At Washingtonian magazine’s “Alice in Wonderland”-themed “Best of Washington” party on Wednesday night, guests stepped through the looking glass — and on the other side, found a display far curiouser than that of your typical cocktail bash.
Giant playing cards fluttered from the ceiling of the Building Museum. A contortionist in a unitard and bizarre headdress folded herself into a backbend on a giant chess board. Nearby, Qatar Airways had a set-up demonstrating their fold-flat airline seats. Women in stewardess get-ups maneuvered dazed-looking partygoers into prone positions.
Grown men and women wore novelty hats of all kinds as they weaved from the caricaturist’s station to a parked BMW, with cantilevered doors like a DeLorean, where one could clamber in and take selfies.
Booths manned by local restaurants offered trough-fuls of canapes: smoked-trout tea sandwiches from Red Hen, sliders from Medium Rare. Whoever said cupcakes were over hadn’t alerted Georgetown Cupcakes, whose booth featured acres of technicolored confections.
— Georgetown Cupcake (@GTownCupcake) July 16, 2014
Lavish as it was, this wasn’t even the real party. When I asked around about where I might find Michael Schaffer, Washingtonian’s newly installed editor-in-chief, I learned he was likely at the publisher’s reception, a soiree-within-the-soiree being held upstairs. A young clipboard-wielding woman guarding the entry to the exclusive gathering informed me that yes, he was probably there, but my name wasn’t on the list.
I could “follow up” with him at the office tomorrow, she suggested.
Might he pop out of the VIP enclave for just a moment to chat with me? After a hushed mobile-phone conversation with a colleague, the woman regretfully informed me that Schaffer would not, alas, be available “for that purpose.”
So it was back down the rabbit hole and into the proletarian masses for me. If possible, things had gotten even trippier in the main hall. A woman in an Alice costume was playing an electric fiddle while a second contortionist whirled a hula hoop from a foot somehow improbably located behind her ear.
Behind me, three men in suits made crass comments about how they wished their wives could pull off such stunts.
Time to go — I was turning into a pumpkin (wait, that’s another kid’s tale, no?).
One fond last look at the scene, and I remembered the first time I attended the annual party. It was 1999 and I was interning for Washingtonian. My fellow interns and I had been looking forward to the event for weeks, anticipating the open bars and free dinner. We carefully planned what we would wear; several friends owned one suit among them. We knew the suit was going to the party, but didn’t know who would be wearing it.
On my way out, I smiled at a young woman in a gorgeous cocktail dress, knowing that it just might be a loaner.