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WASHINGTON -- Arianna Huffington invited 3,500 of her nearest and dearest -- politicos, journos, actors, activists, bloggers, bureaucrats, musicians and some of her own staffers -- to a raucous pre-Inauguration bash Monday night, complete with goofy hats, horns and a loudly-chanted Countdown to a New Era at midnight. Estimates vary as to how many actually showed up. It became such a coveted invitation that I took to telling supplicants their only shot was to come dressed as a fire marshal.
But Huffington had a serious reason for all that jubilation at the Newseum, a glass and steel temple to the First Amendment on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the starting point of the inaugural parade.
Wearing a fitted brown lace blouse, long taffeta skirt and sensible gold flats, Huffington took the stage to briefly exhort the cheering crowd to believe that everyone, not just Barack Obama, is being inaugurated today.
"We all have a responsibility."
The event was a high-tech exercise in community-building and networking that gave a nod to the Obama campaign's brilliant use of it and to Huffington's own interactive envelope-pushing: last night's party featured live blogging and twittering, as the musical talent of Sheryl Crow, will.i.am and Sting.
Jumbo screens on the wall were tricked out with fake keyboards, which morphed them into giant laptops. That sort of clever party design is a specialty of New York event planner David Stark and David Stark Design and Production, who were the Executive Producers and Designers of the whole event. The digital and internet ideation, graphics, and video content were designed and produced by Keira Alexandra of Employee Number 1. Stark placed huge vases of spring-heralding white quince blossoms throughout the cavernous space because "the worldwide web is wonderful, but you also need flowers."
And drink. And food.
(First eight photos by Paul Morigi; others by Tony Stamolis)
Guests quaffed seemingly endless supplies of top-shelf booze and bubbly, while the wait staff struggled through the packed crowd bearing canapes of shrimp, crab, steak, duck, and wild mushrooms, followed by a parade of sweets. Some of the food was said to have come from the Source, Wolfgang Puck's $$$$$ restaurant in the Newseum.
[And now, a full disclosure alert from your Faithful Inauguration Correspondent]: There are some questions you don't ask when covering a party given by the boss, which is why there is no mention of how much this extravaganza must have cost. Alas, I couldn't find Wolf Blitzer for a ballpark guess (Stark did his daughter's wedding). But I digress.
As advertised, the Huff bash boasted a high-wattage celeb quotient, meaning long lines to get in and to check coats for many. The BIG NAMES, of course, got the requisite white glove/red carpet treatment (What? You thought Arianna wouldn't have one?). Curious tourists pressed their faces against the windows to catch a glimpse the fabulousness within, even as some of the chosen were heading out the door for the next event in a packed evening.
Oh, there's Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner, and Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd; civil rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr.; scholar Cornel West; actors Anna Deavere Smith, Marisa Tomei, Ashley Judd, John Cusack, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Affleck, Larry David, Sharon Stone and others too numerous to mention. A clutch of CNN reporters -- Howie Kurtz, Gloria Borger and John King among them -- dropped down a few floors to warm up and party down, after spending several hours broadcasting from the Newseum's roof. Borger coyly lifted a trouser leg to reveal long-john, while Kurtz, a human media machine, vacuumed up fodder for Tuesday morning's Washington Post story about journalists throwing their own high-impact inagurual parties: Tina Brown and Joe Scarborough, Maureen Dowd, Arianna etc.
The Bigs at this one patiently posed for pictures with strangers, answered dumb questions and offered a few pearls of wisdom when not yakking among themselves in quieter areas away from the masses.
David, who had come from an earlier bipartisan salute dinner, was asked about his most memorable pre-inauguration moment.
"I guess you would have to say it was meeting the president tonight," he said. Turns out, the leader of the free world "started talking about my marriage. "How could you screw this up?" the leader of the free world jokingly asked HBO's resident neurotic. "And I said, it wasn't easy.'"
After 14 years of wedlock, activist Laurie David filed for divorce in 2007.
Curtis and her British husband, Lord Haden-Guest, who were also consorting with Republicans over dinner, got to the Newseum well before the doors opened at 9 p.m. This gave rise to her newly-minted theory of how to wring the most from a party.
"Get in early, listen to the musicians rehearse and then you don't have to stay.