I swear I’ve only done this once.
It was an evening in early April, and this is my memory of the conversation:
“I forgot to RSVP, but, um, I’m the arts editor of the City Paper,” I said to a volunteer outside a warehouse in Adams Morgan. “Any chance I can skip the line?”
I took out my ID and a business card. She eyed them, and eyed me.
“Give me one moment.” She walked back into the loading dock, where she asked another volunteer, “Where’s Philippa?”
She returned. “OK, go on in.”
“Thanks! Can I bring my five friends?”
“No, you can’t bring your five friends.”
So while they stood at the end of a line stretching around the block (wait: about one hour), I explored the Pink Line Project’s second annual Cherry Blast party. An On the Fly food truck sat on the first floor, where a DJ pumped grimy disco. Local indie singers Olivia Mancini and Maureen Andary chirpily entertained guests riding the elevator to a “dance hall” on another floor, which contained, among many attractions, a make-out club, the violinist Matthew Hemerlein performing in wizard regalia, and a few O’Keeffe-like drawings tacked on a wall. A few guests circulated with makeup bruises by the artist Amelia Winger-Bearskin. There was a wispy tunnel made of fabric on the dance floor. Seventies soul music throbbed. It was, to be sure, an impressive production.
And I was bored out of my mind. “If you walk out of this door, you can’t come back in,” a bouncer told me in the loading dock. “That’s cool!” I shouted, re-entering the night. Our evening ended with whiskey shots and bad Adams Morgan pizza.
Several months later, I was still trying to sort out what about that night—and what about D.C.’s arty party circuit in general—left me feeling so cold.
Here’s a few gripes to start: that the parties basically employ fine artists as court jesters, like wedding cover bands for the creative class. That the attendees, on the whole, tend to look a lot more attractive in photos posted online the following Monday than at the parties themselves. That I go to these events for the spectacle and the social opportunity, not the art. And that I don’t think I’m alone in that. No matter how inventive they are, the tone is utterly vacuous.
This is the point in the essay where I thought I’d invoke Warhol’s Factory parties and say something about the disingenuousness of authenticity arguments. I won’t waste your time. My simpler point is there’s not so huge a difference between Hughes’ elaborate theme parties and your typical First Friday opening, with its Styrofoam cups and serve-yourself white wine. Both, ultimately, feel like networking events.
I don’t doubt Philippa Hughes’ good intentions. Her Salon Contra events already have fascinating topics, sans DJs. But most of her events? They’re parties! They have booze! Which is totally fine, if drinking with D.C. careerists is your thing. It’s just that once you get past the artiness, not a lot of actual art makes its way into your consciousness. An evening in a dive bar is no less culturally enriching—and a good deal less annoying.