Forget the official conference sessions with PowerPoint, or that formal White House dinner, complete with its stuffy placecards and multiple forks. It seems the real business of this week’s Africa summit is getting done in far more relaxed venues.
On Monday night, the visiting delegations fanned out to a dozen of the city’s chic-er restaurants, dining in groups, each hosted by a senior administration official and a rep from Bloomberg, which orchestrated the evening. The recipe: mix cabinet secretaries, heads of state, a few members of Congress, and business leaders from Africa and the U.S., sprinkle liberally with neighborhood fare (and perhaps a glass or two of wine), stir.
Over at Mintwood Place, the cozy French bistro in Adams Morgan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and National Security Advisor Susan Rice were breaking baguette with delegations from Egypt, Chad, Senegal, and Seychelles. Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg was there, gabbing with Mintwood owner Saied Azali. Oh, and rapper Akon was part of the party, too.
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power was toasting the newly inaugurated president of Malawi, Peter Mutharika, over crabcakes at Acadiana downtown. And Secretary of State John Kerry was at Bourbon Steak in Georgetown, just enjoying y typical night out with South African President Jacob Zuma, Joseph Kabila, the president of Congo, and biz VIPs including GE CEO Jeff Immelt.
Other, similarly boldface gatherings were happening at Barcelona, Bibiana, BLT Steak, Cafe Milano, Fiola and Fiola Mare, Equinox, STK, and the Oval Room.
Ellen Gray, who owns Equinox with her husband, chef Todd Gray, says that although their stone’s-throw-from-the-White-House restaurant has served presidents for 15 years, she had never seen a party quite like the one that dined there last night. “It was incredible — and I’ve never seen that big a security detail in all my life,” she tells us.
They served a group that included leaders from Tanzania, as well as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Bloomberg, too (apparently, he was table-hopping).
Hosting the confab of global leaders was humbling for the family-owned establishment, she said. “That our small business could be used as a backdrop for such big business was such a contrast.”
Bloomberg, via e-mail, tells us that the night (for which he picked up the tab, natch) was intended to shake up the usual sequestered-meeting formula. “We wanted to do something different — not just another dinner in a DC hotel or convention hall setting,” he says.”We wanted to bring them out into the neighborhoods, let everyone experience more of the city and let the neighborhoods see some of these leaders”
Gray says the night hit the mark, praising Bloomberg for helping bring the world leaders out into the city, where local restaurants could serve as ambassadors of Washington’s culinary offerings: “He made the home team look really good.”
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