It was a Hollywood premiere, and it lasted the weekend: a bacchanalia of the haves.
At the Washington Hilton, the double-parked limousines snarled traffic for hours. At a Sunday brunch in Georgetown, furs swallowed the beds. And at a black-tie-and-boots Texas party, you could stand on the ballroom balcony and see, like a Grand Central Station rush hour below you, a perfumed herd of thousands. They drank beer and wore emeralds.
"Madness," said a delighted Ted Graber, the First Decorator, who had arrived with the Reagans on Air Force One.
From Friday cocktails to Sunday brunches, at close to 100 parties, they wore clothes and ate food befitting a queen's coronotion. Veal and strawberries, Texas beer and California wine. Avignone Freres, the caterers, estimated that they grossed $30,000 during the weekend alone.
As for couture, forget the Republican cloth coat. This year: mink. Nancy Reagan was entirely encased in one as she scurried from her limousine into a Saturday lunch at the City Tavern Club, and that evening, hotel coat racks looked like giant, furry beasts.
"You cannot be half-dressed," decreed cosmetics magnate Estee Lauder during a Sunday brunch at the Fairfax Hotel.
It seemed impossible to be over-dressed. Popular partygoers who found themselves invited to an imposing list of events opted for Republican pragmatism. That is, starting out in black tie and foraging onward. If this meant appearing at an unexotic 5-to-7 p.m. Capitol Hill reception in sequins, so be it.
As per Washington tradition, the more exotic and sought-after parties were those that featured new administration members -- particularly those widely regarded as all-star insiders. That's why more than 400 people literally mobbed a Sunday brunch for deputy chief-of-staff Mike Deaver, given jointly by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) and Reagan friend Nancy Reynolds.
"We expected some shrinkage," said Hatfield as he tried to direct the traffic jam on the outside stairway of his Georgetown town house. "But it didn't happen." By mid-afternoon, when most had left for other parties, Elizabeth Taylor was just arriving.
"Nice of you to come to the party on time," said her husband, Sen. John Warner (R-Va).
"We don't need any of your sarcasm, sweetie," she replied.
Even if you weren't going to parties it was fascinating -- assuming you were bundled in several ski parkas -- to watch from the curb. Every time the Reagans went anywhere, the sirens blared, lights flashed, and a helicopter flew overhead. The Reagans' mammoth black limo would then come zooming up to this or that party, and all sorts of Secret Service men with wires in their ears would surrond them as they were escorted inside. Nancy Reagan always shivered for the 13 seconds she was out in the Washington cold.
"Governor! Governor!" the reporters huddled near the party entrance always shouted. "Do you have any comment on the hostage situation?"
"No!" he always shouted back. "It's too delicate!"
Meanwhile, the crowds would cheer lustily. On Saturday in Georgetown, an especially large one had taken a shopping break to wait for Reagan to arrive for lunch at the City Tavern Club. Waiters came out in uniform from the Publick House restaurant next door, and people across the street at Uno's pizzeria pressed their noses against the windows, fogging up the glass.
Once inside the City Tavern Club party, you were assaulted by the food. The weekend was disaster for dieters, starting with the chocolate truffles at a Californians-Are-Coming party Friday night and on the lobster bisque, cheese fondue, Bloody Marys, broiled lamb chops and omnipresent cocktail meatballs.
You could try smoked goose at the Fairfax Hotel on Sunday. Veal, prepared one way or another, seemed to pop up frequently elsewhere.It was called "chasseur" at the Washington Hilton dinner for 950 people on Saturday night, which cost $30,000.
"I've never seen so much money spent," said Grace Hewell, a career civil service employe who remembers the Kennedy inaugural. She was sitting under a palm tree at a Sheraton-Carlton reception on Saturday night, wearily taking in the colors and sounds that continued to surround her.
She looked out toward the crowd. "Swanky," she said.
And from Andy Warhol, sighted at a party at the Fairfax Hotel: "A couple of years ago, with all the parties, I said Washington was getting like Hollywood. Now it really is."
His Minox clicked away.