Thursday, December 11, 2008

Washington Social Diary

Ethel Kennedy anchors a brunch table with Teddy's daughter Kara Kennedy to her right and Hilary Califano to Kara's right.
Washington’s Holiday Fetes Start to Roll Out
By Carol Joynt

A perk of Christmas in Washington is that it is possible to chatter with a swarm of political power brokers and imported celebrities at a Sunday brunch, and that evening sip hot cider – and more potent beverages – at a Georgetown holiday cocktail party that feels cozy and neighborhood, and a few days later be a guest at The President’s “Guest House” for eggnog and ham biscuits.

It’s an orbit that happened thanks to Liz and George Stevens, Bill Haseltine, and Nancy Brinker.

The Christmas tree in the lobby of the Mandarin Hotel.
This past weekend was the Kennedy Center Honors. It’s a grand event, the sober counter balance to the wackier White House Correspondents Dinner that happens in the spring. What both have in common is the ability to pull major entertainment stars to town, but where the WHCA weekend is more carnival like and features a mixed bag of celebs at every grade level, the Kennedy Center Honors are sophisticated, grown up and purely rooted in the service of the arts and politics (and, oh well, serious fundraising, too), with a nearly all-A roster of gussied up attendees.

It is the baby of gentleman impresario George Stevens, Jr., who has pulled it together and staged quite a show (now with the help of son Michael Stevens) for every one of the event’s thirty one years.

Each year five artists are honored – though this year there were six – and they aren’t required to perform. Instead the show is a tribute to them through the talents of other remarkable entertainers, who take to the stage with song, dance, instrumental performances, comedy, drama and artful spoken tributes.

There are film tributes, too. The actual show rolls out over a few hours in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, and a week later George and Michael relocate to Los Angeles, where they take the video and assemble it into a special that airs each year on CBS (this year on Dec. 30). Over the decades it’s racked up quite a few Emmy Awards.
Kennedy Center honoree Pete Townshend of The Who. A rare moment for Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters - standing still.
The vast brunch buffet at Cafe MoZu.
This year’s honorees were Morgan Freeman, George Jones, Barbra Streisand, Twyla Tharp, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend.

There are many black-tie components to the weekend, including a dinner at the State Department and a reception at the White House, but it’s George and Liz Stevens Sunday brunch at Café MoZu that is the relaxed opportunity for casual and friendly mingling of West Coast and East Coast bold facers.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul.
Steve Wynn huddling with Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell, Pete Townshend breaking bread with Jim Kimsey, Glenn Close talking about the death of Sunny von Bulow with incoming White House counsel Greg Craig, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters standing near Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Vernon Jordan with a big smile for his many pals, and Ethel Kennedy, after greeting Ben Bradlee, holding court at a table of Kennedy family and friends.

It didn’t matter that a few of the honorees, especially Streisand, were no shows at the brunch, The focus was largely on the Obama appointees who were in the room, including Craig, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, The Presidential Inaugural Committee’s Linda Douglass, and future OMB director Peter Orszag.

The talk? After the economy and politics it was the inauguration, of course. And Oprah Winfrey. She’s coming to town inaugural week, bringing her show to the Kennedy Center and hosting her own inaugural ball. She’ll be a force to reckon with. She’s Oprah! (Note: a PR man emailed and said for $6500 he would get me on one of Oprah’s DC shows. Maybe that’s the market price for access to Oprah, but just the same, we had to pass.)

Guests at the Kennedy Center Honors brunch included: Madeline Albright, Leslie Bricusse, Harolyn Blackwell, Peter Greer, Jack Black, Michael Beschloss, Joseph and Hilary Califano, Nancy Brinker, David Shaw, Bill Cohen and Janet Langhart, Chris Cornell, Carrie Devorah, Bob Barnett and Rita Braver, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Peter Bart, Stuart and Wilma Bernstein, Dwight Bush, Joe and Alma Gildenhorn, Alan Novak, Jeff Greenfield, Sidney and Jane Harman, Maxine Isaacs, Ann and Vernon Jordan, Peter Kovler, Debra Lee, Michael Kaiser, Rana Walker and Jim Kimsey, Frank and Bonnie Lautenberg, Marilyn Carlson and Glen Nelson, Itzhak Perlman, John Phillips, Gerald and Eden Rafshoon, Ron Silver, Tom Skerrit, Roger and Vicki Sant, Mary Margaret Valenti, James and Elaine Wolfensohn, Edward Vilella, Lynn Redgrave, Roxanne Roberts, Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley, Bill and Donna Marriott.
Vernon Jordan and Toby Moffett. Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, his wife Sharon Malone, and Ethel Kennedy.
Pete Townshend, Rachel Fuller, and Dave Grohl. The hosts of the Kennedy Center Honors brunch, George and Liz Stevens.
Lawyer Bob Barnett greets a tablemate at the brunch. Mimosas were plentiful. Ethel Kennedy and Ben Bradlee.
Motion Picture Association chief Dan Glickman with Myra Moffett. Mary Moffett, Myra Moffett, and Greg Craig, President-elect Obama's choice for White House counsel.
Quincy Jones. Steve Wynn with Alan Greenspan and his wife, Andrea Mitchell.
The inauguration was the chief topic, too, at Bill Haseltine’s annual holiday party. Actually, he had two parties, one earlier in the afternoon for friends who were headed to the Kennedy Center Honors in the evening, and then one in the evening for the friends who either didn’t want to lay down the $2500 for a ticket, or who simply preferred a cozy Georgetown cocktail party. The hot cider was delicious, the buffet was vast, the fireplaces crackled and the jazz combo got some people dancing.
The buffet of holiday specialities.
Guests at the Haseltine party included: Cosette Alves, Carolina Barco, Eric and Stacy Haseltine, Alex Haseltine, Susan Eisenhower, Mark Ein, Wade and Gail Davis, Florence Haseltine, Stuart Holliday, Arnaud and Alexandra de Borchgrave, David Ignatius, Walter and Kathy Isaacson, Willee and Finley Lewis, John Mason, Dennis and Christine Miller, Susan Bennett, Ann Nitze, Kevin Chaffee, Kay King, Aniko Gaal and Nash Schott, Ed Mathias, Beverly Hartline, Christina and Anthony Fauci.
The twin Christmas wreaths on Bill Haseltine's front door. Guests at Bill Haseltine's holiday party were greeted with steaming hot apple cider.
Bill Haseltine and Ed Mathias. Polly Kraft and Lucky Roosevelt.
Jonelle Rowe, Caroline Croft, and Julie Howell. Becca and Juleanne Glover.
Marsha Ralls and Kevin Chaffee. Alison Parent, Nini Ferguson, and Ann McLane Kuster.
Blair House was Tuesday evening. Some of the guests – the Bush faithful - probably did not want to think about the inauguration, though they may feel it coming like a speeding train. The holiday party and “candlelight tour” was hosted by Chief of Protocol Nancy Brinker. The list was bi-partisan, a mix from the Hill and State and other agencies, but it had the feel of a last hurrah for the Bushies.

Blair House is the President’s “Guest House,” where world leaders stay when they are in town for a state visit. It is also where the President-elect Barack Obama and his family will stay leading up to the inauguration and their move to the White House.
Blair House, with ample security and handlers outside as guests arrive for the holiday party.
As with the White House holiday parties that are underway practically nightly these next couple of weeks, the food and drink and graciousness were pleasures to enjoy, especially the White House eggnog. It’s wonderfully rich, always made fresh, has ice cream floating in the bowl to keep it cold, and is addictive. It’s also not for teetotalers.
The gingerbread, chocolate and spun sugar display that greeted guests as they arrived at Blair House. The front hall of Blair House. Countless heads of state and American leaders have walked through that door over the decades.
Blair House is 184 years old and has history all its own. It was originally one townhouse, the home of journalist Francis Preston Blair, but over the years the complex has grown to include three other adjoining townhouses, which comprise a wing known as Jackson Place. Altogether Blair House is larger than the White House with 70,000 square feet. It has 14 guest bedrooms, 8 staff bedrooms, 35 bathrooms, four dining rooms, a kitchen, laundry, gym, flower room and hair salon.
Feasting at the buffet in the Blair House Garden Room, which was endowed by Walter and Lee Annenberg and Mrs. James Stewart Hooker. The room is used by visiting heads of state for their parties, and also for some White House parties.
The egg nog in this bowl is the special White House recipe - some of the best egg nog in the world. The remarkable ham biscuits go perfectly with the White House Egg Nog.
Barack Obama may take to heart this bit of trivia learned at the party from one of the guests. When he was President, Abraham Lincoln would occasionally slip away to Blair House to take naps.

Should Obama think this is a good idea he might like to know the bed where Lincoln took his naps is still in place.
Delicious sweets at Blair House. As it is "The President's Guest House," framed photos of George and Laura Bush adorn tables throughout Blair House. This photo was taken of President-elect Bush with his parents just before he went to the Capitol to take the Oath of Office the first time.
A photo of First Lady Laura Bush on an end table in the Lee Drawing Room, which is also called the Dillon Room for Treasury Secretary and Mrs. C. Douglas Dillon, who donated the 18th century Chinese wallpaper and period furnishings in 1964. This photo commemorates the first inauguration of President Bush.
The largest of the Blair House Christmas trees is in the elegant Dillon Room, which was designed during Jacqueline Kennedy's landmark White House restoration. Beautiful roses, sweets and another Christmas tree in the background.
In the Dillon Room, an English black lacqured display cabinet, c. 1800, holding a selection of l8th century export porcelain. The seated figure of Kuan Yin dates from 1760. A view of the 18th century Chinese wallpaper and one of the tables donated to Blair House by C. Douglas Dillon and his wife in 1964.
A view toward one of the dining rooms at Blair House. The chandelier in The Garden Room at Blair House.
The Lincoln Room, just off the entrance hall of Blair House, serves as a waiting room for U.S. Government officials who have come to meet with a visiting head of state. It was decorated by American designer Mark Hampton during renovations that occurred from 1984-1988.
The Jackson Place conference room mixes many periods in its decor. The mahogany dining table is early 20th century, the 12-light gasolier that hangs over it is from the late 1800s. Just out of frame is an 18th century mahogany breakfront. The stairs that lead up to the bedrooms at Blair House. President-elect Barack Obama and his family will stay at Blair House just before the inauguration. After that, they move across the way to the White House.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.