Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Outside George: "Are you on the list?"
by Carol Joynt

While other Washington neighborhoods certainly rank on the social radar, Georgetown always has been the hub for what passes as this town’s high society. The history is rich and well documented with all kinds of well-known names, including people who glittered because of their work in public or private life, a notable or perhaps rich pedigree, or simply for being their glamorous selves. Regardless of occasional death notices about Georgetown social life it is as vibrant as ever, only different.

The difference rests in a social divide that’s based on age. Back in the day, the swinging 60s and 70s, the younger and older mixed it up. Maybe that’s because the drinking age was lower, personal time was less hard wired to work and Georgetown’s civic overseers were more open-minded about bars and clubs. Today the demarcation line appears to rest at about age 45. There’s one social whirl for those who are older and another for those who are younger. It’s too bad, because in a tightly wound city that needs more joy, each side could benefit from the other.

Myra Moffett and Amy Bondurant enroute to the Tudor Place garden party.
There are two recent experiences where this divide was manifest. One was the annual Tudor Place garden party, a ritual social event, a definitive gathering of the Georgetown tribe, often called “cave dwellers,” a flower-filled and festive fundraising party that essentially wraps up the spring social season here.

The prevailing ambience, along with the din of gossip, was the splash and clink of ice meeting alcohol in a big glass. Its so charmingly old school that even at 6 o’clock in the evening there were women in hats and gloves and men in boaters and bow ties. It’s a good crowd, and everybody seemed to know everybody, but it lacked a level of energy, and that’s because few if any were under age 45.

Scanning the Tudor Place party it was clear a jolt of youth would be beneficial. Georgetown has a rich supply of young blood, and many of those twenty and thirty somethings are robustly devoted to good causes, good manners and good drinks, including quite a few “young fogeys,” who are well on their way to future cave dweller status. They have the hats and bowties, too, though I’m not sure about the gloves.

This kind of youth infusion would be good, too, for the annual fetes that raise money for good causes in Georgetown. How to do it? Lower the ticket price overall, or have a “junior” committee and let them pull in their flock.
Checking in to the Tudor Place garden party.
On arrival, drinks at the ready.
Marston Luce. David Dunn.
Geoffrey and Kathryn Baker with Victoria and Douglas Rixey.
Ben Johns. Deb Johns.
The view from the other side of the lens.
Betsy Rackley. Charles Rackley.
Some swell hats.
The rector of Georgetown's Chris Episcopal Church, Rev. Stuart Kenworthy. Kevin Chaffee.
A tree that looks like clouds, by the bar.
Ellen Charles, Wiley and Janis Buchanan, and Amy Bondurant.
Bob Smith. John Arundel.
A few of the men wore hats, too.
John Lange. Lizzie Cantacuzene.
The weather was gray and cool. Most guests stayed under the tent.
Page Evans. Jane Matz.
Jean Lange.
Betsy Edgeworth. Heather Bartlow.
Steven Gewirz, Juliet Reid, Katie Gewirz, and Reg and Joe Stettinius.
Frederica and George Valanos. Jane Matz and Valerie Burdon.
Once upon a time this little port village was a very sceney section of Washington. The clubs and bars were melting pots of age, status and style. The last heyday was in the 70s and 80s, a great era for nightlife in general, when the Pisces Club reigned on M Street.

While the door was “members only,” ringmaster Peter Malatesta still managed to orchestrate a sensational mix: new money, old money, official power, celebrities, some Euros, prepsters, grand dames, a few men on their way to or just out of the white collar slammer, some closet cases, haute hookers and rent boys and, for good measure, one or two dapper gents who sold well wrapped substances from their inside pocket.

Smith Point, the granddaddy of modern day list-only Georgetown hot spots.
Pisces was a supper club, too, with waiters in black tie; Caviar, Chateaubriand and Dover Sole were on the menu. Liz Taylor and Andy Warhol at one table. Nancy Dickerson and a posse at another, Teddy Kennedy arriving with his rat pack. But the real action was the bar (silver haired men in tuxedos out of a William Hamilton cartoon), and on the dance floor, which was surrounded by shark tanks. At midnight Peter let the 20-somethings in the back door and they danced till closing. Less stodgy than Doubles, more like Le Club, but not quite Studio 54. They were simpler times.

There is a club in Georgetown that aspires to be a latter day Pisces. It’s called The Georgetown Club, and while it is as handsome as all get out, and includes a lot of members old enough to remember Pisces, it is not Pisces. The stuffy and venerable City Tavern Club, after losing much of its established membership to the grave, now aggressively and successfully pursues young members.

The other side of the velvet rope is where I landed the other night. It’s a bar called George, opened almost a year ago by a few young men-about-town – Georgetowners Reed Landry, Bill Dean, Hunter Campbell, and David Chung and Ki Jun Sung. Ironically, while it caters to the under 45 crowd, George is located in a courtyard directly behind Café Milano, a Euro-bistro that is the bastion of the over 45’s. The two don’t merge. In fact, the older late night crowd sip wine and smoke cigarettes on Milano’s front terrace while young men and women pile out of cars and cabs and head past them into George.
What once was the entrance to the Pisces Club is now a Barney's Co-Op on Georgetown's M Street.
The terrace of Cafe Milano. The entrance to George is immediately on the left.
The name plate for George, a private club that ranks high with Washington's young social crowd.
To understand why George matters it helps to know about Smith Point, the granddaddy of Georgetown prepster, list-only bars. It was started ten years ago by scene impresario Bo Blair, who took a dank Wisconsin Avenue brick-walled basement, added minimal Nantucket decor, a co-ed john and created a dank, basement bar that was instantly white hot among the WASPy post-college young professionals who want to grind all night and don’t mind their drinks in plastic.

A leathery nook inside George.
It made national news when then “First Daughters” Jenna and Barbara Bush, and their Secret Service detail, began to show up on a regular basis. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would hang out into the wee hours, buying drinks for the rocking house.

George is just as WASPy as Smith Point but with a graduate degree – more sophisticated, with some polish and a lot less of the laddish basement rec room vibe. There’s a deejay and well staffed long bar, but also dark wood trim, walls painted a hunter green, modest art and comfortable seating, including a kitschy corner with Persian rug, leather wing chairs and a bearskin on the wall.

Among the Capitol Hill, White House and K Street drones, the range of famous faces include Washington Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman, Redskins hotties Clinton Portis and Santana Moss, Caps hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin, political commentator and “Dancing With The Stars” contestant Tucker Carlson, and angry movie star Sean Penn. Local rich boy bachelors, Micro Strategy CEO Michael Saylor, Venturehouse Group CEO Mark Ein and oil heir Roby Penn, are regular enough to achieve “black card” membership status.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at George. Tucker Carlson at George.
A friend and I sat in the leather wing chairs the other night and watched the arrivals, a parade of good-looking young men and women. There was some diversity of skin color and nationality but it lacked a certain seasoned elegance, and that’s because none was over 45. I wished I could wave a wand and have the Tudor Place crowd arrive at George, just as I’d like to see the George crowd at Tudor Place. There would have been some initial skepticism, each side eyeing the other across the room like a scene out of West Side Story, but eventually a fair trade of energy and savoir-faire.

Of course, to make it work, George might get a touch more connected to its feminine side and also consider 86ing the list at the door; a process that is about as sophisticated as checking in at the DMV. Back in the day, clubs did not have a tedious list. The gifted doormen at Studio 54, for example, just KNEW. You were either in or out, and once “in” you were catapulted into an utterly diverse mix of everything under the moon. The best clubs, especially at the most exalted levels, still do it that way today.
The scene at George at 10:30 pm, when the night is young.
I know, I know. I may be up against the impossible, trying to go home again and deaf to Thomas Wolfe’s wise admonition. And, besides, the world is mad with wars and bleeding oil, which make social life feel awkward. But I’m willful and like to believe a happy time lessens the rigors. Also, I’m out and about a lot in Georgetown, probably one of the few people “of a certain age” who resides in both camps, and I want to see them get together – age be damned – and evolve.

When an older but enthusiastically social Georgetown friend heard I’d been to George he quickly sent a text with an eager message: “I wanna go, too!” My point exactly.
Arrivals streaming in at George on a Saturday night.
He, by the way, didn’t make it to the Tudor Place garden party, but here are some who did: Wiley Buchanan, Janis Buchanan, Ruth Buchanan, John Arundel, Ellen Charles, Michael and Lizzie Cantacuzene, Marston Luce, Betsy Edgeworth, John E. Akridge III, Anne Adams, Lee Harrison Child, Chris Cobb, Marcia McGhee Carter, Amy Bondurant, David Dunn, Myra Moffett, Albert Barclay, Jr., Stephanie Bachhuber, Ashby Danford Anderson, Patrick Clawson, Peter Arundel, Thomas Birch, Sidney Lawrence, Edith Brewster, Terence Collins, Nina Corby, Edward B. Crosland, Jr., Edison W. Dick, Helgi Walker Drummond, Elinor K. Farquhar, Niente and Robert B. Smith, Jr., John Firestone, John Gill, Thomas Walker Hague, Ann Halpern, Eric P. Fraunfelter, Page Evans, Curtis C. Deane, John Peters Irelan, Julio E. Heurtematte Jr., Austin H. Kiplinger, Osborne Mackie, Morgan Delaney, John D. Macomber, Catherine P. Kerkam, Peter Jost, James M. Johnston III, Anita Herrick, Candyce Martin, Millicent Malliard, Camilla McCaslin, Susan and Donald Rappaport, Juliet and Sam Reid, Katherine McLeod, Pam and Malcolm Peabody, Phillips S. Peter, Carmen Petrowitz, Jane and Timothy B. Matz, Betsy and Charles Rackley, Patrice and Herbert Miller, Jeanne and Thomas Rutherfoord, Simon Sidamon-Eristoff, Francesca Smoot, William Starrels, Malcolm Burdett Sterrett, Bowdoin Train, William Truitt, Philip Vaughn, Edward Solomon, Reg and Joseph Stettinius, Jr., Howard Worth Smith III, Joan and Clyde E. Shorey, Jr., Lilly Gray Rubin, Whitney Stewart, Michael J. Sullivan, Carol Edgerton Thayer, Catherine Hirsch, Curtin Winsor III, Peter P. van Roijen, Frederica and George Valanos.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

Visit her at: caroljoynt.com. Follow Carol on Twitter.