Words: Mitchell London
Pictures: Allison Futurelondon
Having watched my share of Gossip Girl,* I consider myself pretty well versed in the contemporary Gala – silly costumes, hobknobbing, anachronistic dancing, attendees with “go home now to avoid paying the babysitter overtime” alarms set on their iPhones – and the first twenty minutes of my experience at the Phillips Collection Annual Gala Roaring Twenties Anderson House After Party (PCAGRTAHAP) conformed to my expectations. Thanks to the scant advice and instruction provided by the editrix of this site, I arrived on the scene dressed like a proletarian (in my suit and tie) and was immediately flustered by all of the tuxes, flapper dresses, and immaculately-planned period garb.
My apprehension and unease poisoned my first impression of the event; I honestly thought that I would spend the next precious few hours of life moving uncomfortably from room to gilded room, making small talk with different versions of my parents’ friends. I was profoundly wrong.
Turns out all I needed to shake the stuffiness was a dose of the good doctor’s prohibition-strength liquid medicine. On the outdoor bartender’s recommendation, I had the Bathtub Gin and Allison had the Lemon Thyme Vodka, which were equally equally excellent. Surveying the scene from this position, with drink in hand, the true event came into view. Between the two outdoor bars (one serving mixed drinks, one serving champagne with fruit), I could see a crowd pour from the rear doors of the regal and dramatically lit Anderson House.
Aside from the waitresses, who were uniformly Russian and jaw-droppingly attractive, the crowd was as diverse as one I’ve seen in DC, like the event was cast by the producers of a Pepsi commercial to reflect the ideal demographic makeup of the USA. Everyone was laughing, dancing, chatting with people that they wouldn’t normally talk to, sampling the goods from an ostentatious variety of food stations (including, but not limited to: oyster rockefeller station, carved meat station, sorbet station, cheese and cured meat station, dessert megastation), and getting their ole-fashioned drink on.
The music for the first half of the evening emanated from a 1920’s cover band, who played all of your favorite dance jams from that era, including: The Charleston, The Tango, The Baltimore Buzz, The Sourkraut Special, and The Foxtrot.** The band deftly picked up the tempo as the median BAC spiked, plowing through the Rat Pack on their way to early Motown. The last quarter of the band’s set was the night’s first apex.
No one had left yet, the Anderson house was packed to near-capacity with tuxes and funny headbands and champagne glasses and fedoras, and the rooms and backyard were so soaked with laughter and chatter and glass clinking that the ambient volume neared harrier-jet levels. I felt that at any point, Jay Gatsby could have come down the stairs, clinked his glass, made a toast, and no one would have missed a beat. This is not something you get in DC every day.
After the band packed up, the fourth wall began to crumble. The babysitter alarms started firing, and the average age of the party took a little dip. A guy in a thrift-store sweater and permullet and a girl in jeans and a Burberry scarf reminded me that I was not, in fact, the victim of a space-time-vortex mishap. The boys from Bluebrain took over the audio and kept the party at a simmer until about 11:30. At that point, the bars and various food stations started shutting down and the attendees converged on the dancefloor, where the Holladays kicked it into overdrive.
It was here that the night reached its second apex, with strangers pulling out all their best moves for “Dancing Queen” and “Thriller.” When the lights came on, I could see that the room was filled with skewed headbands, undone bowties, and sweaty brows: the artifacts of good times.
It was, as my fiancee said, the best non-wedding wedding reception imaginable.
*At the behest of this event’s BYTographer I, erm, assure you
**basically all your favorites from NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 1-75