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Cafe Milano, Washington’s ultimate gathering hole, turns 25 with VIP party

Fox News anchor Bret Baier, left, laughs with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and D.C. Council member Jack Evans, right, at Cafe Milano’s 25th anniversary party in Georgetown on Nov. 10. (Erin Schaff for The Washington Post)

The first clue that Friday was no ordinary night at Cafe Milano were the klieg lights and street closures. The second was the crowd: More than a thousand guests — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Wolf Blitzer, Michael Jordan and the Real Housewives of Potomac — packed into the Georgetown restaurant to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

“I always felt that Washington was a great circus and I was able to be a great ringmaster,” owner Franco Nuschese told the crowd.

Nuschese opened his restaurant on Election Day in 1992 and turned it into Washington’s ultimate see-and-be-seen gathering hole, hosting presidents, priests, diplomats and celebrities.

“He’s an institution, not just the restaurant,” said Bret Baier of Fox News, who flew in from China to attend the party. “I was here for dinner not too long ago: Former president Clinton was here, Secretary [Rex] Tillerson, Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary [Wilbur] Ross, a couple of ambassadors and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright — all at different tables. I thought to myself, ‘I only have to come to one restaurant.’ That’s what Franco brings to this place.”

As guests grazed on Italian favorites, a tribute video beamed congratulations from Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Dave Chappelle, Lionel Richie, Bob Woodward, Quincy Jones and more. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, Vernon Jordan, Bob Johnson and former national security adviser Susan E. Rice were among the many VIPs who showed up in person.

The Gypsy Kings performed. Everybody ate and drank until 2 a.m., then tottered home with Italian tomato sauce or virgin olive oil.

Nuschese spent most of the night near the entrance, getting hugs from his legions of friends. “I really lived the American Dream,” he said.