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Crashing D.C.’s endless Europarty should be simple: It’s everywhere. Figuring out what to wear is another matter. I have a tuxedo and a black suit, but nothing else in my closet is black or even dark brown. No black blazers, shirts, or slacks. I have one pair of black socks, but they’re thickâ€”dyed tube socks, if you must know. I can’t manage gel in my hair or contact lenses. I broke my sunglasses three years ago at the pool and haven’t replaced them yet. My parents are Nicaraguan, but I was born in the States. I have no discernible accent. I don’t smoke. When I drink, it’s beer. I like to read. Basically, I’m Euroclueless.
“Are these glasses OK?” I ask Steven, touching the pair I wear every day of my life.
“They’re fine,” he says without looking.
My friend Steven’s gay, put together in such a way that a single item of clothing creates a wholly believable picture of who he wants people to think he is. Tonight, he’s wearing black and apparently hailing from some unidentifiable European country. His tanned skin looks more olive than usual. Steven smokes, and his hair is slick. He has a cell phone. He can pass, but I’m floundering.
Helpless, I sift through my clothes: “Should Iâ€”?”
“No,” he says, staring down at my bluejeans and yellow V-neck. “Don’t even try.”
My Eurocredentials may be suspect, but I’ve got the vitae, if not the look. I lived in Montreal for two years. I speak Spanish, some French, even a little Latin. My family has money even if I don’t. My cousins go to Georgetown, I grew up in American University’s shadow, and once many years agoâ€”one Thanksgivingâ€”I went to a bar downtown called Bravo! Bravo! and was denied access to its VIP room. Many of my cousinsâ€”even my brother and sisterâ€”weren’t. That night was, as far as I can remember, my last brush with Washington’s Eurotrash scene. Now I’m diving back in, V-neck and all.
If being a Euro is all about striking a pose, why can’t just anyone do it?xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
I can manage the double air-kiss, barely, with relatives and close friends, but not with strangers. I’m charmed by divas ordering champagne by the case and amazed there are still cokeheads stuck on eternal loop in the ’80s, but feel no compulsion to join them.
The car I driveâ€”the one I borrow from my parentsâ€”is a banged-up Toyota. It doesn’t have diplomatic plates. It doesn’t even have those fake diplomatic plates trimmed in red and blue.
Sure I like Pedro Almodovar’s films, they’re sexy and all, but come onâ€”ultimately, life’s too short for soft porn.
And here’s the deal breaker: At 3 in the morning, I think it’s time to go home.
That’s OK though. At 11 p.m., somewhere in town a bell goes off and the Euros will start without me. And they will still be at it long after I have clicked off the Cartoon Network and toddled off to sleep.
Eurotrash culture, populated by moneyed foreigners and American wannabes, is a world spun from the gossamer of excess and superficiality. Details like the workday don’t come up a lot. The clothes, the hair, the props (the impossibly tiny cell phones, the teeny-weeny bookbags, the gold-
plated Zippo lighters, the pricey drinks) aren’t aspects of it; they’re all of it. Which club is hot with AU and Georgetown’s international students at a particular moment in timeâ€”the Red Tomato on M Street this summer, the Eleventh Hour on 14th Street right now, if it even still isâ€”is everything.
When you run with the Euros, having your name at the doorâ€”so you don’t have to wait in line with losers in a wasteland demarcated by velvet ropesâ€”is life vs. death. The diplomatic function you attended earlier that nightâ€”an artist’s opening at the OAS, an Opera Ball at the Italian ambassador’s residenceâ€”decides your status, outcast or first lady, for the rest of the weekend. And throughout the evening’s marathon, you drink and you smoke and you do drugs and you party, recklessly, because, hey, you’re away from home, surrounded by infidels, oblivious to their sneers and judgments.
Being a pedigreed member of the Eurotrash elite wasn’t always an exercise in Sybaritic dissolution. In fact, the original Eurotrashersâ€”immigrants and exiles who arrived in New York not on rag ships and third-class steamers, but on Air France and British Airwaysâ€”came here first to work and then to indulge. They dreamed of a country where it was OK to make a lot of money and flaunt it. Immigration has usually been sparked by tough trends on the continent, and the Eurotrashing of America began in similar fashion. In the early 1980s, we were in a bad recession, yeah, but England was in a worse one. In France, Mitterrand nationalized his country’s most powerful companies and banks, driving investors away in droves. Ditto Spain, thanks to the country’s handsome, socialist prime minister, Felipe Gonzalez.
Eurotrashers became expats because their own countries couldn’t abide them, a diaspora of wealth seeking a port. The new world they found in the Colonies was one where no one poured sugar into their Jags’ gas tanks or slashed their tires as part of the class struggle, and the threat of peasant revolt and revolution was the stuff of Hugo and Stendahl. After the dollar tanked, the pull of the States became even more magical.
The Euros came en masse, started businesses, and bought apartments; and a classy, trashy nightlife sprouted around them. Following the three-year rule, the Eurotrash octopus eventually tentacled its way down to D.C. Cities opened in Adams Morgan, catering to this new, bratty, nocturnal species, along with the Fifth Columnâ€”its VIP room elevated far above the dance floor to impede commingling of the classesâ€”and Club Med in Georgetown. Unsurprisingly, D.C.’s swampy climate proved hospitable to the Europi. There were universities where foreign money could grease dimwitted children through the admissions process and an international community unlike any other in the world. The urban legend of diplomatic immunity added to the scene’s stench of irresponsibility and wantonness.
Here, while all eyes were on the Royal Wedding (the Euro equivalent of Kennedy’s assassination), Eurotrashers sneaked in, a bunch of Old Worlders recolonizing the United States one restaurant at a time. In most cities, it was a marginal phenomenon that all but evaporated when the American dollar, puny in the early ’80s, bounced back mighty by the end of the decade. No longer able to sustain their decadent lifestyles, with their baths of sparkling water and Mont Blanc pens as party favors, Euros either evolved into functioning members of American society, died out, or went back home. In New York, Euroclubs closed and morphed, reopening as yuppie dives and theme bars. In D.C., Eurosites were re-packaged, too, but only as newer, trendier clubs and restaurants.
The Euroscene endures in Washington largely because the habitat curves to their desires. It is, after all, one of the few places in the nation where being from somewhere else can be commodified and turned into a consultancy. Besides, transiency isn’t a problem in a place where most of the other people are merely city hoppers with a more domestic itinerary. And even though we won’t admit it, locals like the reliefâ€”visual, comic, or dramaticâ€”that the Euros provide.
Scott Pugh, one of the managers at the restaurant/bar Il Teatro in Georgetown, a double-kissing cousin to Cafe Milano (the two are owned by close friends), is as American as Bazooka Joe. He was born in Virginia Beach and grew up in Farmville, Va. For the last four-and-a-half years, though, he’s worked in some of D.C.’s most venerated Eurohouses. He learned the (velvet) ropes at Bice (former Eurotraining ground, now called Villa Franco), apprenticing alongside Francesco Pistorio, another manager at Teatro, and Fabio Beggiato, who now operates Sesto Senso.
“I’m the American in the Italian scene,” he says, taking a seat at a bar he normally works. “I’m the one guy everyone asks, ‘What are you doing here?’”
“Washington is an international city, and you have to look at it as one. Washington, New York, Los Angelesâ€”international cities. Pittsburghâ€”not an international city. Denver, Coloradoâ€”not an international city. Atlanta, Georgiaâ€”a Southern city. You have to adapt to what you have and where you are,” Pugh says, gesturing to the expanse of Il Teatro. “You’re dealing with diplomats and diplomatic immunity. I had a private party where the police walked in, and a guy at the party asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ The police said, ‘I’m gonna run you in,’ and the guy said, ‘I’ve got diplomatic immunity, to hell with you.’ You have to know what your crowd wants and what it doesn’t want.”
“And what,” I ask Pugh, “does the crowd want?”
“Johnnie Walker Black,” he answers.
For Pugh, working in what he calls “Italianland” is a no-brainerâ€”and a matter of survival. It’s his own new world, a better place to be, toiling side by side with an English bouncer named Nightmare. He thinks, in short, the Euros are a good bunch to pour whiskey for.
“International crowds come to have a fun time; they don’t come to be boisterous; they don’t come to be loud,” he says. “Some get drunk, but over in Europe, remember, you grow up having a glass of wine at the table, so you’re more accustomed to alcohol than here in America, where you might start when you’re doing a beer bomb at 18 years of age in your college fraternity.”
Pugh’s willingness to cater to and, indeed, enjoy the local Euro fauna is not unusual among locals. In Washington, a town that thinks three-button suits are risky, where the most it can offer this country’s youth is internships opening mail on the Hill, a city so starved for Art and Beauty and Truth that people are paying $600 for a free pass to “Van Gogh’s Van Goghs,” the Eurosceneâ€”tawdry and cheap as it has becomeâ€”is everything this burg rejects, but secretly covets. Call it the fascination of the abomination. Classist, vulgar, grotesque, extravagant, andâ€”finallyâ€”unapologetically shallow, D.C. Eurotrash culture is also wily and self-sustaining. Euros are able to suck their hosts dry even as they double-kiss them hello. Supply isn’t a problem. As soon as one World Banker returns to his homeland, another transfers in. For every graduating (after five years) AU student, there is another freshman armed with Mom and Dad’s credit cards. They walk among us, these gods and monsters, because we provide a perfectly drab ecosystem, a context built of nonfabulous people that make them seem all the more sparkly and exotic.
It’s 1:30 in the morning. Sesto Senso is the fifth bar Steven and I have hit that night, but the first one that cards us. While we’re pulling out our IDs, another guy, our age, is leaving.
“Later, bro,” he says to the black bouncer.
“Tomorrow, daddy-o,” says the bouncer.
No irony behind their lingo, no self-consciousness. This, I realize, is simply how they talk.
Inside, the Eurogirls wear velvet dresses. Or black slacks with olive, maroon, or white shirts. Everything’s tight around taut bellies. Ears are pierced, but not multiple times. They don’t have tattoos or body piercings, because Eurogirls aren’t allowed to inflict that kind of permanent damage on their bodiesâ€”all vandalism must be temporary, easily erased for visits back home. Hair’s long and over-conditioned, limp and heavy, and unfortunate blonde streaks are common. Faces are made-up and look that way. Sparkling hair, glittering cheeks and hands, compressed titties are as commonplace as they are common. Doused in perfume bought for retail at Neiman Marcus, the girls are noxious at close range. Those ridiculously small bookbags that were popular in Toronto and New York two years ago have found a lasting home on the backs of Eurogirls, leather straps criss-crossing their backs to form a sea of bobbing Xs. They dance badly but assuredly, comfortable in the knowledge that no one is showing anyone up, that each dances as poorly as the next.
This is how you can dance like them: Form weak fists with your hands and raise them above your head. Move your armsâ€”still held aloftâ€”in small circles (imagine pistons chugging). Rock the rest of your body forward and back, forward and back. That’s itâ€”now you’ve got it. Eurodancing: dancing without sweating.
The boys, like the girls, have a dress code. Despite the heatâ€”and it is hotâ€”some sport dark blazers with wide shoulders. Leather jackets, tooâ€”not black or dark brown, but tan or red or a mix. Their hair is slicked-back, and goatees sprout frequently. Muscular and burly, they wear black shirts and jeans. They all carry cell phones. Many smoke cigars.
They’re not all European; that’s clear from Sesto Senso’s crowd, a pulsing mix of Russians and Persians. There are really two kinds of Eurotrash: people from Somewhere Else and people who act as if they are even though it isn’t true. The core group consists of legitimate foreignersâ€”some from Europe, certainly, but also from Central and South America, the Middle East, and Japanâ€”transplanted to Washington for school or work or vacation. Pig-rich and accustomed to a certain amount of privilege in their lives, they work short, intense hours. The older foreigners are investors and doctors, architects, designers, and entrepreneurs. They live hand to mouth on a higher plateau. Their children, the Eurokids, are event planners at the World Bank and consultants for long-distance companies, embassy gophers and School of Foreign Service students sloshing through geography classes at Georgetown.
The second-class Eurocitizens are domestic. They are young, mostly girls in high school or their first year of college, seeking out older, pseudo-sophisticated men, envious of the ambassadors’ wives who wear sequins and receive baskets of roses at Ozio’s and Fellini’s. These girls were over Tom Cruise in the sixth grade, Antonio Banderas by high school, and they’re just now discovering Placido Domingo’s son. They’re poorer than their foreign counterparts, but whatever money they have is spent on cheap, imitation Eurochic accessories. Many skate along on maxed-out credit cards. They do drugsâ€”never pot, usually cokeâ€”whenever they are offered to them, and, if they’re lucky, they will outgrow their Amerotrash inclinations before college graduation and destroy any photographic evidence. By and large, American men who assume Eurotrash affectations are gay.
Steven and I join two guys languishing at one of Sesto Senso’s tables. They’re opposites. Biffâ€”I did not make this upâ€”is handsome and lean; the gray shirt and black tie he wears look good on him. Patrick is wearing a white shirt that’s snug around his stomach. He’s darker-skinned than Biff, has facial hair, is drinking a rum and Coke. Talking about Sesto Senso, Biff announces: “This place sucks.”
“Why?” I ask.
“I’ll tell you,” Biff says. “It’s three things: One, this place is un-American. Two, it has shitty music.” (I can’t argue with that; the “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” megamix is playing.) “And three, it’s high-dollar.”
“It means these bitches are looking for men with money.”
The prefigurer of Eurogodfathersâ€”the fat cats who populate the VIP rooms of Washington’s Eurotrash clubs, buying drinks for the pretty Eurogirls, closing business deals while arranging for that evening’s supply of dope or funâ€”is Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.
Kurtz’s seminal origins are described in Joseph’s Conrad’s novel: “His mother was half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.”
But all the breeding in the world won’t do much for a Euro once he or she has gone native, as Marlow surmised after spying the shrunken heads decorating Kurtz’s jungle fortress: “They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in himâ€”some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence.”
Kurtz is Eurotrash not because he is European, but because he positions himself as one of the high devils in an alien landscape, the Dark Continent, far from his intended bride and his homeland’s moralities and laws. Furthermore, he is a creature of wanton gratification, taking an African bride even though he is engaged to be married, raiding villages and slaughteringâ€”and perhaps devouringâ€”natives to amass mountains of priceless ivory. His mind eventually drowns in excess. Imagine him in a suit coat with expansive shoulder pads, and you have any one of the restaurant owners who feed off of and into the Eurotopia.
Though he’s only been bartending at Paolo’s for two weeks, Joe Schinoso knows the foreign landscape of Georgetown. For the last 14 years, he’s made his way through its Eurocircuit, working at such places as Au Pied de Cochon and Cafe Milano.
“What’s changed most is the fact that suburbanites don’t come into the city as much anymore, so you get either an exclusively European, Middle Eastern crowd or a Latin American crowd. And the Latin American crowd has grown substantially. They’ve been around for 10 years, and finally they’re generating income. They’ve done their timeâ€”now they go out,” Schinoso says, hoisting cocktails for a bar full of steady drinkers.
“They party Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They have their girlfriends, their cars, their beepers. They know everybody; they kiss everybody. They’re equatorial in nature; they all come from around the equator,” he adds.
Schnioso says that international differences tend to disappear in the gold-plated melting pot. “They work for their embassies, or they do international trade. They’re from all over, a race unto themselves. They all speak the same lingo, no matter what part of the world they come from.”
Eurostudents don’t care about their GPAs. For them, what matters is picking a major that guarantees them financial support from mom and dad for at least four (and possibly as many as six) years. The more serious-minded studentsâ€”the eldest sons of French bankers and Italian merchantsâ€”study economics, political science, or international relations. As long as they graduate, they’re allowed to just barely scrape by academically without endangering the allowances that sustain all the Europartying. Back home, no one will care how low their class rank was or that they never approached the dean’s list; in the European university system, all that counts in the final analysis is a passing grade. Eurodaughters, meantime, major in art history. Most can’t help but do well, having grown up in villas where impressive reproductions and even some originalâ€”if minorâ€”masterpieces decorate the walls. For these pouty sirens, though, grades are even less important than the prospect of earning an M.R.S. degree with a suitable expat from some incrementally higher rung on
Unless their professors are relatives or friends of the family, Eurostudents rarely attend class. When they do (never on Mondays or Fridays, and hardly ever before noon or after 8 p.m.), they cluster in packs, arriving late and without pens or paper. The weeks before midterms and finals, they borrow their classmates’ notes and highlighted textbooks to minimize the amount of mental energy they have to expend studying. Junior colleagues of their fathers or friends interning at the World Bank provide the necessary research for term papers and economic analyses. They show up to faculty receptions, yes, but only for the wine and to see halls and salons normally off-limits to students. There are, of course, all sorts of exceptions to the rule, but you don’t tend to notice the Euros spending their weekends in the library.
A large community of them live in EuroDisney: 4100 Mass Ave. NW, a modern apartment complex just south of Ward Circle and American University. There, Amerotrash students cohabitate with their Puerto Rican roommates, their best friends named Aphrodite and Lisle just down the hall in overdecorated two-bedrooms. Mink-draped matrons and tuxedoed patriarchs stop by on their way to benefits on Embassy Row, bestowing giftsâ€”sometimes cars, sometimes large chunks of American currencyâ€”on their children. Less that a quarter of a mile away from the run-down row-houses on 47th and 48th Streets where rowdy, Frisbee-playing, pumpkin-smashing, keg-partying AU students dwell, EuroDisneyâ€”surrounded by thick woods, a stone’s throw from Sutton Place Gourmet on Foxhall Roadâ€”is definitely the right side of the tracks.
The Euroverse, spiraling out across Northwest Washington from its epicenter at 4100, is all within reach. For shopping, there’s Georgetown: Urban Oufitters, Armani Exchange, the string of nameless suit stores on M Street, with their outrageously priced ties and shirts. In Friendship Heights, there’s the Chevy Chase Pavilion, Mazza Gallerie, and Saks, where Eurogirls go in search of the one outfit no other will have next Friday night. Eurodining’s nearby, too. Begin the weekend with dinner at DeCarlo’s in Spring Valley, continue with late-night fat bombs at the Georgetown Cafe (you’re allowed, so long as you’re going somewhere else for drinks afterwards), and end with brunch at the Monarch Hotel, in the Colonnade room. Eurosalons (George at the Four Seasons for hair, Elizabeth Arden for the all-important body wax), the Watergate (for World Bank happy hours), and the Kennedy Center (for foreign film festivals at the AFI) are all less than four cab zones away. Finallyâ€”and perhaps most importantlyâ€”4100 is plenty close enough to the downtown clubs.
Eurostudents go out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Their evenings begin at 9 on the steps of AU’s Mary Graydon Center or Georgetown’s Leavey Center, where huddles of smoking students map out their itineraries for the night. Then, at EuroDisney, after a round of furious phone calls, plans made 15 minutes earlier are reviewed and tweaked into perfection. While the Eurogirls piece together outfits and faces, their boys coordinate contacts: which club, who’s driving, who will make sure their names are on the list. Two hours later, they’re ready to roll.
AU alum and reformed Eurogirl Ellen Shorthill, who ruined her voice permanently from screeching and smoking at the height of D.C.’s Euroscene in the late ’80s, says the timing is critical: “You never left home until 11. God forbid you were seen anywhere before then. And you wanted to wait until there was a line in front of your club so you could bypass the line and be perfectly clear you were bypassing the line. Of course, your name had to be on the list, which it always was.”
Sometimes, if their cars have been booted for too many parking tickets or their licenses suspended for reckless driving, Eurostudents take cabs. It’s a spectacle, driving down Massachusetts Avenue just before midnight, the high-heeled knots trying to flag down taxis, on cell phones with their friends who are already waiting somewhere downtown. Most of the time they drive, though, and then they park in a lot or with a valet so precious moments aren’t wasted looking for a legal spot on the street. Even if the lot’s next to the club, women are dropped off at the door.
Once there, outside the clubâ€”say, Ozio’s on K Streetâ€”the ritualized meeting between patron and bouncer takes place. A single-headed Cerebus guarding the velvet ropes, the doorman is a figure of supreme authority, keeper of the list and arbiter of style. Your passport to Valhalla, your name, is on his list if you are a regular who either spends a lot of money or brings people who spend a lot of money. Or if you’re friends with the owner. Or he went to school with your father. Or you’re some favorite eye candy or elbow-dressing for one of the Eurogodfathers in the inner sanctum, the VIP room, where everyone’s highballing it. Whatever the case, the bouncer smiles when he sees you, you greet each other with a double-kiss, and he parts the sea of hoi polloi for you and your friends, doing so slowly and with relish. It’s a privilege that’s bought and paid for in the long run, but the geeks stuck in line don’t necessarily know that.
“In this city, where being connected matters particularly, it’s all about who you know and what you can get accomplished through your connects,” Eurogirl says. “Being Eurotrash is not only about what you wear; it’s about money, which gets you access…to clubs, events, good times. Places and things you can getâ€”and you can get toâ€”that no one else can.”
Inside Ozio’s, it’s couples and groups, no loners. In one booth, a blond female hardbody is giving intense cell phone. Her boyfriend, sculpted arm around her shoulders, wearing a black T-shirt, scratches his ear, bored. That’s part of the role-playing, too: Work like crazy to find the nexus of fabulousness, and then make it appear as if you couldn’t be any less impressed.
Across the dance floor, five Eurobabes, thin, short-haired, obvious regulars (from the way drinks, martinis mostly, materialize in their hands), hold court. They’re a beautiful assortment, a gradation of colors, with extremes on either end: one is milky white, wearing dark brown lipstick; the other is black, her arms roped with muscles. I’m impressed. In front of the bar, a pair of Eurogirls sporting complimentary outfitsâ€”black dress, white sweater tied around the waist; white dress, black sweater tied around the waistâ€”dance like Siamese twins. Everyone but me knows everyone. Patrons kiss greeters, the coat check girl, the waiters, the bartenders.
A trio of buff men saunter down the carpeted steps, hug the burly bouncer, and do a lap around the main room. They are the only men allowed to wear bluejeans. They look like triplets in their identical black V-neck shirts and lumpy pants; the bulges are thick, potent wallets and identical cell phones, clipped into place in their back left pockets. They could be, and perhaps are, brothers.
One young couple there, Raj Multani and his girlfriend, are celebrating their anniversary. Raj, whose family is from India, lives in Fairfax. During the day, he’s a programmer in Crystal City. At night, he works at Ozio’s as a bartender/server. Tonight he’s off, though, and reaping his just deserts, being pampered like the Eurotrash he services every other night of the week. Ozio’s owner has sent him a bottle of complimentary champagne, and free packs of cigarettes, on a platter, sit before him. The line between Raj and the people he caters to, what separates trash from the trashmen, is Paper Moon-thin. There is fluidity among the classes. One night of stroking and you’re hooked, a maharajah; the next, you’re back working coat check, former glories forgotten. No one is special, not really. The double-cheek ass-kissing goes both ways. You kiss ass to get into the VIP rooms; once admitted, your ass is kissed to loosen your wallet. The kisser becomes the kissed.
The Euroclub itself is a completely nocturnal animal. Like the Americans who drive in from the suburbs each weekend who shed skins and don Eurofinery, many of the venues transform as evening stretches into night. By day, these restaurantsâ€”usually Italian (Red Tomato, Paper Moon, Cafe Milano, Fellini’s)â€”usually serve mediocre to average food; by night, these pedestrian bistros become intercontinental playgrounds. (At the Eleventh Hour on 14th Street, there are even further shifts; on Sunday nights, the Lizard Loungeâ€”a watering hole for gay menâ€”spills out of a back room and takes over the place.)
I’m with my friend Amy at Paper Moon. It’s before 10, and the restaurant is loosely packed with people, mostly older couples and families, European tourists bused to Georgetown for the night. In jeans and T-shirts, we’re underdressed. We have a drink at the bar. Deciding it’s too early for much of anything, we leave for a stroll down by the canal.
When we return 40 minutes later, there’s a line of Eurokids and a $12 cover. The music’s much louder, easily heard from the street. Inside, the bar is thronged with groups of girls. Old hands, they’ve timed their arrival to just beat the front ID check and cover charge. They have to get something, however, so out of a group of 12, four order glasses of wine, and the rest split a plate of appetizers. The few legitimate stragglers from dinner have been pushed against the walls, and management has cleared a space for dancing. A muscular servitor, wearing a purple zip-shirt, eases a metal tub of ice and beer across the floor and sets it up as a satellite bar. It only sells $6 beers. A sloppy circle has formed around the dance floor. Three women, my age, hair teased up monstrously, pulse to the music.
“When did this start?” I asked. “The music, the dancing?”
The girls shrug. “Ten minutes ago,” oneâ€”Rosario, I find out laterâ€”tells me. Wow, that was fast.
It’s something I learn: Things move across the Euroscape with a desperate suddenness. Clubs start to heat up with an apparent flick of the switch. There is no trickling out at the end of the night, either. As soon as the music gets plugged, waves of kidsâ€”still punchyâ€”pour from the clubs and descend on the city’s after-hours cafes and restaurants like Bistro FranÃ§ais.
The three girls are students at Northern Virginia Community College. Two are from Spain; one is from Chile. To support themselves, they’re live-in babysitters. “Au pairs,” Marie Claire, one of the girls, tells me. They’re not drinking anythingâ€”probably because they can’t afford to. They’re working hard to create the illusion of casualness, but are, in fact, anxious, twisting the glass rings on their fingers, scanning the dance floor for goateed faces they recognize. Nothing doing so far, but the nights are forever when you’re running on Eurotime.
When I tell people where I’ve been spending my evenings, their response, invariably, is: “[That place], oh, that’s the worst.” My friends are both right and wrong. Early on, someone advised me, “Every Eurotrash place is the worst,” and he was rightâ€”but there are degrees, the worst of the worst and the best of the worst, and the Red Tomato on M Street is the worst of the worst. Compared with CafÃ© Atlantico, it is a horrible restaurant; next to Diva’s, it’s a sorry club. To beat the cover charge, I go early for dinner with my leggy friend Julie, her blond boyfriend Allan, and Steven. We order Pellegrino instead of tap water from our Asian waiter, Lam, because we don’t feel like spoiling the moment.
We watch the Europarade stream in. Red tans, acquired too quickly over vacations at the Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, peek out from under clothes that are too tight. Riding boots, vestiges of their parents’ education at Eaton, are popular with the girls. The men wear jewelry and vertical stripes. “And,” Steven points out, “it’s either shirts with no collars or shirts with spread collars. No button-downs allowed.” A woman, her hair unnaturally straight, saunters in, a yellow HermÃ¨s scarf tied to her purse’s strap. Behind her, a woman at least six months pregnant, wearing a stretched leopard leotard over her swollen gut and foot-wide belt, wobbles inside. “She’s great,” Julie says, impressed. “And she’s tan.” Her hair is streaked, a visual denial of the warnings on the dye box about pregnancy. There are three kinds of Eurtotrash hair, we decide: big and curly (rare, but a reality); streaked and straightened (most common); or pulled back severely (modified Eva PerÃ³n look).
At 10:30 exactly, the lights dim and Burt Bacharach gives way to the Gypsy Kings. At 11, the lights dim further. “They’re on a timer,” Allan remarks. Outside, the velvet ropes are up. At the front door, they’re charging a $10 cover to get in and, amazingly, people are paying it. They could have waltzed right in an hour ago without schmoozing or paying, but then, that’s not the point, is it? The Eurotrash at the bar wave at their friends waiting out in the rain. At 11:10, Lam comes around, insistent about removing our food. Mostly untouched, our plates fly off the table. At the bar, two women flirt with the beefy, pony-tailed bartender. He kisses one of them on the hand. “Wait, what about me?” the other coos, offering her paw. At 11:25, Lam suggests coffee and dessert. A rose seller passes through the crowd, peddling his wares. At 11:30, the lights are turned down another notch and an equal but opposite goose is given to the music.
In search of a cigarette, Julie leaves our table. She introduces herself to Michael and Brandon, Ameritrash here with their boss, Nino, who is Italian. The trio work for a satellite company in Philadelphia, and are in Washington on business. Michael and Brandon, both wearing French-blue shirts, are out to show Nino a good time. Red Tomato was their hotel’s recommendation. Brandon’s middle finger is bandaged; he broke it playing golf this afternoon. Julie asks Mike for a cigarette, which he immediately produces. Brandon, distressed, shakes his head suddenly. “We gotta get Nino a beautiful woman tonight,” he explains. Mike pats him on the back. “Every woman is beautiful,” Mike declares, wisely.
Back at the table, our desserts come and go. It’s midnight now, and all traces of dinner (including our check and Lam) are gone. The lights are taken down one final time. Club music, selected by the DJ set up near the kitchen, intensifies. The metamorphosis from restaurant to nightclub is complete.
Steven and I get up and weave through the crowd, Euroyouth carrying brightly colored drinks and glowing cigarettes. I move to the bar. See me in your mind, hapless, the invisible man trying to get a drink. The bartender sails past me five, six times. Finally, I ask a woman buying drinks if she’ll get me one. She agrees, and I give her six bucks for a beer. The woman, Jasmine, is with a friend, ViVi. They’re wearing black. They’re beautiful, brown skinned and blue eyed. Casually, I ask where they’re from.
Suspicious, ViVi returns, “Where do you think we’re from?”
I tell them I don’t know. I explain that although I’m originally from Central America, I grew up in the States. I lie and say that I just started my job as an economist at the World Bank, that a colleague recommended I try Red Tomato. Jasmine perks up.
“We’re Persian,” she says. They’ve just graduated from AU, Jasmine says, where they studied international business. They’re temping, trying to get real jobsâ€”maybe at the World Bank, maybe at the IMF. The Red Tomato is their first stop of many tonight. Afterward, they plan to head across town to the Eleventh Hour or Club Zei. Jasmine asks me along, but I decline politely, nodding toward Steven
and Julie. “Maybe some other night,” I offer.
“Can I call you?” she asks. “Do you have a card?”
Well, of course I don’t. I explain, poorly, that, ah, they, um, haven’t been printed yet, because, well, you know. Jasmine’s oval eyes narrow. Her lashes, gobbed with mascara, are more sensitive than an insect’s antennae. She knows a poseur when she sees one. Jasmine and ViVi share a smirk, turn on their heels, icily, without a word, and vanish into the dancing Euroblob.
The handsome man with the boxer’s physique is Mario. He’s a titan amongst trash, confidence and charisma squishing out of him at every step. He’s got the props, the clipped wad of money, the chest hairs showing, but he doesn’t need them. He’s big enough to be reckless, and just the narrowest degree past his prime. The look he has cultivated, intentionally or not, is of a man who’s denied himself very little. He’s the worst, no questionâ€”politically incorrect, arrogant, a drinker, a bruiserâ€”but he’s loaded, assured, and sexy. In the china shop of D.C.’s polite society, Mario is the bull.
Friday night at Club Zei, one of Washington’s pre-eminent Eurohangouts. It’s early in the school year, and everything is new, full of potential. Across the scene, owners have given their bartenders bigger on-the-house drink tabs and brought in better DJs. Clubs are courting students to become their regulars, the hardbodies that serve as human decorations needed to keep a place alive for at least another school year. At the bar, Mario is knocking back shot after shot of tequila, but it has no apparent effect. One of his best friends at AU and his Amerotrash sidekick, Lilliam, is with him, chain-smoking. When the two go out (as they will do every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night), Mario pays for everything.
Mario, or at least his father, is extremely wealthy. Over the course of a weekend, he will spend hundreds on entertainment. Dinner, drinks, dancing, more drinks, more food. He peels bills from his folded wad casually. Mario is from Panama.
This Friday, Zei is packed, and out of all the Eurogirls and boys there, oneâ€”a dark-skinned goddessâ€”stands tall. Chilly and beautiful, the woman is Hispanic. Or, rather, Hispanic-looking. Or perhaps Arabic. Lilliam can’t tell for certain, but knows that her official address is the Land of Unattainable Goddesses. All night long, men send her drinks and cigarettes. She accepts the tributes, then rebuffs their pleas for a conversation or a dance.
Mario watches the woman blow the men off, and Lilliam watches Mario, dreading what she knows will happen soon. Mario, without doubt, announces simply: “I’m going to ask her to dance and she’s going to say yes.”
Lilliam looks at her friend. “Mario, I love you and think you’re the best, but she’s not going to dance with you. Save yourself the trouble.”
“Watch me,” Mario says, more fact than brag.
“Honey, I’ll bet you all the tequila in this bar that she’s not going to dance with you.”
“Watch me,” Mario says again. He moves to
Lilliam follows, getting close enough to hear
Mario: “Excuse me, would you care to dance?”
The Woman: “Since when was honey meant for the mouth of a donkey?” (She pronounces “when” “qwhen.”)
Mario (slowly smiling): “I’m sorry. You misunderstood me. I asked you to dance, not suck my dick.”
Lilliam, laughing, proceeds to buy Mario all the tequila in the bar. And when Club Zei runs out of tequila, they move on to Paolo’s, where they drink the evening into ruins. And Mario, Zeus cavorting with the swans, remains invincible throughout.
At a reception at the National Gallery of Art celebrating the annual meeting of those twin pillars of Washington’s Eurocommunity, the World Bank and the IMF, the chaff falls from the wheat. Orgies of access and excess, indulgence and consumption, these annual receptions represent all thatâ€”neither rightly nor wronglyâ€”the Euroculture holds dear. Among Bernini’s miniature terra-cotta masterpieces, the froth de la crÃ¨me of Eurosociety gathers to celebrateâ€”with obscene buffets of food and a river of booze as wide as the Nileâ€”the fact that they’ve been invited and no one else has.
I get to go because my father is a diplomat. In front of the gallery’s West Building, valet attendants dispose of Alfa Romeros and Mercedes Benzes under cover of a white tent. Bankers and diplomats, attachÃ©s and artists, poseurs and interns, foreign service students and translators, children and nannies, all wearing black or gold, stand before a bank of laser printers, anxious for their name tags.
They feel privileged and slighted, not understanding why they should have to wait in line just like everyone else. “Nonono, you don’t understand,” one dignitary tells a flustered attendant, “I called beforehand and arranged to come through in the VIP line.”
He’s lying. There is no VIP line. Tonight, in this controlled chaos, every line is a VIP line, and every room within is packed with Eurogodfathers.
I pass under a metal detectorâ€”anywhere else, a hassle; here, an honorâ€”and work my way through the almighty receiving line. My hosts don’t recognize me, looking beyond my rumpled suit (which is black, at least) to whoever might be following. Food, supplied by Design Cuisine (Eurodom’s official caterer), is extravagant, European, and omnipresent: innocent, overcooked pastas drowned in heavy cream sauces, vegetable frittatas, pumpkin risotto, poached turbot, mountains of cheese, and bubbling vats of chocolateâ€”even sushi. The buffet tables are garnished by string quartets, their elegant music in counterpoint to the sounds of gorging. Bartenders, stationed every 3 feet, serve stupendously strong drinks in unrealistic glasses.
In the Bernini exhibit, wending my way among the glass cases, I smile and nod to a man keeping pace with me, carefullyâ€”seeminglyâ€”studying the maquettes. “Hello,” he says in a thick Polish accent. He’s a banker named Christopher. “Hello,” I offer in return, and move on to the next miniature. Christopher follows. He’s 45, with clear, blue eyes. I leave the Bernini and walk across the gallery to the Van Gogh, Christopher following two or three masterpieces behind me. I realize, suddenly, that he’s cruising me. A Eurodaddy on the prowl. I’m flattered, but not game. I pass from Van Gogh and enter the gallery’s rotunda, clogged with people. In the sea of black-wrapped bodies, I lose him easily.
Under the gallery’s massive duomo, a cacophony of voices and foreign languages ping-pong around the roomâ€”Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, and many more I don’t recognize. Somewhere in this mess, I think, my family’s here, eating and drinking not just champagne, but the best champagne, double-kissing and discoursingâ€”all to beat the band. This, then, is what it means to be Eurotrash. Never-ending fountains of wine and rum; children my age and younger rubbing up against their parents’ friends; international movers and shakers and muckety-mucks; transactions and contractions made over steaming plates of verdant pasta; businessmen breezing through the gallery, shopping for warm bodies to help them get over their jet lag; everyone at home in this room; a bronze statue of Mercury keeping silent watch over the proceedings. They party without end because they’re playing in a different time zone, breathing another country’s air.