WASHINGTON, D.C. The cocktail parties preceding the White House Correspondents Association dinner at the Hilton Washington had the feel of the first 30 minutes or so of a high school prom. Guests were craning their necks to see which celebs hit the 15-plus party suites, adjusting to seeing one another in daylight (much of the festivities were held in the hotel’s poolside courtyard) and in black-tie duds instead of the usual drab suits under fluorescent lights.
Although Reuters had fun with its decor—a silver circular bar and white carpeting created a mod atmosphere—Newsweek’s bigger room and better location enticed a honcho-heavy crowd. Outside, Atlantic Media held the best real estate—two tents in the center of the courtyard—and the best spot for scoping out the crowd. The company’s senior events manager, Stacey Pavesi Debre, kept it simple. “When it’s nice outside, this is where you want to be,” she said. “It’s just so beautiful, and you pick up the ambiance and the air.”
Time magazine special events director Kathy Petersen planned the CNN/Time/People/Fortune party, which went high-tech with four plasma televisions running images of the magazines, their Web sites, and interviews with the editors.
Since drinks and canapés varied little from party to party, the emphasis was on the attendees. (One was lucky to nab a cube of distinctly un-pedigreed cheese and a glass of middling Chardonnay, while the parties were so close together that they spilled into one another and into the courtyard.) The night’s two most talked-about guests came from different ends of the celeb-o-meter: American Idol reject Sanjaya Malakar and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The former spent most of his time in the People party suite in the hotel’s lower level, while the latter played diplomat (how very Washington of her) by dropping by several fetes, including ABC’s, where even V.I.P.s were reduced to stammering fans.
The Bloomberg party was ground zero for partygoers hoping to get their names added to the guest list of the coveted Bloomberg after-party. And the USA Today/Gannett room was looking a little dull until Teri Hatcher showed up, and suddenly things seemed fun. Presidential wannabe and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney held court at the National Review’s gathering. The shootings at Virginia Tech were a big topic of conversation, making the event a bit less lively than in previous years.
Despite the relative glamour of the night, there was no mistaking that you were in Washington. Partygoers had to cross through a phalanx of protesters, who were rather vaguely protesting the “mainstream media” for various offenses.