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Change of Scenery
Outside of Official Inaugural Celebrations, D.C. Was a Cold -- and Much Cooler -- Place

By Lavanya Ramanathan and Rachel Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 25, 2009

This is how the rest of us partied. The ones without $1,000 to drop on the Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball or the connections to schmooze with Jessica Alba and Ludacris ("I need an invitation to get into Fur? On a Sunday?"). Fueled by Red Bull and Washington-as-center-of-universe adrenaline, we danced until 4 a.m., then lined up for snacks. We never saw Obama -- except at the art space curated by Shepard Fairey's crew, where perhaps we saw too much of him. Some performers interpreted the transfer of power as an occasion to hurl themselves headfirst from the Black Cat stage or roll around on a bed of glass. We could get used to this kind of 'round-the-clock action.

Late Nights at the Bars

Jan. 16-18, downtown Washington

After much conjecture about what people would do if they could party like New Yorkers -- at bars that serve alcohol till 4 a.m. -- what Washingtonians did was extend their usual bar-hopping to four long nights, simply because they could.

Friday was the first night of later hours at bars across the city and 1 a.m. found all four stories of the Park on 14th Street NW packed. The next night, you could find revelers closing down Shadow Room, then ESPN Zone (it was a big weekend for sports), then Indebleu, and if there was time, Ibiza.

Many bar staffers would also be out till 6 a.m. -- working. Hillary Morton of K Street's Tattoo Bar was pragmatic: The long hours would be a challenge, but it was nothing a little Red Bull (and the bump in tips) couldn't fix.

Busboys and Poets, open 24 hours a day for five days, became the place to be at 5:30 a.m. The Brightest Young Things inaugural watch party at Bohemian Caverns on U Street NW opened at 9:30 a.m.

At 4 a.m. Sunday, people were still arriving at 88's all-night party at BeBar in Shaw. And after last call (which no one even bothered to actually call), the bar was still ringing up sales . . . of Red Bull. "It's this big social experiment," said organizer David Fogel. "We're supposed to go till 11." As in: 11 a.m.

So if we left for a nap and came back at sunrise, the crowd would still be dancing? Fogel shot us an hesitant smile. "Text me."

-- L.R.

***

Obama Wonderama

Jan. 18, Warehouse Theater

Does anything say "I Love America" like red-white-and-blue pasties?

Not according to performers at "Obama Wonderama," many of whom pranced around the stage in little else at the burlesque and sideshow extravaganza Sunday night. There was Clams Casino, who dressed up as Sarah Palin (glasses and up-do) in a gold and black-sequined gown and took it (almost) all off to the tune of Kenny Rogers's "We've Got Tonight." Next up was Miss Joule: She lay on a bed of glass, writhed around, then stood up and stomped on the shards to the grimaces of the audience. All while wearing a cone-shaped pink princess hat.

"Obama Wonderama" attracted many performers and regulars from Palace of Wonders, H Street NE's sideshow-themed bar. The evening's unofficial dress code? Eccentric. Said Mark Borden, 44, in a black top hat and a Sgt. Pepper-ish lime-green jacket, "A lot of my friends are performers and I knew it would be a good . . . " His voice trailed off: Dr. Lucky, one of the night's naughtiest burlesque dancers, had walked by wearing only lace underwear and glittery red pasties with tassels.

Mark? Mark?

"Wow. Sorry, I'm distracted."

-- R.S.

***

Manifest Hope: DC

Jan. 19, 3333 M St. NW

People were just filtering into the closing bash for the three-day art exhibition "Manifest Hope: DC" when that other man of the hour, artist Shepard Fairey, stepped behind the turntables and popped on the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Only a few fanboys and girls even seemed to notice.

Electric brushes with celebrity were the order of the night at the massive Georgetown party organized by Fairey, MoveOn.org and Service Employees International Union to thank their volunteers and staff.

De La Soul and Moby performed while Rosario Dawson and others played host. The crowd of 1,500 -- artists, pretty scenesters and media-razzi -- were treated to the happy-hippie vision of actress Heather Graham (fishnets, go-go boots and floral mini dress). Later squeals pierced the party as pop-star-of-the-moment Santogold, flanked by a duo of gold-lamé-clad backup dancers, rolled through the crowd looking like a prizefighter in a star-spangled onesie. (Later, she played a stellar, flirty set of nine songs, including her ode to frustration with false politicians, "Shove It.")

The soiree's real star, however, was the new president, whose image was plastered everywhere: Obama photos, Obama silhouettes, Obama as mosaic and Mingering Mike's he-is-me-and-I-am-him "Obamike."

The only line longer than the one for the bathroom? The one to get your photo taken with Fairey's iconic portrait of POTUS.

-- L.R.

***

Outside the Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball

Jan. 19, Harman Center for the Arts

Tickets to the VIP lounge at Russell Simmons's party on Monday night cost $2,500, but more than one reveler realized that the best stargazing was from the corner of Sixth and F streets NW -- and it didn't cost a thing.

The 20 or so onlookers clustered at the Harman Center's VIP entrance, which consisted of a heated tent and the red carpet (actually green). The group included an Italian journalist wearing a chic winter-white coat, a couple from small-town North Carolina and a pack of heavily lip-glossed young women. They united in the name of gawking: After each celebrity passed, they compared digital pictures.

Chicagoan Kerry Thon and friends were eating dinner across the street at the Greene Turtle when they saw rapper T.I. out the window. An hour later, Thon had seen LL Cool J and was still standing in the cold waiting for more arrivals. Earlier in the day, she swears, she saw R&B star John Legend around the corner in the National Portrait Gallery: "We stalked him for a little bit." Bobby Carter of Eden, N.C., watched the arrivals with his wife, Fran, from inside the heated tent "until they ran us out."

Suddenly, the group started cheering and taking pictures -- someone had arrived. "Who is it? Who is it? Ohhh! Nick Cannon! 'Wild 'N Out'!" Carter yelled, jumping to get a good picture of the MTV hip-hop show's host -- a.k.a. Mariah Carey's new husband. He turned to his wife and beamed. "Nick Cannon!"

-- R.S.

***

Demand in DC

Jan. 20, Black Cat

While others flocked to balls for a night of hope and rejoicing, the mood at the Black Cat's inauguration-night celebration of activism and punk music was decidedly more . . . cynical.

The Black Cat was half full, mostly with young punks wearing hoodies, tattered Chucks and X's on their hands, signifying that they weren't yet old enough to drink (many looked barely old enough to vote).

The night (subtitled "Applauding the empowerment of people thru art, film, and music") featured performances by the A.K.A.s, United Nations, Darkest Hour and Anti-Flag, and none of the bands passed up the opportunity to comment on a day they saw as both momentous and deceiving.

"Do I think there's going to be a change?" Rob Sullivan, lead singer of Baltimore metalcore band Ruiner, asked the audience between songs, the irritation in his voice audible. "No."

A smattering of applause rose from the crowd.

"Don't clap for that!" Sullivan snapped, jolting the rude clappers. He continued: "Bottom line: Is it a step in the right direction? Yes. . . . It's not George Bush."

The mosh pit resumed.

-- L.R.

***

The Art of Change

Jan. 20, 1000 block of Seventh Street NW

As hundreds of black-tie-attired official ball ticket-holders paraded down Seventh Street en route to the convention center, they may have noticed that local artists were throwing their very own (very unofficial) fiesta.

Clues: fire-dancers in the alley and a two-story-high puppet on the sidewalk in front of Warehouse Theater. The official folks nudged each other in amusement or raised their eyebrows, making the whole scene reminiscent of a high school hallway -- the popular crowd brushing past those kooky art kids.

Inside, the layout of the Art of Change Ball was so complicated -- two buildings and a heated tent spread out over a block -- that Artomatic Chairman George Koch's job for the night was to stand in front of a map and explain how to get around. On the variety stageWarehouse , musician Linda Sublett strummed a guitar and sang "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen to an audience that lounged on soft red couches.

Organizers Artomatic and Playa del Fuego had cleared out the Warehouse's main stage for dancing. A DJ blasted U2's "Mysterious Ways" to a crowd of . . . zero. Every minute or so, someone would wander into the room, see the bartender alone in the corner, chin on fists, feel devastatingly sad and wander back out. This was the case until 10 p.m. anyway, at which point we had to stop checking. Too depressing.

-- R.S.

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