Monday, August 2, 2010

Washington Social Diary

The front page of The Washington Post's "Style" section on Sunday.
by Carol Joynt

It was probably inevitable that ambition, greed and cattiness would define the “Real Housewives of Washington, DC,” right up to and including the series’ premiere this week. Also in the mix: media blowback. The show has been savaged with gusto; only yesterday trashed not once, not twice, but three times by writers in the Sunday Washington Post under the headline “Bravo’s Horror Show.” Pulling no punches were writers Amy Argetsinger, Robin Givhan and Hank Steuver. Their combined message: they’ve seen the show and it takes tacky to new lows.

Michaele Salahi
To be fair to the RHODC cast of four wannabe’s, two publicity heat seeking missiles and one fey and flamboyant sidekick, in embracing the low blow they are an accurate reflection of at least one face of this city. After all, even members of Congress have been known to verbally and physically abuse each other on camera, and that’s on the House floor.

So, its no surprise the claws are out over the premiere party, or parties, planned for this Thursday night, each claiming to be the “official” soiree. The neon bright constant in the launch party brouhaha are, reliably, the names Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the infamous White House gate crashers who, depending on the source, either will be the salvation or ruin of the full deck of Bravo’s loved and hated “Housewives” franchise. As if he felt duty bound to start the launch week off with a stunt, Saturday night in Los Angeles, where the full DC cast were gathered for a publicity event, Tareq tossed a glass of wine in the face one of the housewives. No, alas, not Michaele.

Stacie Scott Turner
In his rollicking Washington Post preview, Hank Steuver begged readers not to watch. He indicates the Salahis pre-emptive gate-crashing publicity stunt won’t appear until the season’s end, and otherwise what’s the point? The other episodes are at best teases or at worst paltry seconds – “rendered irrelevant, as if they arrived too late.” He says RHODC only succeeds in what’s become a “Housewives” signature: “a sinking feeling that it's made by and for people who can't stand women.” I’ll second that.

Mary Schmidt Amons
But back to launch party night. Weeks ago Michaele and Tareq announced they would host the “official” premiere party somewhere near the White House, if eight blocks away counts as near. The location is a downtown gay and lesbian club, EFN, with tickets costing from $25 to $500. Sponsor fees are in the many thousands of dollars. The Salahis party promises the presence of Michaele “and other invited cast.” But a Bravo insider said of the Washington cast, “NONE …are going to EFN. NO other cast members from other cities are going to EFN. It is ALL lies and garbage. It is a scam by the Salahi's.”

Catherine Ommanney
The other “official” launch party, also promising the cast, is at the Madison Hotel, a few blocks over from EFN. Its hosted by Bravo, and given that Bravo footed the bill for the shows, they would seem to have first rights to call their media bash “official.” But Bravo isn’t taking the competition lightly. Back to my Bravo insider: “Lawyers at NBC Universal and Bravo are aware of the fraudulent ‘official party’ and have sent them messages and calls to cease using their name and logo. It is totally unsupported and they are lying. The entire cast will be at the official Bravo premiere from 8-10 at the Madison Hotel.”

Lynda Erkiletian
According to the Salahis party planner, their fete is guaranteed to be "fabulous" with Michaele as the "commander in chic." Bravo's PR team counters that their guests will include cast members and “big bang” reporters. Gosh, that must mean Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh, and Tom Friedman.

It doesn’t end there. There are competing after parties, too. The Salahi’s “official” after party is at Josephine. But six blocks away the other members of the cast, Mary Amons, Cat Ommanney, Stacie Turner, Lynda Erkeletian and Paul Wharton, “are co-hosting (their) own party” at Buddha Bar. Oy vey, what’s a groupie to do? Crash all of them, I say.

Whatever happens Thursday night in RHODC party land, what happens on the air matters more in scoring whether this show is a win, lose or draw. Ratings will be the decider, as they always are in broadcasting, and Bravo must be praying they score better than two recent DC-based reality TV shows, “Real World DC” on MTV and “Top Chef,” also on Bravo. The response to both peaked at lackluster. Then again, neither had characters like the Salahis.

Pop culture experts who study this sort of thing claim that action prompts reaction, that a cultural trend in one direction leads to a trend in the other. If we’re lucky, that means the future holds a fresher kind of reality: an explosion of original programs written by real writers with casts of professional actors. Let’s count the days…
Early Saturday evening outside Equinox, not much more than a block from the White House.

Restaurant owners endure many night terrors, but one of the worst is fear of a fire. Last December that nightmare became real for Todd Gray and Ellen Gray, husband and wife owners of one of Washington’s most acclaimed and popular restaurants, Equinox.

In the middle of the night, when the restaurant was closed, an accidental kitchen fire caused devastating damage. An extraordinary number of firefighters attacked the blaze – 60 to 70 – because of its proximity to the White House. It’s not much more than a block away, making it practically an annex to the White House executive dining room, otherwise known as the “Mess.”
The new bar at the new Equinox.
The Equinox bar from the other side.
One of the new dining rooms at Equinox, an adjunct White House "mess."
Another terror endured by restaurant owners is the fear of fighting with an insurance company. Todd and Ellen endured that nightmare, too, as well as having to close, gut and rebuild their business. Happily for them and for Washington, they survived and reopened earlier this summer.

The customers returned, the good reviews returned, too. Zagat praised Todd’s post-fire cooking, and the reborn Equinox, as “lighter, brighter and more modern.” The menu is inviting and accessible, with regional and seasonal specialties like Chesapeake Bay crab and Ayrshire Farms veal, Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho, and Truffled Macaroni and Cheese.
Equinox, good as new after a devastating fire.
The private dining room at Equinox - often used for official tête-à-tête.
But the story doesn’t end there. Todd and Ellen are big on giving back to the community. They do what they can and whenever they can. Most recently it was at their northwest Washington home, which they opened to a fundraiser for FAIR Fund, which works to prevent the human trafficking of young people, especially girls. They have programs round the world – Bosnia, Serbia, Russia, Uganda – and in the U.S. that aim to train and teach at-risk youth.

One of their “art therapy” programs is called JewelGirls, in which participants learn the creative and business side of making jewelry. Some of those girls and their creations, including necklaces, bracelets and rings, were the featured attraction at the Saturday afternoon indoor and outdoor party.

The Gray's home in northwest Washington, with Ellen Gray in the patterned long dress.
Another attraction, of course, was the food, most of it created by Todd but with a contribution from another Washington chef, Michel Richard. There were an assortment of chilled wines, too, and water flavored with lemons, limes and mint, taking the edge off the steamy 90-degree heat. Altogether, according to organizers, the party raised $8,000 for FAIR Fund.

Among the guests on the list were Katy Adams, Gabriela Anaya, Meshelle Armstrong, Angella Barnett, Lydia Bendersky, Annie King, Janet Cam, Jill Collins, Kristine Coratti, David Cruz-Pardini, Nichole Devolites, Patricia Dillman, Olivia Doherty, Donna Donella, Jessica Doyle, Matt Belvedere, John Dunford, Christie Findlay, Sherie Gabriel, Melissa Gold, Kelly Greene, Keith Greene, Heidi Hanson, Lani Hay, Jessica Hoy, Amy Hughes, Barbara Johnson, Sunita Joshi, Tom Klarner, Amelia Korangy, Linda Krell, Maria LeGow, James Leonard, Molly Malone, Ariel McMillen, Janie McNamara, Greg O’Neill, Salvatore Pasquarelli, Kathleen Petit, Judy Plavick Kiley, Erwin Gomez, Michelle Poteaux, Danielle Reyes, Marvin Rosskopf, Camilla Rothwell, Karen Ryan, Debi Gasper, Michael Conroy, Jeannine Schoonover, Wendy Gordon, Liana Steir, Susan Tackis, Grace Guggenheim, Katherine Tallmadge, Daniel Tergis, Sara Beth Walsh, Carla Warner, Ashley, Noah and Moshe Zusman.
Restaurateurs and Fair Fund fundraiser hosts Ellen Gray and Todd Gray.
The assembly line in the Gray's kitchen. Todd Gray puts out a fresh plate of his Tomato Tartar.
Barbara Johnson contemplates which of the Todd Gray treats to try next.
Brittany Moore and Sarah Klump.
"JewelGirls" sell their creations to guests at the Fair Fund fundraiser.
Michael Conroy and Debi Gasper. Bob Madigan and Wendy Gordon.
Jordan Wright and Bob Madigan strike a pose.
Grace Guggenheim and Katherine Tallmadge, wearing their new Fair Fund earrings. Katherine's are made from Russian rubles.
In the 90 degree heat, fresh water was popular. Tiny BLT canapes.
Spotted by the Gray's garden door.
Guests and entertainment in the Gray's back garden.
Jessica Doyle and her husband, Matt Belvedere.
Moshe Zusman with little Noah Zusman. Mel Davis.
How to beat the heat: lots of rose wine and canapes and friends.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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