So what happened? How did Andrés manage to transform what would have been a ho-hum gathering of one-percenters into the Trump controversy du jour?
It all started with a really big party.
On Saturday, the uber-rich folk descended on Washington for the 105th Alfalfa Club dinner, where an exclusive group of business and political bigwigs gather at the Capital Hilton to mingle in gowns and black tie. This year’s feast featured punchlines delivered by former president George W. Bush, former secretary of state John F. Kerry, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And those were just the speakers.
This year’s crop of “sprouts,” or new members, include Apple CEO Tim Cook; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich); the chairman and CEO of Lazard, Kenneth Jacobs; Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch; Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio); the incoming chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell; IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; and the executive chairman of the BlackIvy Group, Anthony Welters.
You get it, it’s a fancy affair.
Afterward, the herd, which this year also included Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, typically thins as the VIPs head to a private after-party at Cafe Milano in Georgetown. An invitation to that event, which has nearly a dozen different hosts including Nuschese, Bob Johnson and Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, among others, is even more exclusive than the dinner itself. “It’s the A-list of the A-list parties,” said one person in the room. Invitations are non-transferable and not guaranteed.
But Andrés, who attended the dinner at the Hilton where he said he even chatted briefly with Ivanka, assumed he would get in because of an “unwritten rule” on the Washington party circuit: All after-parties are fair game.
“In Washington,” Andrés said in an interview, “when you have these parties, everybody knows if you have an after-party, you are going in.”
This particular after-party operated differently, however. According to Nuschese, who has hosted a post-Alfalfa dinner soiree at his restaurant for the past nine years, “not everyone gets invited.” The event is billed as a small affair of 150 boldfacers to avoid a mob scene.
After being denied entry into the party just before 11 p.m., Andrés, who by his own admission knew his name wasn’t on the list, was incredulous. Other guests were being allowed into the VIP shindig without having to flash an invite, he said. Andrés felt he was being left out of the fun unfairly and took to Twitter to make the injustice known.
“Thank you @CafeMilanoDC Franco Nuschese!” Andrés wrote. “I was a guest of the #alfalfaclubdinner2018 ‘everyone’ welcome to the after party, but I’m the only individual not allow in? Is because @IvankaTrump told you so? You should be ashamed of yourself Franco.@washingtonpost”
That tweet, liked more than 22,000 times and retweeted more than 10,000 times prompted both Ivanka Trump and Nuschese to reach out to Andrés the next morning. Asked whether Trump’s presence at the party kept Andrés out, Nuschese replied, “Absolutely not.”
In fact, the Cafe Milano owner had been trying to reach Andrés on Sunday morning, as the tweets and likes racked up, but didn’t have the superstar chef’s direct number. The two finally spoke Sunday afternoon.
“I said, ‘José, it was just a private party, and I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, and I’m sorry for the way that you feel,’ ” Nuschese recalled. After their chat, Andrés corrected the record via social media, tweeting in part, “Now let’s all be friends.” He also thanked Ivanka for “reaching out” and said he believed she had nothing to do with it. Andrés then suggested they work on immigration reform together.
Trump released a statement late Sunday afternoon as the echo chamber claiming she had something to do with the Andrés incident continued to ring.
“I am thankful for Jose’s clarification,” said Trump, who serves as an assistant to the president. “I had nothing to do with anything that transpired relating to him last night at the restaurant.”
The less-than-24-hour drama followed an evening, described as “a funny Davos without the snow,” that was by all accounts lighthearted and even touching. Kerry, the club’s incoming president, toasted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his friend and fellow Alfalfan, and had the crowd on its feet.
“If Washington is a city where you can bridge the divide between a protester and a POW, finding common ground on anything else shouldn’t be so hard at all,” said Kerry.
Later, Roberts ended the official program with a word on civility, sending the main crowd off on a positive note, said one attendee.