Monday, August 4, 2014

Washington Social Diary

by Carol Joynt

The summer doldrums are officially and happily here. Congress has shutdown and fled town for five weeks – not that their presence is much noticed or appreciated anymore, except by lobbyists and media. House members return for ten days in September, and will likely be in and out in October as the calendar rolls up to the mid-term elections, in which the GOP is expected to hold on to the House and retake the Senate. A new Congress begins in January. This is essentially a time of joy for political junkies as all of it tee’s up the 2016 presidential race.

I assume the whole world already subscribes to Mike Allen’s “Playbook,” but if you are a laggard, here’s a taste (
If you are a political junkie or want to join those ranks, I recommend making a habit of visiting the RealClearPolitics website. It is one stop shopping for every possible political addiction, whether the hunger is for stats or relevant punditry. It’s all there. Also, you can go here and sign up for the daily “Morning Note” published by RCP Washington bureau chief Carl Cannon.

While the Capitol will be quiet this week, the White House will be the hub of a landmark event, a first-ever summit of African leaders hosted by a U.S. president, drawing close to 50 African leaders, minus a few who canceled due to the Ebola crisis. The events began over the weekend and run through Wednesday and include a Tuesday evening White House dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Obama.

The summit obviously will be important and will make news, but the part that gets my attention, and that will likely be noticed by most DC residents, is that it will prompt road closures and parking restrictions and other transportation inconveniences throughout the city. In other words, it’s a good week to work from home and to be a tourist elsewhere.
The street that leads to the Four seasons Hotel, closed down for the four day Africa Summit, as a number of African delegations of are using the hotel.

The Q&A Café is the only known talk show that takes place in a bar. The lunch and interview program began in the back room of Nathans in October 2001 in the immediate confused aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. My goal was to bring people together, serve them a good meal and provide a useful exchange of information. From the beginning, for an hour at lunchtime for $15, as the audience nibbled on the house made potato chips and lunch, the draw were the guests, ranging from authorities on terrorism to journalists well versed on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

We also eventually explored Saddam Hussein and WMD’s and the intricacies of the Bush war machine, including interviews with newsmakers who were architects of U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also did a program on ways to calm ourselves in anxious times. From the start it got occasional good mentions in The Washington Post and other media.
NBC's David Gregory at The Q&A Cafe when it was in Nathans back room.
John McLaughlin and Patricia Duff at The Q&A Cafe.
The weekly gathering became a popular retreat for all kinds of locals, including businessmen and women from nearby offices, folks who lived in Georgetown, moms from the suburbs waiting to join the carpool line, tourists from nearby hotels and the plain curious. They came in twos, and fours and sixes, but we also had a communal table for the solos. In sum, though, we were one big happy family. A lunch club, hungry for sparkling conversation and good eats.  I was the triple-hyphenate: booker, producer and interviewer. Coincidentally, it was also a marketing boost for the restaurant, which was in need of a kickstart.

The subject focus grew beyond terrorism. My professional background was in producing talk shows for some of the best interviewers in the business, including Charlie Rose, David Brinkley, Ted Koppel, and Larry King, and my learning curve for hosting the show was what I learned from working with and watching them. To book guests, I used my Rolodex of friends and other contacts.
The New York Times David Brooks was a guest in the early years of The Q&A Cafe.
Only on very rare occasions has The Q&A Cafe been taped in the studio. Here's a show about fashion, the arts and food with guests Kate Bennett, Sophie Gilbert and Jessica Voelker.
Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, was an early notable “get,” as were Tom Brokaw, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Arianna Huffington, Christopher Hitchens, Letitia Baldridge, Art Buchwald, Mayor Anthony Williams, Redskins hero John Riggins and a little later, Redskins owner Dan Snyder. CZ Guest flew down from NYC to do the show. Others who came from New York to appear were Carole Radziwill, now a reality TV star, but who back then talked about her memoir; Erica Jong; Jon Tisch; and Patricia Duff, who discussed family law. And then there was David Patrick Columbia, our own DPC, who drew a packed house with his wry expertise on society and sociology.

In its fifth year a local production house, Interface Media, and an executive there, Adam Hurst, asked to make a TV show out of the program – “hell yes” – and it was soon a regular broadcast on two local cable channels. No one was making any money, but it heightened the buzz. In 2006, Garrett Graff of Washingtonian magazine (years later he would hire me as their editor-at-large) gave us a boost in his Capital Comment column: “In a thoughtful style, Joynt interviews newsmakers  …for an experience not unlike a live taping of NPR’s Fresh Air,” he wrote, adding, “(she) has assembled a who’s who to interrogate.” He praised The Q&A Café for “affordable food, access to top newsmakers, and getting back to work almost on time.”
Jon Tisch at The Q&A Cafe, talking the business of the hospitality industry.
Vernon Jordan tells his life story.
Novelist Linda Fairstein at The Q&A Cafe at Nathans.
Jim Kimsey, one of the most loyal Q&A Cafe audience members, sits with Linda Fairstein before her interview.
I was proud of that last part.  With the exception of when the guest is “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry, who famously runs on his own clock, I have made it a point to start and end on time, because Washington is that kind of city and with that kind of worker.

When “DC Madam” Deborah Jean Palfrey appeared it was one of the few times she talked publicly and possibly the last interview before she committed suicide. Maury Povich and Connie Chung appeared together only days after he was hit with a $100 million sexual harassment suit (the audience included tabloid reporters and anxious network executives). Dan Rather started to tear up when he talked about his family and the impact on them of his just filed $70 million lawsuit against CBS News.  It was SRO the day White House “gatecrashers” Michaele and Tareq Salahi appeared soon after the incident that made them household  - and “Real Housewife” - names.
He doesn't always arrive right on time, but Marion Barry is a popular Q&A Cafe guest.
Of more than 300 shows, the one with the largest audience — in the room and viewed on YouTube — was with Michaele and Tareq Salahi.
The media swarm that descended on the Salahis after their Q&A Cafe appearance.
The guest list grew from 100 to 200 to now more than 300 individuals. The two who have appeared most often – and always fill the room – are Bob Woodward and Chris Matthews, with Howard Fineman gaining on them. Some memoriable interviews include the late Theodore Sorensen, the cast of “This is Spinal Tap,” Oliver Stone (because he was near impossible to interview), Smith, Fauci and 9/11 “Special Master” Kenneth Feinberg. Tim Russert was great fun, as were “Wonkette” Ana Marie Cox, author David Baldacci, former CIA operative Valerie Plame, and Hitchens, who sipped cognac while I asked questions. For one show I got hypnotized and returned to past lives!
Ted Sorensen at the Q&A Cafe.
Chris Matthews at the Q&A Cafe.
When Nathans closed in 2009 we were offered several new venues but moved the show to the Ritz Carlton Hotel to keep it in the neighborhood. We were there for three years that included shows with the new DC Mayor, Vincent Gray, chef Eric Ripert;  lobbyist Jack Abramoff,  after he was released from prison; NPR’s Gwen Ifill; Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman, the sisters who founded Georgetown Cupcake; the Salahis, Stone, Carlyle Group’s David Rubenstein and Marriott’s J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr.
Howard Fineman waits for the taping to begin at the Ritz Carlton hotel.
Bob Woodward at The Q&A Cafe.
Having a laugh while talking with Jack Abramoff at The Q&A Cafe taping at the Ritz Carlton.
David Rubenstein gets his microphone attached by Eugene Petty at the Ritz Carlton.
When I joined the staff of Washingtonian in 2011 it became difficult to do a show a week and we moved to a monthly schedule. The booking and research are time-consuming. Before shows I sequester myself with all available information about the guest. If there’s a book involved, I read it. If an actor or director, I try to watch all their films or shows. I write lots of notes. The day or night before the show I script the questions. Sometimes they can run for 5-6 pages, but I set them aside when we begin the Q&A, hoping I have successfully immersed myself in this person. Rather than a conventional interview I try instead to carry on a conversation. We are, after all, two people sitting at a bar.
A regular feature of The Q&A Cafe: dessert from Georgetown Cupcake.
As we come up on The Q&A Café’s 13th anniversary in October, the show continues to be taped and to air on Friday’s at 8 p.m. on the District Cable Network. We have a new location, The George Town Club. We moved there in the spring and did only a few shows before the summer hiatus. We will resume in the fall and I look forward to the new season – a lot!

The GTC, with its handsome, cozy bar, is a good fit and reminds the audience of the clubbiness of Nathans back room. The guests so far have included WAMU host Kojo Nnamdi, lawyer Robert Bennett, writer and raconteur Julia Reed and ESPN sportscasters Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro.
Inside the new George Town Club location for the Q&A Cafe — clubby and cozy.
The Q&A Cafe at the George Town Club with ESPN sportscasters Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan.
In March 2014, Kojo Nnamdi was the first guest at the new George Town Club location of The Q&A Cafe.
Our new season begins in September with DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier (Sept. 18) followed by an early October Q&A with Rev. Stuart Kenworthy of Christ Episcopal Church, who is retiring and who has a fascinating story to tell; and then October 17 we’ll talk the mid-terms and the economy with Gregory R. Valliere, a specialist on the relationship between political and economical strategy, and a regular on CNBC, Bloomberg, CNN and CBS. For each show the fee is $35, including lunch, tax and tip.

As for DPC, we hope to announce a November or December date for his encore appearance. In fact, I believe that’s why I wrote this column -- to inspire him to send me a date!

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt