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We Found Some Alternative Venues for Bill Barr’s Holiday Party

We sure hope Barr, photographed here in June 2019, will bring his pipes to the party. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

US Attorney General William Barr has booked a holiday party at President Trump’s DC hotel. He chose his boss’s venue, because, as Jonathan O’Connell and David Fahrenthold report for the Washington Post, a Department of Justice official told them “other hotels, including the Willard and the Mayflower, were booked.”

No other options? In a city as rich with event space as this one? As a matter of civic pride, Washingtonian took it upon itself to find whether we could find Barr space for a holiday party at a nice DC venue. Following O’Connell’s and Fahrenthold’s reporting, we presented a number of DC venues with our criteria:

  • Space for 200 people
  • Buffet and open bar for four hours
  • Room for ceilidh dancing and perhaps folk musicians to perform

Barr’s budget for this event, which he’s paying for himself, is north of $30,000. That kind of budget leaves room for unanticipated expenses—one events pro cautioned us to allocate $3-5K more for a sound system and stage for our musicians, for instance. We weren’t sure how flexible the attorney general’s December 8 party date is, so we called venues, told them the requirements, and said we were checking on availability and pricing during the first two weeks of December.

Mandarin Oriental

The snazzy hotel near the Wharf offered us its Oriental Ballroom and food by executive chef Stefan Kauth. We couldn’t get December 8 but the following Sunday evening was available. The Mandarin Oriental graciously offered to waive its $5,000 room rental charge (the Trump Hotel is charging Barr $4,500 for its Presidential Ballroom, the Post reports) and charge us a minimum of $25,000 for food and beverage. We’d also need to pay for bartenders: $225 for four hours’ service from each. The hotel recommends one bartender per 75 guests, so we will budget $675 for these crucial individuals. We’ll also pop for two coat-check attendants at $150 each, and if we do go with a live band (which, frankly, we’re leaning toward, because it’s a much better experience than prerecorded music), load-in for them and our sound system will run us $1,500.

Ballpark before taxes and tips:

$27,475

Washington Hilton

The home of the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner can’t boast next-door proximity to the Department of Justice like the Trump International Hotel can, but its setting in vibrant Dupont Circle and excellent parking make it a strong contender. The Washington Hilton said it could accommodate our folk-dancing needs and offered us an attractive deal: $120 per person for food and drink, plus a discount if any of our guests stayed at the hotel. (The Trump Hotel wants $135 per person, a price that could change depending on which menu Barr selects, the Post reports.) The Hilton urged us to book soon if we want to make this happen, so hop on this deal fast, Mr. Attorney General!

Ballpark before taxes and tips:

$24,000

Engine Company 12

It’s not a hotel, but this gorgeous former firehouse in Bloomingdale offers just the right level of quirk. It offers three floors of holiday fun, with dinner on the bottom floor and drinking and dancing on the top two. We’d need to budget about $10,000 for the event space, which would include tables, setup, and a sound system, and open bar would run us $64 per person. We’ll have to bring in our own caterer, but we’re saving so much over the Trump Hotel here that we think we could make it work.

Ballpark before outside caterer, taxes, and tips:

$22,800

Sax Dinner Theater and Lounge

Another non-hotel venue, the downtown space’s website says its mission is to offer “opulence, service, and great entertainment.” Sax also offers its own entertainment, including custom holiday shows, and while it’s not exactly ceilidh dancing, we think a show like this would make for an unforgettable holiday event. Plus, Sax is only minutes from DOJ, the White House, and lots of other workplaces downtown. We’ll pay $69 per person for dinner plus $80 per person for four hours of open bar, and there’s plenty of space for dancing. There’s a $20,000 minimum, which we don’t imagine will be a problem.

Ballpark before taxes and tips:

$29,800

The Line Hotel

Arguably DC’s most hip hotel right now, the Line offers some of DC’s most talked-about restaurants and a great-looking setting in a former Christian Scientist church. We couldn’t get a Saturday or a Sunday in the first two weeks of December, but the Line offered to waive the rental fee on its Banneker space and said it could accommodate our dancing and even our imaginary folk musicians. (We opted not to put them on a stage–folk music and folk music listeners should rub elbows, in our opinion.) Our per-person food and drink cost would depend on what menu we chose, but the Line’s very helpful staff said we would have to budget a $20,000 minimum.

Ballpark (before we chose menu, and exclusive of taxes and tips):

$20,000

Russia House

How sweet would it be to hold the party here? Sadly, Russia House tells us it can’t accommodate a party this large.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

Kalina Newman
Editorial Fellow

Kalina Newman is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. Previously, she covered metro news for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in ARLnow, DCist, and the Washington City Paper. Kalina graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.