Squeezing into the quaint and oh-so-Russian Mari Vanna, a cozy restaurant and lounge that opened last week on Connecticut Avenue near M Street, it was clear: We were going to have trouble remembering the names of the celebrities in attendance. "Oh, it's that guy! The guy who played Charlotte's husband in Sex and the City," we thought as we spied the bald head of Evan Handler, a.k.a. Harry Goldenblatt. "And there's the dude from Wings," (Tim Daly). "Oh, I love her. She has amazing style what is her name?" we whispered to our tablemate, motioning to Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson, decked out in a black cocktail dress, her hair swept up in a chic ponytail.
As friendly Russian waitresses sporting peasant dresses passed out plates of homemade nut bread, radishes and sea salt, we spent a good deal of time repeating the above scenario with John Leguizamo, Alfre Woodard, Richard Kind, Matt Bomer, Melissa Leo, Lynne Whitfield, and Wayne Knight (we'll give you a hand with that last one: He played Newman on Seinfeld). By the time we spied Paula Abdul (who is so tiny we practically had to bend down to say "hello"), we were relieved just to be able to put a name to a face. However, as anyone familiar with Creative Coalition will tell you, these are the soldiers of the cause, the venerable gang of character actors and sitcom veterans who campaign on behalf of arts advocacy, a group familiar with Washington and the ways of lobbying for funds.
Sunday night's intimate dinner at Mari Vanna was billed as Creative Coalition's "Night Before Dinner," a chance for the primary players to mingle and reconnect before their ball takes place Monday night at Sidney Harman Hall. Marlon Wayans and Omar Epps sat at a table, enjoying Svedka vodka drinks and pointing out the other's dapper style—Epps stuck with casual neutrals, and a skinny tie, while Wayans set off his boyish bow tie look with huge black diamond stud earrings in each ear. David Arquette, one of the friendliest actors we've ever encountered, was jovial and sweet, but stuck close to his not-as-friendly looking girlfriend, Christina McLarty, who didn't seem all that interested in being there. Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC stayed and mingled for a good two hours, although he was without his rumored gal pal, Tamron Hall.
After a casual cocktail hour, which included blinis with crème fraîche and caviar, guests found seats at tables throughout the restaurant's three floors and were able to select from a handful of authentic Russian entrées; we went with the salmon, but saw several plates of potato pancakes and beef stroganoff. The vodka shots flowed, the mood was fun and casual, and by the time the live accordion player hit the floor, jumping enthusiastically, everyone was clapping along.