Glitz and high spirits at annual Fight Night and Knock Out Abuse galas

By Going Out Guide
Monday, November 15, 2010

The annual Fight Night fundraiser is always billed as a boys' night out -- a smoky, decadent celebration of the manly arts of boxing, tobacco and red meat. It's the one night of the year that Washington's gala scene segregates by sex, the women splitting off to the dress-up, drink-up Knock Out Abuse benefit, a straight-up celebration of sisterhood and girly stuff.

So how is it that Fight Night ends up feeling like it's all about the ladies, too?

Models prancing around the Washington Hilton ballroom in Everlast hot pants. Redskins cheerleaders bumping and grinding in skimpy military-inspired costumes (in honor of Veterans' Day). And, of course, the "hostesses" -- some 200 very young women in clingy evening gowns, each assigned to fetch drinks or cigars for a table of leering guys.

"The models seem to stay the same age," said developer Joe Robert, who founded Fight Night 20 years ago, this year raising $2 million for youth charities from his 1,700 guests. "And the older guys keep getting older."

Where do they come from? Darlene Howell, a local modeling agency chief, rounds them up every year. Some are aspiring model-actresses; many have day jobs but show up for the money -- $20 an hour, plus tips that range from $100 to $400 per table. Not, say, to meet guys? No, said Howell: "They know the guys are older."

Tricia Erickson, a former agency owner, started the program at Robert's request. "I was a feminist back then and he talked me into it," she told us. "I saw it wasn't a sexist thing. That's what I was worried about. It was more a glamour thing."

We've overheard a ladies' room conversation or two over the years, hostesses complaining about dubious offers to continue their work upstairs in the suites. No complaints, though, from Monica Keeneth, a 26-year-old federal management consultant in her fifth year of hostessing. The duties include not just drink service but the murkier "hanging out" with a table of guys, but she said getting hit on isn't a big problem: "Usually you can laugh it off."

At Knock Out Abuse, the girl power was thick on the ground of the Ritz-Carlton ballroom: 700 women who raised $600,000 for domestic-violence charities. "You are feeling good! You are looking good! And you are doing good for your sisters who are victims of domestic abuse!" cheered emcee Andrea Roane, the WUSA-9 anchor. She was flanked by a pair of male models in tuxedos and sleek hair with martini-glass and cigar props, in keeping with the night's vague "Mad Men" theme. (Oh wait. Was that a domestic-violence pun?)

In the silent auction, the ladies eagerly bid on derma-spa certificates for $800 worth of Botox or the $400 worth of Dysport -- and heck yeah, signing their name on the auction forms. Just us girls here, nothing to be embarrassed about! Event chairwoman Sarah Guinan Nixon took the stage, giddy and glowing in a white goddess gown, to thank the crowd, and oh, by the way, she laughed, "Can you see through this dress with these lights?"

But seriously now . . . there's always a "seriously now" at any charity gala, but it's especially challenging to introduce the speeches at a dinner as champagne-fueled and chatty as Knock Out. "Shhhhhhhhhh," went Roane, trying to dull the roar. If your tablemate is talking, pleaded guest presenter Gloria Reuben (the "ER" actress), "just pinch them."

But when Leslie Morgan Steiner -- a former Post exec, now author of a memoir about her abusive first marriage -- took the stage, they grew respectfully silent. A career-achievement prize went to legendary soap opera producer Agnes Nixon (small world: she's the event chair's mother-in-law) which led to delicious video clips of Susan Lucci on a very special domestic-violence episode of "All My Children," and some charming anecdotes: The military wife ("it's Veterans' Day") who once called the producer and said she was refusing to ship out with her husband to Germany "unless you tell me what happens to Donna and Chuck!"

A few gents around: Tuxedoed volunteers who roamed the tables to top off wine (oooh, were we supposed to tip them?). And perennial visitor Clinton Portis, casting bedroom eyes around the room as he cuddled a puppy that soon got auctioned off for $6,000. The Redskin then auctioned a dinner with himself for $6,700, seductive patter doled out free of charge. To the woman who won him: "I don't have a ride home, by the way."

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