Stirred by an irresistible piano rendition of "Beer Barrel Polka," 95-year-old Frances Warner decided it was time to shake a leg.
Grabbing the hand of the sequined-gowned songstress, Warner broke into a delicate two-step while the crowd, dressed in glittery paper party hats and tiaras, tooted horns and broke into cheering applause.
For more than two hours yesterday, champagne flowed, music played and smiles stretched across the creased faces of about 40 merrymakers gathered at Mr. L's and Sun restaurant, 5018 Connecticut Ave. NW. For six years, Mr. L's has played host to a group of the area's oldest residents, some of whom have already celebrated a century's worth of new years.
"I enjoy any kind of party like this," Warner said while taking a breather amid the entertainment, the seasonal banquet and the racket of the spinning noisemakers. "It's wonderful when a bunch of nice people our age can have a good time," she added.
"I came here last year and wheeled in a 109-year-old woman," recalled Harry Kirk, 96, a retired civil engineer. "I told everyone that she was my mother.
"There are so many older women here," Kirk continued. "It's about 10 to 1. I'll really have to be on my guard."
The Federal City Four, a red-jacketed barbershop quartet, crooned old standards such as "Sweet Adeline." Brooke Johns, 95, recounted his glory days as a vaudevillian on the stage with W.C. Fields and Fanny Brice. And party-goers refused to let their age stand in the way of having a good time.
"That's funny, I don't feel old," said Myrtle Plyant, who at 91 was one of the youngest revelers. "I don't even think of my age because I'm active and interested in what's going on in my life. I'm active, that's what keeps me alive."
"It's such a noisy place," said Henrietta Kover, 95, as the merriment swirled around her. "But it's a pleasant kind of noisy. I'm having a wonderful time. I like going to parties and meeting people, but I don't have a chance to do that anymore."
Mark Lipowsky, manager of the delicatessen and restaurant, gave the party and recalled that he launched the free pre-New Year's Eve party several years ago after hearing that Social Security payments to the elderly would be cut.
"It's a shame that in other countries the elderly are put on a pedestal, [while] here we put them on the back burner," he said.
Lipowsky and his father Sam, who died in September, decided that the day before New's Year's Eve would be the best time to throw a party for some of the city's elderly who live in nursing homes and are sometimes forgotten.
Lipowsky compiles the guest list during the year by scanning newspapers for items about elderly residents. All of the invitees live in nursing homes in the District and Maryland, Lipowsky said. They are brought to the party in wheelchairs by vans donated by the homes or friends.
"This party helps to make people aware that the elderly are out there and are still having fun, and that it is not a crime to be old," he said.
After the singing and dancing, the guests dined on turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce and string beans. The champagne never stopped coming.
During the party, the restaurant was closed to customers. Colored streamers, banners and bright balloons festooned the room.
"It gets easier to do this every year, and I'm going to keep on doing it for as long as we're here," Lipowsky said.
Minnie Gross, 105, the oldest of four centenarians, earned the honor of cutting a chocolate cake.
"Wheeee," yelled 93-year-old Raye Canchester, who, although confined to a wheelchair, played conductor for pianist Matt Windsor as he tickled some of her favorite old-time tunes.
"I can't keep my hands still," she laughed. "I'm a little Jewish lady from New York but I'm still having fun."
Many of the silver-haired celebrators said they wouldn't make any New Year's resolutions. "I've quit making resolutions. They don't amount to much anyway," Kirk said. "I just want to try and stay sober."
"New Year's Eve resolutions?" Canchester asked a reporter rhetorically. "I haven't finished resolving this year yet. I guess I'd just like to live another year."
Johns, who said he spent seven years on Broadway during the 1920s playing the banjo, recited the secret of his success and longevity:
"Keep your heart full of love and hand it out a teaspoonful at a time, if only to make someone else's coffee a little sweeter."