There are three ways to deal with New Year's Eve. You can ignore the whole thing. You can take your tuxedo and ego in hand and venture out into untested social waters. Or you can couch yourself in tradition, swaddle yourself in familiarity and avoid the unexpected.
"It's like going to the same old beach, to an old town, and seeing the familiar landscape," said Rear Adm. Stuart Platt about spending the evening with his wife Melonee Daniels at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, just as he has done for the last three years. "We like to revisit the same things we've done before."
And what better time than the last night of the year, when nostalgia flows with the champagne and the mind turns to the things that continue, the things that last.
The Shoreham has the kind of party made for such thoughts. Every year since the hotel opened in 1930, there has been a New Year's Eve party there, and last night about half the 200 guests were repeats. If big-band leader Barnee Breeskin, whose orchestra played in the Blue Room for years, had been replaced by Minter, Minter & Company, a name that sounds more like a law firm than an orchestra, there were still plenty of soothingly predictable reminders of New Year's Eves past, from noisemakers to balloons to those faces vaguely remembered from last year.
"When he hit his 80th birthday, I said, 'We're really going to have a blowout for New Year's Eve,' " Sanford Kaiser of Springfield said as his father Arthur, now 81, looked on. And so they did, taking Arthur and his wife Sarah, who live in Connecticut, to the Shoreham for last New Year's Eve.
"It was expensive, but we loved it," Sanford Kaiser said. "They enjoyed it so much when they came for Christmas this year, they said, 'We're staying for New Year's.' "
Arthur Kaiser is the kind of man you can imagine saying something like that, the kind of man who is quick to tell a stranger of his son and daughter-in-law, "We visit them because they don't visit us," to the smile of a wife who has heard it before.
He's also a man who has seen New Year's traditions come and go.
"I lived in New York for 30 years, and we used to go to Times Square on New Year's Eve," he said.
"Those were the lean years," said Sarah.
"At that time, we were young," said Arthur. "Times Square has gotten a little rough now. They've had a few muggings. It's changed."
He and his wife ("We're only married for 54 years. She wants me to tell you") also danced away many a New Year's Eve.
"We love to dance," he said. "Ever hear of Roseland in New York? We spent a lot of time there. I'm 81, but I stay in good shape -- I'm unlike the average 81. I work out at the Y."
When a woman in sequins started to sing "The Days of Wine and Roses," both generations of Kaisers took to the dance floor.
There were few surprises on New Year's Eve at the Shoreham. In the ladies' lounge, strangers smiled at each other and agreed 1985 had gone by much too fast. In the dining room, cameras were ready to capture the midnight moment, which, years from now, will doubtless look like so many other midnight moments. And there were the inevitable jokes about holiday traditions.
"I never make New Year's resolutions," said Bill Gleeson of Reston.
"Probably because we don't keep them," said his wife Marylou.
And "traditional" is how hotel Managing Director Paul Sacco described the mood of the evening. "It's kind of the romance of the Shoreham. If you talk to one of your aunts or your uncles, you'll find somebody who knows this hotel and has wonderful memories of this hotel. When I ask people why they chose the Shoreham, they say, 'I had my prom here.' 'I had my wedding reception here.' 'I had my bar mitzvah here.'
"People in this town like to dress up and have that feeling, that wonderful feeling, of the '30s and '40s and that era," said Sacco, so though he stressed that black tie was optional, most of the guests were tuxedo-bound as they sashayed to what the brochure described as music "from the '30s thru the '80s for your dancing enjoyment."
And an evening spent in the Shoreham's Garden Court with its pink tablecloths and tiny white lights offered other amenities, like the gold-tipped cigarettes that food director Marc Radems proudly described; extra security staff to care for anyone who, as Sacco put it, "looked under the weather in any way"; and special floral arrangements in the bathrooms.
"All the details," said Radems. "If anyone wants water -- we're serving Evian water from France. No tap water."
All in all the kind of evening made to forestall the potential disappointments lurking within New Year's Eve festivities.
As Melonee Daniels put it, "I'm not big on spontaneity. If you know what's in store, you don't have to worry -- anyway, I don't -- about trying to have a good time. Especially when I was younger, it was so important to have a good time, and it doesn't always work out that way. There was a big letdown. You build up an image in your mind . . ."
But at the Shoreham: "Do you ever watch the late show?" she asked. "Those old movies from the '30s, when they go to those nightclubs? That's what this is like. If it was any other night of the year it would be the same to me. It doesn't matter that it is New Year's. It's like in the movies."
Tradition is part of the marketing strategy for the Shoreham. After guest Helen Hayes told Sacco she remembered visiting the hotel on Easter for brunch and an egg hunt in back of the hotel, he reinstituted the event two years ago.
"We don't have to create anything," he said. "All we have to do is tell people we're doing what we used to do and they get all excited about it. It's easy for us to resurrect anything."
For the New Year's party, according to marketing director Victor Chin, "We wanted to be very elegant. When we advertised it, the price was very understated. It wasn't stressed -- rather, the elegance and the history. It's mostly the selling of the atmosphere."
All the atmosphere, from the discreetly scattered confetti, to the "seven-course gourmet dinner," cost $100 a person. For $40 more, guests could stay overnight, which most of them did.
But if tradition and elegance were important, there were some concessions to the waning year. In a sort of trip down gastronomical-fashion lane, the hotel served Mesquite Smoked Pheasant Breast with Loganberry Sauce, chestnut pure'e and the obligatory chanterelles, which are to plain old mushrooms what "Miami Vice" is to "Dragnet."
Because, even at the Shoreham, time and trends wait for no man.
At 11:45, the noisemakers began to wail. Balloons and champagne bottles were gathered.
Then: "Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!"
Kiss. Kiss. Pop. Pop. Pop.