When I look back over the archives of three years of writing the Washington Social Diary there are two names that stand out: Katherine Brittain Bradley and David G. Bradley. Not only have I written a lot of stories that centered on one or another of their cocktail and dinner parties, but with each story there’s a recurring theme – that their soirees are a cut above most everything else on Washington’s social landscape. Their annual eve-of fete before the circus-like White House Correspondents Association dinner is notable for its A-list cool and calm. They host the best book parties in town.
It’s easy to throw out words like “elegant” and “sophisticated” and “chic,” because those words most assuredly apply to the Bradleys, but it’s more than that. Katherine and David pull off a feat that is rare in large-scale Washington entertaining; their home feels like a home, they know their guests’ by name, and make everyone feel honestly welcomed. Other than that, no two parties are the same.
In a town where politics and media merge and who you are matters loads more than how well you entertain, the Bradleys rank high on that measure, too, but with a quiet power, rather than the ego-driven, in-your-face mode that prevails among the public players. I’m trying not to trip over myself with the praise, but when two people manage the public life role with aplomb, credit is due. Besides, I’m not saying anything I haven’t heard said by others.
Over the last two decades, David Bradley has proved himself a force in the entrepreneurial world of new era business. He built the Atlantic Media Company, which is home to The Atlantic Monthly, National Journal and The Hotline, to name only a few of its properties. He also built, and sold for many millions, two significant business-support companies, The Advisory Board and The Corporate Executive Board. His offices, at the Watergate, enjoy a serene view of the Potomac River.
The Bradleys met when David, fresh from the Harvard Business School, was building his first companies, and Katherine, out of Princeton, was working at the Corporate Executive Board. A good team from the start, they have been married for more than 25 years and have three sons. Katherine is an activist in education and is president of the CityBridge Foundation, which the couple founded. They are enthusiastically philanthropic, pro-actively chairing fundraises and galas, and when they lend their names to an event they generally participate, too.
David’s CV includes many achievements. For example, he’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. What it should add is that he gives the most beguiling and personal toasts in town. He flatters whomever he is talking about, especially when it is a friend. His remarks always have humor and a bit of self-deprecation. Katherine stands by his side, smiling, but she’s no wallflower.
No one leads a charmed life by being passive. It’s about the people you employ, too, and the Bradleys have a knack for the best and the brightest, whether it’s the management team at work or at home. Their parties celebrate food and wine. It’s a staple of who they are. Another staple of their entertaining is that even though they live in a big house on Embassy Row, with a large garden and lawn, the cocktail hour often happens in the circular driveway out in front. It’s an interesting spectacle: masters of the universe, elected officials, diplomats, think tank gurus, media darlings, and a sprinkling of socialites all mashed up together, talking and drinking, a sea of pin stripes and little black dresses.
Which brings me to their recent dinner, a so-called “Cast Party” for the notables who were in town for Atlantic Media’s second annual Washington Ideas Forum, which happened the next day at the Newseum in partnership with the Aspen Institute. It was another notable evening Chez Bradley.
The dinner entertainment was “Saturday Night Live” veteran writer Jim Downey, providing trenchant thoughts on twenty years of the show’s best political bits. The menu, from Susan Gage, was Heart of Romaine Salad with Crawfish Ranch Dressing and Spiced Bacon, Corn Bread, Chorizo-stuffed Achiote Pork Loin with Smoked Paprika Roasted Potatoes and Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and dessert of Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry and Almonds. The wines were a 2009 Suavia Soave Classico from Veneto, and a 2007 Kunin “Pape Star” from California’s Santa Ynez Valley.
The dinner guests included: Moira McDonald, Justin Smith, Jay Lauf, Drew Altman, Gary Elliott, Sen. John Barasso, Larry Irving, Andrew Benett, Susan Blumenthal, Engelina Jaspers, Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, Anne Reingold, Francis Brooke, Gabriele Zedlmayer, Gaston Caperton, Nelson Fernandez, Julie Jack, Steve Capus, Daniel Cardinali, Marlene Machut, Steve and Jean Case, Michael and Meryl Chertoff, Beth Comstock, Boykin Curry, Peter and Marian Wright Edelman, Linda Fisher, Maggie Fox, John Fox Sullivan, Andrew Pederson, Amb. Ichiro Fujisaki and Yoriko Fujisaki, Leslie Gelb, Terry Smith, Rep. Jane Harman and Sidney Harman, Alexis Gelber, Amb Chan Heng Chee, Chris and Jennifer Isham, Chris Ahearn, Jim Johnson, Camille Johnston, Amb. Renee Jones-Bos, Lauren Kapp, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Debra Lee, Rep. James Moran, Raymond Fabius, Robert Rose, Queen Noor, Rob Price, Gerald and Eden Rafshoon, Jeffrey Raikes, Roy Romer, Ted Roosevelt IV, Amb. Klaus Scharioth, Vivian Schiller, Susan Carroll Schwab, John Sexton, Eric Spiegel, Robin Sproul, Jill Udall, Sen. Mark Udall, Sen. Tom Udall, Amb. Pierre Vimont, Andy von Eschenbach, Mark Whitaker, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Tim Wirth, James Bennet, Ceci Connolly, Jim Downey, James Fallows, Craig Newmark, Heather and Tony Podesta, Julie Parsons, Tom Wilson, Mike McConnell, Terry McConnell, David Cohen, Sena Fitzmaurice, Melissa Maxfield, Joseph Waz, Judith Batty, Kenneth Cohen, Theresa Farriello, Deirdre Stanley, Devin Wenig, David Huffman, Priscilla Huffman, John Mockoviak, Ramona Rodriquez, Thomas Bowler, Marty Hauser, Curt Rich, Kate Sullivan, Jeff Diskin, Jennifer Silberman, Jo Cooper, Ed Lewis, Dian Ogilvie, Martha Voss, Jim Wiseman, Robert Earl, Ryan Guthrie, Cheryl Healton, Robin Kornhaber, Eric Braverman, Lenny Mendonca, Michael Stewart, Alison Simmons, Chris Simmons, Al Martinez-Fonts, Charles Firestone, Jessica Herzstein, Walter and Cathy Isaacson, Elizabeth Kannan, Jamie Miller, Jim Spiegelman, Adrienne Arsht, Alice Ayres, Linda Douglass, Elizabeth Keffer, Shelby and Mary Lee Coffey, Margaret Carlson, Steve Clemons.
Photographs by James Brantley & Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.