Monday, January 3, 2011

Washington Social Diary

Just another quiet afternoon in Georgetown at Bill Dean's. In this case, his annual July 4th party, 2010.
by Carol Joynt

In the relative calm of the New Year’s weekend it was possible to reflect on the images and events in 2010’s Washington Social Diary. What stood out was the general sameness of Washington social life, everyone going through the motions, mouths locked in affable grins (and that’s among the people whose expressions still register in a world of ever waxier faces). There were a lot of the same scripts, same venues, same cast. Someone needs to break the mold, but in what may be the nation’s most socially conservative city there is no motivation to try. Pulling off a great party takes talent and risk. Hosts and hostesses here weren’t always so risk averse, but in 2010 that’s generally what we got.

Some of the early shapers of the Style section: Jim Truitt, left, Elsie Carper and David Laventhol. Style replaced The Post's For and About Women section on Jan. 6, 1969. Photo/caption: The Washington Post.
Sometimes I wonder why. Is it the economy? That’s only a part of the cause. Is it the people? Only to an extent, because even the most stolid individuals crave a “no excuses” chance to boogie. Is it the party planners? Doubtful. They like a challenge and will do anything for the dollar. Could it be the social scene is without a rudder because of disinterest at The Washington Post, specifically within the “Style” section?

While the blogs gain ground each year, its still The Washington Post that sets the pace in Washington, and once upon a time “Style” set the social pace. It covered the social scene with a wry and dedicated gusto, dissecting a party as a pop culture barometer.

When “Style” first emerged in the 70s, people held parties (private parties, not fundraisers), hoping (and fearing) that Maxine Cheshire, Sally Quinn or another Post party reporter would show up, report on it, and make it into news. Even if the reporting was vicious toward the hosts, the writing was personal and had a point of view, which made it fun for the reader. Besides, party coverage in The Post bestowed social credibility.

At some point did the Post’s editors determine parties were beneath them? I don’t know. What I do know is that the Post’s spotlight gave context to the workings of an essential division of the Washington “factory.” Ironically, the last time a Washington hostess was “made,” virtually anointed a social star, it was Juleanna Glover, and that was a 2004 profile in The New York Times Sunday "Style" section.
Though not as before, parties still receive coverage in “Style.” On a random basis they are well noted by Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts in their “Reliable Source” column, but Amy and Roxanne have to cover a much larger waterfront than solely the DC party scene. Extravaganzas get coverage—such as state occasions or The White House Correspondents Association hoopla—but these events tend to wither under the weight of their own ennui. There are untapped gems out there, dozens of other parties, smaller, in different parts of town, even hosted by unknowns, that in the Post’s interpretation could tell us more about Washington and its social fabric.

If the Post were to rededicate itself to the social side of Washington, cover parties and society (high and low) with the same perceptive, opinionated and often amusing focus it gives to television (kudos to Lisa de Moraes, Hank Stuever), perhaps we’d see daring and personality in the style of the parties and among the hosts.

Mayor Vincent Gray and me “swing dancing” after he appeared on my local TV interview show, The Q&A Café. Published in yesterday’s edition of “Style.”
Please don’t construe this as bashing the Post. It’s certainly not meant that way. It’s my paper. It matters to me. If anything, it’s written as a consumer, saying, “I miss this thing you did so well. We need you.”

In yesterday’s edition, on the front page of “Style,” was a photo of newly inaugurated Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, and me “swing dancing” after he appeared on my local TV interview show, The Q&A Café. Not exactly a party, and not compromising, but worth noting.

Looking back over 2010, there were a few moments when the city’s social players tried to (by Washington standards) shake it up.

The youngest and the oldest were the standouts, beginning with the rigid old guard who for five decades organized and supported The Washington Antiques Show. It takes place the first week of January to launch the winter social season. But last year, a month after its 55th season, the show went toes up, for reasons both public and private. The paltry economy was not kind to its relationship with Thrift Shop Charities, the principal benefactor.
At the 2010 Washington Antiques Show: Michael Herrald, Cornelius Kerwin, Skippy Miller,
French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, Hannah Cox and Forrest Pragoff. Who will be there this year?
For 55 years The Washington Antiques Show; now the Washington Winter Show.
Rather than rest in the grave, the show’s organizers faced facts, remastered, gave the event a slightly different name, and the proudly reborn Washington Winter Show opens this week. While it won’t be defined by daring changes, coming back from the dead counts as a bold move.

The same cave dweller class that saved the antiques show also made a bold move at another organization, the Washington Performing Arts Society. Like so many arts endeavors the WPAS has been up against tepid generosity. But rather than bigger and cheaper they went smaller and deeper, trying something different, and the result was rewarding. At a heftier ticket price they hosted a small after-performance dinner, where a group of bountiful patrons got quality time with the star. The prototype was held in the fall at the Kennedy Center, in honor of cellist Yo Yo Ma, and more intimate soirees are planned for this year.
Yo-Yo Ma and Jacqueline Mars at an intimate WPAS dinner for generous donors.
Ma speaks to guests at the WPAS dinner.
It's not news anywhere that young people go out more than their parents. How would most bars survive if twentysomethings didn’t party with a verve bordering on self-destruction? Because it is a city with many jobs for the young, DC is a hub for literal hordes of employed and unmarried post-grads who are eager to crush it.

At night, especially Wednesdays through Saturdays, the DC young and social are a population unto themselves, filling a range of favored bars, bistros, dance clubs, lounges, pool halls and dives. While there are fine options on Capitol Hill and in Adams Morgan, the preppy/yuppie epicenter remains Georgetown and nearby Glover Park. Bo Blair is the pasha of nightlife for this crowd, and his 10-year-old Smith Point is the prototype, but in the last year upstart George asserted itself as the next generation, or the place to be after exhausting the commode hugging phase of youthful exuberance. On New Year’s Eve, the line at George was already snaked out to the street at 9:30 p.m.
The line at George at 9:30 on New Year's Eve.
Early in the evening at George on a night that was not New Year's Eve.
Reed Landry is one of the principal owners of George. He’s also a founder of the website Late Night Shots, which thrives as Washington’s liveliest wee hours read, a members-only clearing house for anonymous confessions, thoughts and snark about everything that’s timely to a generation which has had the great fortune of living in war time without the chilling reality of a draft.

What’s noteworthy is that LNS grossed close to one million dollars in 2010.
Halloween at Bill Dean's.
Also of note is Bill Dean, who continued in 2010 to host the most ridiculous and fun parties that occur in Georgetown. They are full blown productions, one at Halloween and one at July 4th, and at both parties the ratio of flesh to fabric, and women to men, is the same, and by that I mean more of the former and less of the latter, if it must be spelled out.

Bill may be an amazing host, but he’s also has a day job as CEO of M.C. Dean, Inc., a global tech and engineering company with 3500 employees, and oversees the Dean foundation and its support of dozens of nonprofits. Not all parties should be like Bill’s, but I’m glad that there are at least two.
2010 Blizzard #1.
Montrose Park in the snow.
Georgetown after the first blizzard of 2010.
Made for the snow.
Blizzard #2, also known as the "whiteout."
Looking back over the year, other stories that stood out were the blizzards that helped to make the winter pass quickly; Georgetown Cupcake owners Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne, who in two years went from cottage cupcake shop to a hit reality television show—“DC Cupcakes” on TLC—and rapid expansion of staff and facilities, and that other reality show, “Real Housewives of Washington DC.”
Georgetown Cupcake, from cottage cupcakery to big corner store.
Stars of "DC Cupcakes," Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis.
Georgetown Cupcake owners Sophie LaMontagne, left, and Katherine Kallinis, right, at their reality TV launch party with Alexandra Singer of Discovery Communications.
RHODC got so much attention in the first half of 2010 but, conversely, it has been in conspicuous limbo for months. Bravo is mum, so far, about whether there is to be a second season. Apart from on Facebook, the formerly ubiquitous Tareq and Michaele Salahi have been relatively quiet, while the other cast members keep low profiles.

Goodbye to all that. Now we move into 2011 and the business that Washington knows how to do best: spending your tax dollars.

Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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