"I'm going to stay out here a little longer than planned," the entertainer told the crowd of 800 when he finally got out on the brightly lit stage more than 1 1/2 hours late, "because it happens to be the warmest spot here."
He was probably right. What started out as an inauguration had, by last night, become an endurance test.
"Come on everybody, clap hands," Davis ordered the audience during one number. "It'll keep you warm."
But even if they had to keep their minks closely wrapped around them even while they ate, the guests at the Pavilion at the Old Post Office seemed perfectly content. Once Davis came to the stage, they applauded and cheered and threw him flowers plucked from the centerpieces. And before that, the drafts grew colder, the hour later, but they stayed, waiting for him.
And while they waited, there was plenty to keep them entertained. Green lasers cut through the air of the Pavilion. Television stars struggled to hear the compliments of fans. Two befeathered women sat on swings 20 feet above the crowd as billows of smoke engulfed them. And the icons of the conservative movement glided through the mass of furs and sequins, bestowing upon the faithful the serene smiles of royalty.
The woman painted silver and dressed as the Statue of Liberty said it all. The message may have been all about patriotism and conservatism but the medium was all about glitz.
"We're star hunting," said guest Andrea Breedlove of Dallas as stars the likes of Scott Baio, James Watt, Nelson Bunker Hunt, Barbi Benton, Lorne Greene, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and a goodly supply of "Love Boaters" passed.
"Who's that guy?" she asked her brother Cliff.
No idea, but no problem. The camera was out and the vaguely familiar face recorded on film before Andrea Breedlove finished the question.
The opportunity to star hunt did not, of course, come cheap. One thousand dollars for a ticket got you in to the black-tie party thrown by the National Conservative Political Action Committee and the anti-communist lobbying group, Conservative Alliance, but it also got you headliner Davis and the opportunity to watch conservative leaders explain away the fact that outgoing White House chief of staff James Baker was the guest of honor.
"NCPAC and I have always been close," said Baker, whose job swap with Donald Regan will make him the treasury secretary. Skeptical-looking reporters were given copies of an article from the Baltimore Sun that said the same thing.
"We're announcing this evening that I'm becoming secretary of the treasury and Jim Baker is becoming head of NCPAC," said NCPAC director Terry Dolan, who is soon to leave that position. "NCPAC membership cards are going to become legal tender."
Conservative Alliance chairwoman Rhonda Stahlman stood and smiled for the obligatory pictures with Baker and Dolan (who is also the national director of the Conservative Alliance Foundation). But when the photographers left, Stahlman moved away quickly.
"I think if we can have any influence with Jim, we should try to get it," she said later about the man many conservatives consider excessively pragmatic. "Terry's a bit more gracious than I am. I swallowed hard. We lost some contributors over it, I don't mind saying."
Others were less concerned with the symbolism of Baker's presence than with the symbols they saw all around them in Reagan's America.
"For the first time, I went into a 7-Eleven and I saw a baseball cap and you know what it had on it? U.S.A.," said Virginia state Sen. Joe Canada. "If you could have found one during the Carter years, I don't know where you would have found it."
No one was wearing a baseball cap last night. The ubiquitous inaugural minks were enjoying another night out and the wise didn't check them upon arrival.
The women on the swings, however, didn't have that luxury.
"It was freezing," said Nadine Stanton when she returned to earth.
"We were blue," said her partner Lisa Miller.
They didn't look blue, but then the feathers and spangles hid a lot.
Davis started his act with "I Am What I Am" from the Broadway musical "La Cage aux Folles" and then proceeded to reidentify himself with the songs "I've Gotta Be Me" and "What Kind of Fool Am I?" He was dressed in a spiffy tuxedo with a shortened jacket, black patent leather cowboy boots, several rings as sparkling as the lights and as large as the wine goblets, and a casually untied bow tie that was so unwrinkled it looked suspiciously as if it had never been tied.
It was a show steeped in in-house references and old-time favorites.
After saying, "We'll do this because he's not here," Davis launched into a song synonymous with Frank Sinatra: "New York, New York."
The jokes were just about as familiar.
"This is plain cola," he told the audience, referring to the glass in his hand. "I gave up booze. It's been one year, six weeks, four days and 12 hours. One day at a time.
"The hardest thing is waking up in the morning and realizing that's as good as you're going to feel all day."
The night -- yet another example of the inaugural motif of "Vegas Comes to Washington" -- included some rather startling juxtapositions. One photo opportunity had Baker wedged between two "Love Boat" stars. And when Baker arrived on stage, his name flashed in brilliant, neon green across two huge screens above the stage, as if introducing a headline act. He proceeded to take out a speech, place it on the podium and read it.
What a performer.
Everyone, absolutely everyone, was "honored" or "so honored" or "terribly honored" to be there. As Barbi Benton put it, "Washington is the only place to be this weekend."
Even the stars were gushing.
"The gala last night, that was really like a dream," said Bernie Kopell, who plays Adam Bricker on "The Love Boat." He then explained, "I'm only a recent convert to the Republican party."
Kopell said he converted "after I'd made a couple of bucks and been able to hold on to it."
Singer-songwriter Paul Williams said he was there because he's "always been very pro law-and-order.
"I think I'm probably less conservative than many of the people in NCPAC," he said. "But I say, one side of me wants to legalize nude hang gliding, and the other side wants to move troops into Brigadoon."