With string lights twinkling from the trees of the courtyard, a bubbling fountain, and the crunch of gravel underneath high heels, the courtyard outside the stately, historic Meridian House — the setting for Friday night’s Meridian Ball — could have been mistaken for a European getaway.

“It’s like a garden in Paris,” said one partygoer as she waited for a flute of champagne to appear.

“Or a Roman piazza,” her friend countered.

Whatever one’s destination of preference, the ball was a rare escape for official Washington from its workaday concerns (midterm polling, global pandemics and the like), trade suits for elegant dresses and tuxedos, and do the things that people do when they’re really off the clock: mingling! dancing! puffing on Cuban cigars!

On the tented dance floor under dozens of mini disco balls, younger partygoers sweated and bounced. Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre was among them, flinging his arms gracefully.

Diplomats too many to count, including Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and Polish Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf, mixed with media types, including CNN’s Jake Tapper. Those blasted midterm elections kept many of the lawmakers who’d usually attend away, although we spotted Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) amid the crowd, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was seen taking a spin on the second dance floor, where a brassy band was pumping out Motown numbers.

The evening, which officially benefits the Meridian Center’s cultural-exchange programs, might have been enough to convince outsiders that Washington is … (gasp!) actually pretty fun.

Husband-and-wife “House of Cards” actors Michel Gill and Jayne Atkinson (he plays President Walker; she’s Secretary of State Durant) took a break from filming the show in Baltimore for a day trip to D.C. Their itinerary included hanging out in the control room at CNN and then, of course, the ball. 

“This is pretty exciting stuff,” Gill said.

Okay, we’ll take the compliment. Just don’t check back with us on Monday.