Could the revolt of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner be imminent? Media participants have grumbled for years about how the event has been ripped from the hands of legitimate White House reporters and put into the spin machines of celebrity wranglers. The dinner itself, the presence of the President and First Lady, and the bestowing of awards to worthy journalists are almost entirely overshadowed by the attending celebrities—mostly B- and C-list with some aging A-listers thrown in—and the associated parties designed to feature the celebs.
So far this year, the White House Correspondents’ Association itself has balked at some of the hoopla, in particular an effort by a Los Angeles marketing group and the Creative Coalition to make the affair even more Hollywood, with a lounge offering free swag (for an endorsement) to the invited. WHCA leaders marshaled their forces behind the group’s lawyer to block any random use of the WHCA name and logo in an effort to protect the brand and tamp down the glitz.
When I contacted a former dinner regular for an opinion in advance of the weekend, I received a clear, blunt response: “Frankly, I just don’t care about all the Hollywood and reality show trash who get invited to this event by immature, uncultivated, silly reporters trying to win the ‘prize’ for the most grotesque guest list at their parties and tables (supposedly to ‘honor’ the President of the United States).” Another attendee recalled, “I went as a guest of the Financial Times, but it is a bit of a monster rally, isn’t it? People shoving past Colin Powell to catch a glimpse of Serena Williams.”
While there will be a lot of before- and after-parties, the number seems down from last year. Yes, celebrities invade en masse, but personally, I would prefer they were here to shoot their TV shows and movies on the streets of DC and to employ local actors and to make use of Washington that way. Still, there’s no harm in gaping, if that is your idea of a fun distraction. The celebrities would not be coming to our fair town if they didn’t want the attention, which can get a bit ridiculous: A hair salon in Georgetown sent out notice that it “was just asked by the White House to do Barbra Streisand’s hair for the dinner and parties.” One might ask why the White House would be booking Streisand’s hair appointment. It’s more likely someone at the White House may have recommended the salon. This is called spin.
So, where to spot the celebs? Easily the most popular spot is the venue of the dinner itself, the Washington Hilton Hotel on Saturday evening, starting at about 5:30. A lot of security surrounds the building’s entrance on Connecticut Avenue, but it is a public place, and regular folks are able to enter the lobby, sit in the bar, and line up behind a velvet rope to watch the dinner guests arrive. It’s a bit of a mosh pit but also kind of a fun circus. Last year a Washingtonian told me he and his friends got a table in the bar area, which during the dinner began to fill with various celebs who decided to bolt from the crowded ballroom. So that’s an option—but be prepared to spend some money on drinks to hold your table.
Celebrity spotting is almost a feature of the Bourbon Steak bar at the Four Seasons, especially after a celeb-studded event. Many of them stay at the hotel, and, given that many of them are on West Coast time, they end up there after the after-parties and before bedtime. Some show up for breakfast, too. If Streisand is having a Georgetown salon do her hair, it is not illogical to think she might be staying at the Four Seasons.
The same can be said for the lobby bar at the Mandarin Oriental, and the lobby lounge and Degrees bar of the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton—two hotels that have sway with the celeb set but are easily accessed by stargazers. As it happened, I was at the Ritz on Tuesday night and bumped into actor and producer Mark Wahlberg. He said he was in town to go to the White House the next day but did not mention the WHCA dinner. One of the people sitting with him, hunched over talking on a cell phone, appeared to be Jason Statham.
Another spot that may provide some celebrity action is the new Capella Hotel, just up the street from the Ritz. Its sophisticated Rye Bar has become a late-night scene, and there’s also a rooftop deck with a pool and bar. The hotel says the roof is only for guests, but it’s always interesting how the velvet ropes come down for a little bit of clout or a famous name.
While many visiting celebs don’t have to spend a dime on food and drink, some do venture out to see the neighborhoods. It seems that every WHCA dinner weekend there are sightings on the streets of Georgetown, or at Cafe Milano. Bradley Cooper, for example, is practically a WHCA dinner regular; he’s a Georgetown University alum (and also waited tables at now-defunct Pizzeria Uno) and likes to wander his former ’hood whenever he comes to town. Georgetown is the location of one of the big late-night pre-parties on Friday evening—at the Powerhouse on Grace Street. There’s also a celebrity brunch on Saturday at the mansion owned by Mark Ein on R Street at 29th, and another big brunch on Sunday at the Bowie-Sevier House on Q Street between 31st and 32nd, owned by Politico’s Robert Allbritton. There’s security, of course, but folks can’t be prevented from standing—and staring—on the public sidewalks.
Another tipoff to the presence of a celebrity is a gaggle of professional autograph hounds. They can be a little gruff and overbearing, but if you ask politely they will tell you whom they are staking out. The same can be said of TMZ.
So, last but not least, who’s expected in town this weekend in addition to Streisand and Cooper? In a timely way, Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson in the well-reviewed 42, is coming to town as a guest of Vanity Fair. He qualifies as new and fresh. After Hours has a rundown of more celebrities who have confirmed, which include dinner host Conan O’Brien, Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, GW alumna Kerry Washington, Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and many more.
Happy spotting. Enjoy it while it lasts, because, as previously stated, this celebrity media fest in its present form could be facing an evolution, if not a revolution.
We’d ask you to let us know who you spot, but by Monday morning the tents will be folded, the circus will have moved on, and Washington will be back to the serious business of trying to run the country.