Monday, December 16, 2013

Washington Social Diary

A scene at the National Geographic Society's 125th Anniversary gala, which took place in June.
by Carol Joynt

Rounding up the most memorable parties and events of 2013 has been a fun project. To go back through the photo archives, to scan hundreds of photos that translate into memories, gives a perspective that underscores the relevance of social life in the nation’s capital. In this photo or that one I catch glimpses of just about everyone here who matters. It’s guaranteed that some of these individuals — variously powerful, rich, beautiful, talented, brilliant, famous, or well-connected (and all of that for some), would not otherwise interact with each other were it not for social life. 

Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado at an amusing night out at a Washington Nationals baseball game with members of Congress, called "bipartisan baseball."
Some truths. For younger people here, social life doesn’t matter enough. The millennials achieve that connection through social media (which, by the way, I like, but don’t think it’s enough, either). For the boomers, there’s often wistfulness for another era. But as Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette said in last week’s WSD, it won’t be the “way it was” ever again; stop whining for the past, and try to find ways to make social life serve who we are right now.

What I’ve always liked about New York is the way the generations come together at the hot events and the hot spots. The youthquakers mash up with the gray eminences and, as with the coming tide, all boats rise. Washington is generationally segregated. Breaking through that barrier somewhat, though, is the new and very du moment Le Diplomate restaurant.

On a recent weeknight at 11 p.m., there were people from their 20s up to their 70s, filing through the high gloss blue doors, looking for a table in the packed bistro. Maybe the fashionable 14th Street corridor will be the gateway to a new era. Diplomate is the heart of it at 14th and Q Streets, the intersection that is now the cultural crossroads that Georgetown’s Wisconsin and M used to be.
Le Diplomate, at the happening intersection of 14th and Q Streets, northwest.
Le Diplomate during Saturday lunch, dressed up for the holidays.
Required eating at any age: French fries at Le Diplomate.
If 2014 carries on 2013’s trends it should be an energizing year. Let’s strive for intimacy and freshness. Sometimes smaller is better.

Don’t forsake the classic seated dinner party. There aren’t enough of them, at least not that are private rather than a lobbying effort camouflaged as private. It’s that way too often on Embassy Row, but I give ambassadors a slight break because in a wired world they don’t have much else to do. Still, diplomats aside, we have some men and women here with the talent and means to be rock star hosts. They’ll grumble, “Who has the time?” Make the time. Just do it.


• This June party has received praise from me before but it deserves one more shout out. The National Geographic Society’s 125th anniversary gala made guests feel like world explorers as the mammoth National Building Museum was transformed into a floor-to-ceiling NatGeo screening room. We dined among volcanoes, surfers, wild animals, and deep in the Amazon. It’s inspiring to break bread with scientists and explorers who go to the tops of mountains and the bottoms of oceans. It’s never boring to have a chat with oceanographer Robert Ballard or to hear director James Cameron be his earnest but goofy self. This year he preached a mandate of veganism, imploring everyone in the room to change “what is on the end of your fork,” just moments before the waiters put down the entrée: roast filet of bison.
Actress Suzy Amis and her director/explorer husband, James Cameron.
Here's how to exploit the mammoth National Building Museum, as done up for the National Geographic Society's 125th Anniversary gala. The photos of the room tell the story.
• The Capella hotel opened this year with a succession of parties — at least a half dozen by my count — but what caused the most buzz about this handsome new Georgetown luxury hotel is its private rooftop. I call it “St. Barts.” There are sofas and chairs, a small bar, a black marble infinity pool (with its own fireplace), piped in jazz, it’s uncrowded and discreet, and the views of the city are spectacular.
Bruce Bradley, the owner of the Capella hotel, at an Opera Ball dinner with his wife, Sharon Bradley.
The hotel’s owner, Bruce Bradley, has tapped an assortment of his friends as “rooftop members,” who, along with hotel guests, have exclusive access to the spacious deck. But don’t despair. The staff sometimes are reasonable with people who dine in The Grill and ask for an after dinner visit to the roof. It’s not guaranteed but it’s worth asking. Also, there is a pleasant and romantic ground floor drinking and dining terrace that overlooks the C&O Canal. And the scene is happening in the winter, too, with warm cocktails and blankets.
The rooftop deck of the Capella hotel in Georgetown, looking to the northeast.
The Capella's pretty rooftop infinity pool.
Izette Folger enjoying an evening on the Capella rooftop.
Rooftop "members" enjoy a summer night atop the Capella.
A cocktail party by the pool.
• Venture capitalist Mark Ein is the owner of The Washington Kastles World Team Tennis organization, and with that he has taken a venue on the Washington waterfront and turned it into a boutique tennis facility that’s a great summer destination. The tournament is a nightly party, including courtside dining (at tables, with waiters). The season opening party was particularly memorable, with a military color guard and cheerleaders and players including Venus Williams, Martina Hingis and Leander Paes. The White House was represented by First Lady Michelle Obama and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; also Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Mayor Vincent Gray was there, too, as well as many notable Washington tennis fans. It’s the place to be on a warm July night.
Venus Williams after a news conference on opening day of the Washington Kastles summer tennis tournament.
Tennis cheerleaders.
Courtside: Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. First Lady Michelle Obama was there, too.
DC Mayor Vincent Gray.
Sally Streibel and Kastles owner Mark Ein, enjoying the tennis only weeks before their summer wedding.
Billy Jean King takes in a Kastles game.
Beth and Ron Dozoretz.
Four Seasons Hotel general manager Dirk Burghartz at a courtside table with Tom Healy of Strategic Hotels & Resorts.
A courtside table is the place to be: Cora Masters Barry with Reggie Van Lee.
Dining tables ring both sides of the court, making for a pleasant way to watch the tennis.

• I have earlier praised the September Lone Sailor Award dinner, Kevin Spacey’s dinner to raise money for the Kevin Spacey Foundation, the Wolf Trap Ball, and Smithsonian magazine’s October American Ingenuity Awards, but another memorable dinner of the Fall was the Recovery for Life Gala hosted by Caron Treatment Centers. It was memorable because of what it was: a fundraiser for an organization that treats alcoholism and other addictions.

The evening began with a “mocktail” half hour and the dinner “wine” was cider. The defining moment, though, was provided by political commentator Bob Beckel, who took the stage to tell his wrenching and dramatic story of recovery from alcoholism. Sober for about 13 years, he called it “coming out of the dark and back into the light.”  As he spoke of black outs, family heartbreak and lost friendships, the room was pin-drop quiet. “In about four hours we will have crossed the threshold into another day, and we put another day under our belt,” he said. “Some of us have a lot of days, some of us have a few, but it only takes one. If somebody’s here tonight and quit drinking yesterday, you are no different than those of us who have been around for years.”
Bob Beckel, on stage at the Caron Treatment Centers gala at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Bob Beckel, after telling his story of alcoholism and recovery.
The Caron Treatment Centers gala dinner where the theme was recovery and the wine was apple cider.
• Thornwillow Press publisher Luke Ives Pontifell came to town in October to host a party for author Steve Garbarino and his 32-page, Christmas-stocking size homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “A Fitzgerald Companion.” It was a party Fitzgerald likely would have loved, unusually festive and boozy for Washington. The cocktails were some of his favorites from the Jazz Age (Old Fashioneds, Sidecars, French 75s). There was a rowdy jazz band, and the setting — by the fireplace in the cozy and dimly lit St. Regis bar — wrapped it up nicely.  Pontifell caressed one of the handmade books. “You can touch the type, you can feel it,” he said. Of the enduring appeal of his subject, Garbarino said, “People relate to him. Fitzgerald walked that weird line of telling a cautionary tale but going, ‘Ain’t we havin’ fun?’”
Thornwillow Press publisher Luke Ives Pontifell on the left and "A Fitzgerald Companion" author Steve Garbarino on the right.
Cocktails of the Fitzgerald era. Here are some Old Fashioned's.
Lively jazz befitting a 1920's themed party.
Author Steve Garbarino.
Some of the fine handmade books made by Thornwillow Press.
• The annual OSS Society dinner brings together men who are 100 and men who are 40, and a lot of women, too, and the common thread is being part of the nation’s class of spies. The Office of Strategic Services, created in World War II by William J. Donovan and some of his cronies, became the modern day Central Intelligence Agency.

Fisher Howe, with William Donovan in the foreground.
Each year the OSS Society presents the Donovan Award to someone who’s still getting the job done, and this year it was Adm. William H. McRaven, the U.S. Special Operations Commander, who oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

Every guest sits down to a chilled gin martini, with an onion on a toothpick, and then stands back up several times for formal toasts, including one to Ernest Hemingway. The speakers this year included CIA director John Brennan, and Maria Riva, daughter of that OSS icon, actress Marlene Dietrich.

McRaven, who is right out of the Sam Shepherd character book, gave an acceptance speech that was full of gusto, and hinted at political ambition. But mostly he came to praise the work at hand. “I often hear disillusioned officers and noncommissioned officers ask, ‘Why aren’t we more like the OSS?’ Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am here tonight to tell you that the OSS is back.” 

He said, “Not since World War II has there been such a lethal combination of intelligence officers and special operations warriors. Not since the fight against Hitler have we had such a talented group of government civilians, intellectuals, businessmen, writers, philosophers, engineers, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, and spies.” It was enough to make one run to the nearest computer to fill out the 25-page CIA job application.
Adm. McRaven and a friend, Jerrad Ackerman.
Associated Press correspondent Kimberly Dozier and former White House counsel Fred Fielding at the OSS Society gala.
Maj. Gen. Victor Hugo, an OSS veteran. Martinis for all and many toasts at the OSS Society annual awards gala.
Bethany Trevett with her grandfather, Richard Trevett, who was an OSS spy.
The table centerpiece at the OSS Gala. There were also commemorative coins, bearing Donovan's image, for guests to take home.
• There has to be one party that stands out from all the others and the one that qualifies as the most memorable of 2013 was a dinner on, of all places, a parked jet.
When the invitation arrived to have dinner in the first class section of a parked Qatar Airways 777 I started humming “Come Fly With Me,” and accepted immediately. I also invited my friend Shane Harris of Foreign Policy magazine, saying, “We’ve so got to do this.” Shane goes to so many events with me (because you can’t go alone) and he knew I was right. This would be different.
Going through TSA security but our destination was a dinner party.
Welcome aboard.
Yes, it was a promotional event, because Qatar Airways runs regular routes to DC, a city of many globetrotters, but I saw it most of all as a seated dinner party, and judged it that way, and on that it delivered. Our group of about 20 guests went through security, like regular travelers, and boarded as if for a routine flight. Shane and I had the most up front seats in up front — on a regular flight each would cost about $11,000 round trip — and relaxed into the journey, which was a lavish two-hour dinner.

Fine Champagnes (not one but two), canapés, several courses of food with delicious wines to match, utterly attentive service from expertly trained flight attendants. We tried everything, played with every component of our luxury seats, and took lots of silly selfies. I got permission to sit in the pilot’s seat, and was stunned that the cockpit is so small. We laughed and talked and indulged and laughed some more — in every way what a party should be. It was different and delicious and also kind of whacky.

We may have not left the ground but I still floated home.
Our seats, in the up front of up front, which would each cost about $11,000 round trip — if flying.
In preparation for having two fine Champagnes — Billecart-Salmon and Bollinger.
One course of a several course dinner, this dish of black cod and lemon was created by Japanese chef Nobu Matushisa.
Adjacent dinner guests, er, "passengers," nibbling and tweeting.
"Would you like some vintage port?" asks Qatar Airways sommelier James Cluer.
With Shane Harris, acting silly after dessert in our seats that convert to beds, or some version of a bed.
Look who is flying the plane.
Shane Harris asks, "why not?" as we he enjoys the most memorable Washington party of 2014.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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