Is D.C. in Doldrums? Lone Celeb Import Jane Fonda Ditches Hitchens House Party

“Social Washington has undergone quite a decline over the last few years,” opined the writer Christopher Hitchens. It was around 3:30 a.m., and the Vanity Fair party that Mr. Hitchens had hosted at his spacious apartment on Columbia Road near the Hilton was over. Mr. Hitchens had switched from Scotch to red wine. “When I moved here 25 years ago, there was such a thing as Georgetown,” he said. “It was not just a legend.

“There were all these amazing legendary hostess, and they were still not living on their legend,” he continued, referring to the likes of Katharine Graham, Kay Halle, Polly Kraft and Susan Mary Alsop. “And I went to all of these places and saw interesting people having amazing discussions. That’s all over. They’ve all either died or moved away.

“So things are a bit bleak here. Because the whole city looks and feels socially opprobrious, as if it was run by some fucking awful law firm. It’s dowdy and conformist and non-smoking and non-drinking and generally tepid.”

Mr. Hitchens’ party was full of smoke and drink, but the roof hadn’t exactly been raised.

Earlier that evening—say, around 2—gossip columnist Lloyd Grove had been talking to Mr. Hitchens’ wife, Carol Blue, having just encountered The New Republic’s critical eminence, Leon Wieseltier, on the street.

“I said, ‘Is the party still going?’” Mr. Grove recalled. “And he said, ‘Yes, but it’s not what it once was.’”

Was Mr. Wieseltier referring to years past, or the minutes since the departure of his adorable self? Ms. Blue suspected the former.

“It was great,” she said of the good old days. “Graydon [Carter] just sort of brought these people back—I remember there was a moment when Hitch was looking around the room and he said, ‘Nobody’s talking to Richard Dreyfuss. I’m going to go deal with Barbra Streisand; you take care of Michael Douglas.’” It was an East Coast Morton’s, in other words.

“Democrats were in power,” Mr. Grove said. “They wouldn’t have been there had it not been for Clinton being in office.”

This year, the Hollywood folks had deliberately not been invited, aside from Jane Fonda, whose designated seat at the VF party remained empty. Word had it that Ms. Fonda was too tired to make the 100-yard stroll from the festivities at the Hilton to the Hitchens household.

“That’s what happens when you get old,” Mr. Grove said wryly and, he claimed later, self-referentially. “You get tired.”

The crowd that night was a bit long in the tooth, and not terribly sexy—but forceful! There was World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, standing in the middle of the room with all the confidence of a W.W.E. wrestler. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and a handful of ambassadors were also in the house. But the party was also overstocked with Washington journalists looking for something—anything—to nibble on.

“It’s always sucked,” said John P. Coale, big-shot attorney and cuddly hubby of TV law babe Greta Van Susteren. (“I love walking down the carpet with Greta, my wife,” he added. “It makes me feel big.”)

“It’s the new sexual-harassment laws,” suggested Abdulwahab

Adbulla Al-Hajjri, the ambassador of Yemen, when asked to explain the lack of excitement. “I mean, nobody wants to be seen anywhere with anybody. And then, also, you cannot socialize with people less than you.” But, he added, “things are picking up.”