In the spring of 2007, after the Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives, Dem staffers audaciously started to frequent Republican hangout Capitol Lounge. Soon fights began to break out, often over the bar’s jukebox (Democrats chose Top 40 hits; Republicans wanted Southern rock and country). E-mails circulated among Republican staffers, rallying them with a battle cry: “Take back Cap Lounge!” And so, every Thursday night for weeks, Republicans dutifully arrived at 6 p.m. and crammed into the bar, smugly shutting out the Democratic hordes and their penchant for Beyoncé singles.
“Partying here is divided along party lines,” says Grant Ginder, 25, a former Congressional intern whose novel about twentysomething life in Washington, D.C., will be published next spring. “It’s this hyper-educated version of West Side Story: the Republicans versus the Democrats, the prepsters versus the hipsters.”
A segregated Capitol Hill happy hour is only the beginning—the social fault line between Washington’s young politicos runs deep. There’s even a geographical divide: Young Republicans tend to live and party in the Georgetown and Glover Park neighborhoods, while young Democrats inhabit Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and the U Street corridor—though lately the atmosphere surrounding their turf has been a bit subdued. “The status quo in this town for the last eight years has been decidedly conservative and preppy,” says Christina Wilkie, deputy editor at Washington Life, the city’s glossy society magazine. But November’s election has the potential to upset the Republican reign—and the cocktail culture that sprang up around it.
“I remember sitting in the Oval Room [a restaurant near the White House] in January of 2001—everyone was miserable,” recalls political analyst Jamal Simmons, who worked in the Clinton White House and was a spokesman for Al Gore. “We watched the limousines pull up with people with cowboy boots on and big cowboy hats and big hair. The Texans had arrived.”
Indeed, that year young Republicans—many of them of the Texan bouffant-hairdo variety—flocked to Washington to fill the glut of internships and junior staff positions. Bo Blair, 35, a Washington native and budding nightlife impresario (he cut his teeth as social chair of his Villanova fraternity), was ready for them. A year and a half earlier, he had opened a bar-restaurant called Smith Point on a prime corner in Georgetown. It’s a hole-in-the-wall shielded by a velvet rope, beyond which lies a patio with a dilapidated shed in one corner, flanked by two windowless bars. It had the only defining feature it needed, however: a list.
The list started with 600 names and has grown to more than 3,500, becoming a who’s who of young, social Republicans. Jenna and Barbara Bush are fixtures at Smith Point when they are in town, and a 2005 inauguration after-party was thrown there. Tech billionaire Michael Saylor, Republican power-hostess Juleanna Glover and socialite Ashley Taylor, granddaughter of former chief of protocol Lloyd Hand, make pilgrimages nearly every weekend. The bar is the site of Republican functions and countless theme parties—think Tennis Hos and Golf Pros.