We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Ted hangs with master bugler, bourbon
Inaugural balls! We all wish to participate in them without paying. Last night, City Paper’s Ted Scheinman and I entered the $350-per-head Kentucky Bluegrass Ball with naught but a press pass and a dream, and emerged with tummies full of bison burgers, commemorative bottles of Maker’s Mark tucked beneath our coats, and valuable ball-crashing lessons learned. Now, we impart them to you. Click here for a list of tonight’s inaugural events, then get to crashing.
CHOOSE YOUR BALL BY LOCATION. The easiest balls to crash are at huge, multi-use facilities with several points of access. That means you should hit the hotel balls before the ones at society houses, art facilities, theaters, or clubs. The Kentucky Ball was held at the Marriott Wardman hotel, which was also hosting a North Carolina inaugural ball and an inaugural conference of sorts—-a perfect storm of crashing potential. With all these events raging well into the night, access was hard to control.
There are a couple clear advantages to hitting up a hotel hosting more than one event. First, if you strike out at one ball, you can stage an older, wiser assault on the hotel’s other fête. Second, if you get caught draining the open bar at one ball and are asked to show a ticket stub, you’ve got an easy drunk-guy excuse: “Oh, I didn’t realize this was [NAME OF BALL YOU ARE CRASHING]. I thought I was at the [NAME OF BALL YOU WILL BE CRASHING SHORTLY], to which I hold tickets.”
LOOK GOOD. Wear a dress or a suit. Bring an attractive date. Don’t be the dude who’s hangin’ solo in a baseball hat, trying to scam on the tray of passed mini quiches. If you are that dude, please, take of the hat, and bring a woman with you. If you’re a woman, bring a man or a woman with you—-it doesn’t matter. At these sorts of events, there is strength in numbers—-if you appear to be chatting pleasantly with a date instead of nervously waiting for our chance to slip into the ball, you may very well pass unnoticed.
Once inside, coordinate your stories. Decide whether you have a fancy job or a father with a fancy job who secured you a ticket to this ball. Also, it helps if your date is from the state which the ball is celebrating—-or knows enough about the locale to fake it.
Amanda toasts to free bourbon.
WAIT IT OUT. The best way to get into a ball without paying is to secure a press pass (sometimes, printed-up self-made “credentials” will do), or enlist the help of a friend who has tickets. If you’re lucky enough to know a sucker who actually paid to get into one of tonight’s balls, ask if he’ll smuggle his ticket out to you after he’s already gained access. If he’s too much of a pansy to attempt that, press him for details on alternate entrances, service stations, and bathroom routes.
Even if you don’t have a man inside, don’t give up just yet. Ball access is sometimes simply a matter of arriving at the event and waiting for the right opportunity—-when you see it, sieze it. While it was more difficult to get to the Kentucky ball’s opening “bourbon trail” reception without a ticket or a press pass, entrance to the dinner was made easier by the unregulated flow from the dinner hall to the public bathroom. That’s a basic rule to all these events: Access gets more lax as the event continues, organizers begin concerning themselves with the ceremony of bequeathing Muhammed Ali a bust of Abraham Lincoln in a show of century-spanning Kentucky pride, and event guests all become drunker and more scattered.
Muhammad Ali hangs with bust of Abraham Lincoln
SECURE A PRESS PASS—-THEN HIDE IT. We were lucky enough to secure press passes to the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball, but the golden tickets only afforded us access to the opening reception, not the dinner and post-meal dancing. At some point in the evening, dejected journos were asked to congregate on a cramped balcony to photograph goings-on from above. At this crucial moment, tuck your tell-tale press pass in your purse, clutch your bourbon close, and avoid the press handler who signed you in at all costs. At the Bluegrass Ball, our media wrangler was bedecked in a fabulous, Makers’-Mark-red ball gown, making her easy to duck.
If confronted by inaugural ball brass while clearly attempting to chow down free fancy food, make a judgment call. Either a) insist that your significant other, who is waiting patiently for you over at table 96, has stashed your ticket in his/her clutch/tuxedo pocket; or, b) flash the press pass again and insist that [NAME OF MEDIA HANDLER] has granted you access to the floor to do some close-up coverage. Know full well that both of these tactics could backfire, so keep this one Ace in the hole—-you can always rely on an organizer’s desire to not make a scene at their biggest event of the decade.
Once you’ve hidden your press pass, don’t hesitate to flash it when you think it can take your ball crashing experience further. At cash bars, an official-looking badge (press or otherwise) may confuse servers into thinking that you don’t need the $8 ticket all the other attendees are handing over for a watered-down whiskey. Remember that hundreds of hired help are working these events, many of them volunteers. Most of them will have no idea what’s going on. Exploit that by adopting a false sense of confidence/entitlement.
STAY FOR DINNER. Those who did not have seated tickets to the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball missed out while invitees hung with Evander Holyfield and Ashley Judd, sang along as the Temptations serenaded Muhammed Ali with “Happy Birthday” and “My Girl,” and munched on Kentucky delicacies like bison burgers, grits, bib salad, and pound cake a la mode with cherries on top. Fuck that. If you’re going to crash a ball, crash it fully. Getting kicked out is preferable to giving up, and the nervous rush of bucking the rules means you’re having a better time than everyone else there.
Crashing the dinner portion is a more difficult task than the reception because seats are limited and tables are assigned on official tickets. Your best bet is to mingle casually on the dinner floor until event organizers call for the second or third time for everyone to be seated. There will be several tables with empty chairs, but choose wisely. I’d hunker down at a table that’s one-third or half full, and where attendees don’t appear to be waiting on dates or holding chairs for other parties. Beware the completely empty table, which may be reserved for groups of late-arriving A-Listers. Don’t be the guy who gets caught munching on the Temptations’ salad.
SCHMOOZE. Once we found our perfect Goldilocks table—-not-too-crowded, not-too-empty, but just right—-we got to talking with table-mate Adrienne, who works in legislative affairs for a neurological surgeon association. Adrienne was enamored with my date’s Kentucky heritage and his resemblance to acclaimed Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and that came in handy. Remember that the people you’re sitting with, unlike yourself, are important people who paid a lot of money to have a perfect evening at this event. Make these people like you, and you’ll have made a great ally for when an event organizer tries to hassle you for your tickets later on. If a lobbyist, donor, or local news anchor enjoys your company, an attack on your reputation will be an attack on theirs, too.
Mid-way through the dinner program at the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball, my companion and I had a close call—-a woman who had been speaking with Adrienne earlier approached to inform us that we’d need to surrender our tickets. “I don’t think you have the right tickets,” she said. “You’re going to need to switch yours with these.” Panic began to well in me—-of course we don’t have the right tickets, I thought; we don’t have tickets at all. Before I could engineer an excuse—-my father, who is occupied in the bathroom indefinitely, has my ticket in his tuxedo pocket!—-the woman handed us two official tickets to the ball we were already attending. She flipped them over and winked; the tickets were inscribed with a special star on the back.
The woman left us and presented the same ticket to Evander Holyfield, who was seated a couple tables away. We learned later that the star on the back of the ticket earned us free special bottles of Maker’s Mark in our gift bags when we exited the ball. Not only did we hold official tickets to the ball we never paid for—-we now had tickets that gave us gift baggs for the ball we never paid for, and gift bags that had more free shit in them than most. Plus, we used the ticket to get another non-ticketed guy inside! And it was all because Adrienne’s friend saw that she had taken a liking to us.