet the First Family. "It was the whole cast and our partners," he said. "We met the President, the First Lady, and their daughters." Do they watch the show? "Michelle and the daughters do. The President has more important uses for his time."
Those who were fortunate to be invited to the Bradley dinner and/or the Vanity Fair party should savor the moment, especially the elegant ambassador's residence. It's due for a renovation; the Delattres and their children will be moving elsewhere during the repair work, and it's unlikely the home will be party-ready by this time next year. Moreover, one of the Vanity Fair higher-ups said, "We're thinking of giving it a break next year, anyway." Of course, that's what almost everyone says the Monday morning after.
*Ed. note: The Washingtonian was not allowed to send a photographer to the Vanity Fair party.