Monday, July 21, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Gotta keep secret what prompted this expansive pose aboard Celebration from CJ and Cathy Merrill Williams.
A Juicy Rumor, Celebrating on “Celebration,” and Toki Underground
by Carol Joynt

There’s not a lot of meat on this rumor, but it’s got game because it intriguingly intersects at the crossroads of fame, power, money and prized land. Oak Spring, the estate of Paul and Bunny Mellon (NYSD 3.31.14), minus the part in trust for her foundation and horticulture library, will be sold as a single parcel, meaning it is in the realm where only billionaires can play. Washington doesn’t have many billionaires, but one of them, Dan Snyder, apparently has at least “inquired” about the charming main house and hundreds of acres that was the principal of many Mellon homes.

It's a rumor worth mentioning because it comes through Middleburg real estate channels, and it has logic. Why wouldn’t Dan Snyder, an acquisitive mogul, be interested in this rare opportunity to buy one of the most beautiful spreads of land in the entire mid-Atlantic region? He and his family live in Potomac, Maryland, but Upperville would put him closer to Ashburn, Virginia, home to the headquarters and practice fields of his NFL franchise, and the prized Mellon land includes a G5-ready landing strip.
Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, Virginia, final resting place for the Mellon family and Jack Kent Cooke.
Snyder owns the Washington football team officially known as the Redskins, a racist name he vows he will “never” change. (How to know whether a name is racist? Here’s one way: would you call a Native American by that name to his or her face?)

Washington football fans, myself among them, love the team but have a decidedly complicated relationship with the owner, which has been exacerbated by the name controversy. In Washington, at least, Snyder is disliked fiercely by some, taken at face value by some, ignored by others, and does little to try to woo or change anyone’s mind. Regardless, Forbes lists his franchise in the top ten of the world’s most valuable sports teams.
Dan Snyder, who vows to "never change the name of the team."
Jack Kent Cooke, former owner of the Washington Redskins.
If the rumor does turn out to be true, and he bought the property, he wouldn’t be the first Redskins owner to have a Mellon connection. His predecessor, Jack Kent Cooke, lived on the same road and practically next door to Oak Spring when he moved to the DC area from California. There was a rural legend that he once showed up on horseback at the Mellon abode and was turned away by Bunny because he didn’t have a proper invitation. 

He remains a neighbor, however. Cooke is buried at Upperville’s Trinity Episcopal Church, which was built by the Mellons, and his grave is literally just across the lawn from the Mellon family plot.
Through this wall, the Mellon plot is to the left, Jack Kent Cooke, and others, are buried to the right and beyond.
At my first grown-up job out of school employees were given the day off on their birthdays. That struck me as fair and smart: you, me, all of us, deserve our day to celebrate the fact of our creation, our existence and the passing of another year on planet Earth. It’s important to make an occasion out of that singular day. This year I was especially fortunate because the celebrating spanned a week and included all the personal birthday touchstones: to be with nearest and dearest, to be on or near water, and good food.

At the start was a visit to Washington of the Davis women of Houston. My son’s girlfriend, Kate Davis, is staying with us this summer while she does an internship with the American Enterprise Institute. Her mother, Gail Alexander Davis, and sisters Allie and Emmie were in town for a few days, which were spent touring, walking, eating and generally hanging out with Kate, Spencer and me.
Dinner with the Davis family, Chez Joynt.
They stayed at the Capella Hotel in Georgetown, a convenient few blocks from my house. We had meals out together at some classics and new gems: La Chaumiere, Le Diplomate, Fiola Mare, Café Milano, The Tombs and Union Market, where we noshed on Korean tacos from TaKorean. Also, a dinner at home. Amazingly, we didn’t each gain 10 pounds, but that’s likely due to walking.
At Le Diplomate, Gail, Ellie, Emmie, and Kate Davis.
After dinner at La Chaumiere: Emmie and Ellie Davis, Gail Alexander Davis, Kate Davis, and Spencer Joynt.
Among other walks, we visited “The Exorcist” house and the “The Exorcist” stairs, which are cult locations for fan’s of the 1973 William Friedkin horror classic. The house at 36th and Prospect (home to Ellyn Burstyn’s character, and her daughter, played by Linda Blair) has not changed much over the years. The killer stairs, right beside it, have not changed at all. They are worth a visit but don’t do them with a snootful or if there’s ice or you’ll end up like Father Karras (Note: for his epic tumble, performed by a stuntman, the stairs were padded with rubber).
The Davis women tackle "The Exorcist" stairs.
In The Exorcist, Father Karras (or his stuntman) landed at the bottom of these stairs.
At the end of the week, on my actual birthday, it was a day of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay with Brendan Sullivan, my friend and lawyer. He spent five years getting me unglued from a nasty web of misfortune that involved federal fraud charges, a bankrupt business and intransigent landlords. (You go to Brendan for that kind of mess). He’s the senior partner at Williams & Connolly, where he was handpicked for the leadership role by his mentor, Edward Bennett Williams.

Enter Brendan’s name in Google and you won’t find little fry like me, but instead a roster of notable clients, among them Rupert Murdoch, Sen. Ted Stevens and Oliver North, and global corporations.  Let’s just say it’s a lot more fun to sail with Brendan than to sit in his downtown office, navigating legal woe. Either way, you feel safe with him.
Celebration, tied up on the Severn River across from Annapolis.
We were four on the boat, Celebration, which he keeps tied up at the dock of his home on the Severn River across from the Naval Academy. Brendan invited Cathy Merrill Williams, who lives just up the river and whose mother, Ellie Merrill, and late father, Philip Merrill, were close to Brendan and his wife, Lila. Cathy is also publisher of Washingtonian magazine, where I have my current day job as editor-at-large. I invited Jean Perin, from Upperville, a dear friend of a few decades and one of my son’s godparents.  She’s a globetrotter and always up for any adventure. We sailed together two or three times before, including trips up north among the Elizabeth Islands and down south off Florida.
Our skipper, Brendan Sullivan, steers us away from the dock, his home on the hill in the background.
A smart litigator goes to sea with two at the helm, Jean Perin on the left, Cathy Williams on the right.
Jean Perin.
Brendan listens as Cathy tells stories.
Brendan Sullivan and Cathy Merrill Williams.
Annapolis harbor marker #1, also home to a family of Osprey. Not much wind, but enough wind.
Jean Perin, relaxing on Celebration.
Client and lawyer, but most of all friends - CJ and Brendan Sullivan.
Brendan, Cathy and Jean at the bow.
Vegas Rules: what was said on Celebration, stayed on Celebration.
Jeannie, contemplating.
Brendan served us lunch at his and Lila’s delightful cottage (part of a compound they share with her sisters) that has views of the water from windows facing south, west and north. He was quite proud of himself for personally provisioning lunch, which is not part of his typical repertoire of services. We had lemonade, ham and cheese sandwiches, a variety of salads, and chocolate chip cookies, and it was just right. Cathy took a photo to record the landmark event for Lila.

Out on the water there wasn’t much breeze but it didn’t matter. There was enough. We sailed for three relaxing hours. We posed for photos, sat in the cockpit and at the bow, sunbathed, enjoyed the breezes, waved at other boaters and talked about everything from what was serious and mundane to the sensational and gossipy, but at the very outset he invoked “Vegas Rules,” and so I must obey: what was said on Celebration, stays on Celebration.
Brendan Sullivan with two of his "crew."
An experienced sailor, Cathy steers Celebration back to the dock.
Saturday night Spencer and Kate took me to dinner at a family favorite: Toki Underground, a lively, yummy and tiny ramen and dumpling house. If you haven’t been, go. It’s in the neighborhood known as the “H Street Corridor” or “Atlas,” soon to be one of the debut locations of the city’s new streetcar system. The chef and owner is the talented Erik Bruner-Yang, who is soon to open a second and innovative, 6,000 square foot restaurant-retail venue in partnership with another hugely talented Washingtonian, men’s fashion impresario Will Sharp of Durkl ( Will’s looks – alternative and authentic – aim to be the bridge between “over-the-top streetwear and boring menswear.” He hits that goal nicely. It may be menswear but I’ve bought myself Durkl jeans and jackets and benefit from my son’s hand me downs.
The entrance to Toki Underground, on the left. Not at all Underground: the stairs up to Toki.
The small kitchen at Toki Underground serves just under 30 patrons at a seating.
Spencer and Kate at the window seats on the left.
The seating at Toki Underground is on stools, but its comfortable and the music is excellent.
Two counter seats. Durkl stickers in the background.
I can’t wait to see what Erik and Will create together with the new place, Maketto.

Saturday night was all about the wrap-up birthday feast, though. For cocktails, Spencer had the Toki Monster, bourbon with Barenjager, bitters and a skewer of pork belly; Kate had the Not For Nothing, a blend of Catoctin Creek rye, lemon juice, rice vinegar, honey and Moab IPA. I adventuresome: vodka with a splash of fresh grapefruit. We shared many plates of Erik’s irresistible interpretations of Asian favorites, each as good as the next, with on this night a special emphasis on chicken: Fried Chicken Dan Dan Mien, Fried Chicken Steamed Buns, Caramel Chicken Wings, plus Stinky Tofu, steamed Pork Dumplings and the Toki Classic, ramen with pulled pork, greens, egg and pickled ginger.
And who doesn't want to take the edge off? The drinks menu at Toki Underground. There's also a wide selection of Sakes.
The Not For Nothing, a blend of Catoctin Creek rye, lemon juice, rice vinegar, honey and Moab IPA. Kate bites into the Stinky Tofu that is served with kimchi, tare and cilantro.
Steamed pork dumplings.
Chicken three ways, all delicious, at Toki: Caramel Chicken Wings ...
Fried Chicken Dan Dan Mien ...
... Fried Chicken Steamed Buns.
After a good stir, the Toki Classic ramen with pulled pork, greens, egg, pickled ginger. Make sure to carry-out leftover broth. 
The dessert menu had three items: Chocolate Chip Cookies, Berries Berries Berries, and Xie Xie (a round of beers for the kitchen). We ordered the last two.

By the way, service should always be commended when it is outstanding, and the service was outstanding. That's no small thing. It speaks to hiring the right people, their passion, and good training.

Reservations at Toki are hard to come by but are available on a limited basis at CityEats. They do carry-out and delivery, too, and so – if you’re in DC, you have no excuse not to give it a try.

Toki Underground
1234 H Street NE
Berries, Berries, Berries with coconut panna cotta, coriander, chocolate mint and hazelnuts

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt