“If politics does come up, it’s not awkward,” says First Friday co-host Tom Qualtere, 24, a speechwriter for the House Republican Conference. “There’s no talking in circles, or saying, ‘Oh, are you a Democrat?’ There’s a freedom of conversation.”
On Thursday: class rings, the Cure, man purses, talk of “Obama 3.0,” sign-up sheets for D.C. statehood rallies, pleas to help with elections in the Virginia statehouse, metal business-card cases in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other.
“This is America at its best,” says food blogger Nadine Bartholomew, observing the crush of progressives around the semicircle bar at First Thursday. “What you are looking at is the next generation. They’re supposed to be cynical, but they believe in the system.”
On Friday: cigarette ash floating in golden-hour sunlight on the patio, painted toenails, Bud Light, carcasses of hot wings littering inside tables, Obama on CNN above the caption “Way Below Expectations,” casual observations like “Paul Ryan is a cult hero here.”
“I don’t know that policy is being changed here but idea-crafting is born out of events like this,” says First Friday’s special guest S.E. Cupp, the conservative author-commentator who just arrived at Union Pub from introducing Donald Trump at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference. “The connections I’ve made stopping into these things for 10 minutes has helped me craft my own message.”
First Friday, confident in its electoral and social prowess, wishes First Thursday all the best. The conservative movement “is upbeat and relieved,” says Ford O’Connell, the Republican strategist, watching the menagerie chatter, illuminated by coverage of women’s softball. “Upbeat because we’re looking forward to 2012.”
And relieved how? One would imagine conservatives are anxious, with Democrats still in power, with a presidential field as potent as mop water, with a rival progressive happy hour trying to trench its way into the scene.
O’Connell shakes his head. Too many serious, existential questions.
“Because it’s Friday,” he says.