Inauguration parties lose the glitz and glamour in 2021

Facing a pandemic and the threat of violence, the glitz and glam-filled party scene in Washington that typically surrounds the presidential inauguration is poised to be as quiet as a statue tucked away at the Smithsonian.

The packed galas, rowdy receptions and wild shindigs that fill social calendars during inauguration week in usually buttoned-up Washington are long-canceled.

Out-of-towners have been told by both Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserSunday shows – Capital locked down ahead of Biden’s inauguration DC mayor says she’s concerned about threats to residential neighborhoods Threats transform capital into military zone ahead of inauguration MORE (D) and rental service Airbnb to take the bashes somewhere else and stay out of the nation’s capital after a riot by pro-Trump crowds at the Capitol just two weeks ago left five people dead.

Rather than velvet ropes and the sight of celebs jetting in from Hollywood, Washingtonians are coming face-to-face with roadblocks and a virtual military zone, with thousands of troops pouring in as part of unprecedented security measures. And organizations used to booking venues and planning their quadrennial celebrations aimed at garnering attention and raising beaucoup bucks are instead getting their Zoom cameras ready for attempts at virtual gatherings.

“In a normal inaugural year — especially in a change in administration because they’re always the better years — we’d have been completely sold out,” says Mark Driscoll, managing director of the Hamilton Hotel in downtown D.C.

“We’d have had balls, we would have had rooms associated with the balls, VIPs — we had some high-end VIPs, major entertainers coming to stay with us — that’s all been crossed off as well,” says the hotel exec, a veteran of Washington’s hospitality industry for the last 25 years.

“It’s probably one of the most exciting times to work in D.C. People buy and sell hotels based on that kind of thing, with inaugurations coming up, they decide on their renovations. Everybody thinks that it’s going to be a grand payday.”

But between the pandemic and fears over security, occupancy rates at the Hamilton luxe hotel — which features uniforms designed by first daughter Ashley Biden and an array of specialty rooms, including a “Veep” suite inspired by the HBO political satire — are hovering at about 60 percent. 

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE‘s inaugural committee has nixed the official galas — President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News’ DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE and Melania TrumpMelania TrumpTrump allies, Washington insiders helped plan rallies before Capitol breach: reports Melania Trump bids farewell to Be Best in new video Garth Brooks, Joan Baez among this year’s Kennedy Center honorees MORE swung by the three official balls the night of his 2017 inauguration — in favor of a full slate of televised and virtual, COVID-19-safe events.

While the country might not see Biden and wife Jill dressed to the nines as they sway to their first inaugural dance (although they still could during a prime-time TV special) the soon-to-be president’s camp promises the inauguration-related events “will honor our traditions while safely allowing more Americans than ever before to participate from their own homes.”

The Creative Coalition, like many organizations, is making its inaugural fete a party-from-the-waist-up online get-together. While at President Trump’s inauguration the arts advocacy group threw a bash at the Harman Center for the Arts with the band Blues Traveler headlining, this time around it’s intentionally keeping attendance “extremely limited.”

“There are 150 tickets available. We scaled it way back on purpose because with virtual you have to work a little harder to transcend and create an intimate atmosphere,” says Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk.

Along with the dozens of lawmakers expected, stars including Jason Alexander, “Will & Grace’s” Eric McCormack, “Veep’s” Reid Scott, Ted Danson, David Arquette, “Homeland’s” Mandy Patinkin, Cheryl Hines and Yvette Nicole Brown look to be among the virtual minglers.

Just ahead of the inauguration, Bronk says she’d traditionally be completing last-minute security walk-throughs with the Secret Service. This will be the first in-person inauguration the film producer’s missed in more than 20 years: “I love being there with a front-row seat to history. It’s a privilege and an honor to breathe the same air as history. It’s personally tough for me on so many levels that we’re in this position.”

Bronk says one upside of the socially-distant celebration will be that this time around, people from around the world can attend without jetting to the District. “We are making our own silver lining, but nothing beats a hug,” says Bronk.

Some nonprofits are trying to make the weirdness of 2021 work with quasi-in-person events.

In 2017, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) hosted its “Animals’ Party” soiree — an inaugural event at the ritzy Willard InterContinental Hotel in the District co-hosted by the eyebrow-raising duo of Pamela Anderson and GOP strategist Mary Matalin.

Four years later, it says it’s “not letting recent events prevent it from welcoming the new administration,” holding a “dog-friendly and socially distant drive-in inaugural eve party” at Union Market.

“COVID-19 didn’t stop us from working to protect animals, and we are not going to roll over because bullies have attacked our hometown of D.C.,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement about the Tuesday affair. Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump Pocan won’t seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death MORE (Texas), Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump Stopping the abuse of the pardon power De Blasio mum on whether he’ll block sale of Mets to controversial investor MORE (Tenn.), Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerFour things Democrats should do in Biden’s first 100 days House Republican wants restrictions on masks with messages House passes sweeping reform bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (Ore.), Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocratic lawmaker says ‘assassination party’ hunted for Pelosi during riot Sunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US House impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support MORE (Md.) and Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsQuestions and answers about the Electoral College challenges COVID-19 is wild card as Pelosi faces tricky Speaker vote Sunday Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum MORE (Fla.) are among the lawmakers scheduled to make “digital appearances.”

With many restaurants shuttered due to both the coronavirus and potential violent protests on Inauguration Day, some are doing their best to mark Biden’s swearing-in as the 46th president.

McClellan’s Retreat, in Dupont Circle, is offering $46 “All Day Inauguration Kits,” that come complete with a full-sized bottle of sparkling wine and a six-ounce bottle of orange juice for the AM, two bottles of Miller High Life for Biden fans to celebrate in the afternoon, and two High West Double Rye Old Fashioneds to close out Jan. 20.

Women’s Food Fest, which dubs itself as “a collaboration between some of Washington, D.C.’s best women food business owners,” is hawking a $140 “inaugural swag bag,” filled with curated food, wine and gifts.

Hamilton Hotel’s Driscoll calls the current inaugural atmosphere in Washington a “sad time,” but he predicts the city will rebound. He’s already looking ahead to 2024, saying, “It certainly has to be better.”

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