It was a chance for the local bar and restaurant community to chew the fat and drink good-naturedly to each other's fortune; an evening of high living and low-cut gowns, in the name of charity.
At the seventh annual Bartenders Ball Saturday night at the Washington Hilton, some of the capital's best-dressed revelers drank to the health of 11 local causes -- at $75 a head.
Neon signs advertising such treats as scallop ceviche and seafood gumbo, drinks from open bars and music from three bands: the big-band sound of Tom Cunningham, the rock 'n' roll of the Adam Smasher Band and the Carolina Beach music of the Chairman of the Board. The guests, including guest bartenders Kelsey Grammer (of "Cheers") and Heidi Bohay and Michael Spound (both of "Hotel"), tasted, danced and talked shop.
"This is a prestige gig. It's a real honor to be here," said Asher Benrubi, a k a DC-101 deejay Adam Smasher and an active local fund-raiser, before taking the stage for a sweaty set of rock 'n' roll ("He isn't exactly Bruce," a woman dressed in black said of Smasher. "But he's fun.").
"We're the second most popular ball in town," said Michael Anderson, head of the Bartenders Foundation and owner of Shooter McGee's and the Eastport Raw Bar. "The Cancer Ball's the only one that beats us . . . We don't go after what I call the designer charities -- we go for the Shaw Community Centers and the Alexandria Community Ys -- local ones that get left off on the side.
"Just trying to get 50 restaurants organized for this thing is a feat in itself," he said. "Most of them -- as entrepreneurs -- are by nature very independent and don't work well together. It's nice to see them lay down their jealousies and arguments and put their heart and soul into it."
According to Anderson, the ball netted an $80,000 profit in ticket sales, with much help coming from in-kind services and products. That would bring the Bartenders Foundation's fund-raising total to $392,000 since the first ball in 1979. The profits from this year's ball benefit So Others Might Eat, the Washington Free Clinic, the Higher Achievement Program, the Hospital for Sick Children, Children's Hospital, Honor Every Responsible Officer's External Sacrifice, Living Stage, St. John's Child Development Center, the Sunshine Foundation, Shaw Community Center and the Alexandria Community Y.
The ball also marked the Washington Restaurant and Beverage Association's adoption of TAM (techniques of alcohol management), the anti-drunk campaign put forward by the National Licensed Beverage Association. Under this aegis, bar managers and employes will be briefed, on a volunteer basis, on dealing with alcohol abusers in bars. This training program, already adopted in six states, is slated for another 17, according to national executive director Jeff Becker.
"I just drink a lot," said Dan Sillers, 58, a Scot and a lecturer at the University of the District of Columbia, explaining his attendance at the ball as he nursed a glass of scotch. With his beard, Scottish kilt, sporran and the rest, he stood out against his black-tie neighbors like a Highland thistle. "I think I've been to every one of these balls. They get fancier every year."