The Smarmies of the Night

The entire point of the peep-toe heel is that it provides a daring and sexy glimpse of toe cleavage. For the women of Washington, D.C., the peep-toe shoe is now de rigueur—but it is nearly always worn with stockings. So instead of toes, all that can be seen is a chaste off-flesh glimpse of hose and seam.

It’s a look that says, “I’m with it—but I’m just a little chilly, too!” It’s a look that speaks of a fear of emotional commitment, of sensible Hill dreams, but still retains just a hint of lust-in-the-dust-under-the-cherry-blossoms.

In that village somewhere south of Staten Island, the hometown newspaper this year scored the first-ever Pulitzer Prize awarded to a fashion writer—The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan. Mustn’t that mean it’s time for New Yorkers to finally learn some fashion lessons from the District of Columbia, our much-maligned and terminally lame capital city?

Because, hello, how hot is D.C.? It’s soooooo hot that Tucker Carlson confided over the weekend that he will move his MSNBC show from New York to D.C. (He’s put on a few pounds, too, in preparation. In D.C., weight connotes a specific meaning: Since the early Clinton era, the plump man is well-off, he is a proud member of a well-fed and nearly certainly disease-free leisure class.)

All told, the festivities of Saturday, April 29, proved just how much style D.C. has. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, reeked of eccentric power and masculinity that Saturday, looking New Lagerfeldesque under white hair and black sunglasses. He was on the veranda of the Washington Hilton, talking to a group of writers that included New York Times columnists David Brooks and Maureen Dowd.

“It’s sizzling tonight at the White House correspondents’ dinner,” said Mr. Wieseltier. “All the men are hard.”

His Op-Ed audience laughed—Oh, Leon!—but the man had a point. Something was definitely sizzling in the District!

“It’s hard for me to say without seeming immodest,” said Mr. Wieseltier.

“Darfur is very hot right now,” said one guest, suggesting hotness in the following day’s rally on the national mall.

(That event would draw thousands of mostly young people and George Clooney; it would also send them forth afterward in a sea of hoodies that read “help darfur” in sincere-yet-cutesy lowercase type. One young woman boldly arrived at the rally in a tight white tank top with the words “Save Darfur” stenciled in pink. This was paired with a jean miniskirt and footless pink tights. Take that, Janjaweed!)

“Oh, yes,” Mr. Wieseltier said, giving his wife a peck on the top of her head. “We have swimming lessons for our son at 12:30, and genocide at 2.”

One hot thing about Washington is that you can be both selfless and fashionable.

What else? At Hardball executive producer Tammy Haddad’s Saturday-afternoon garden party, four separate members of the D.C. media elite approached the guest of a network executive and confided that they had begun using sunless tanner. Vanity: In! Sun damage: Out!

What else? What else? “Celibacy is hot,” said the Times columnist Mr. Brooks.

But also on the out list: New York’s increasingly popular Anderson Cooper silver-fox look. (Hello, Vanity Fair cover!) Unfortunately, D.C. harbors, as it must, more ample salt-and-pepper helmets than anywhere else in nation, if not the world. But gray now means old and weathered, not experienced and stately—all qualities Washington should prize, but which, said silky-maned former Ambassador Joe Wilson, are now passé.

“I was bending down yesterday, and my daughter ran her fingers through my hair,” he told a tuxedoed Greta van Susteren outside a Fox News party, imitating the 6-year-old’s subsequent look of horror.

“It’s all gray, daddy,” his little girl had exclaimed. “All gray!”

Valerie Plame, Mr. Wilson’s wife, smiled knowingly. She looked tan—was it fake?—blonde and elegant in a sparkling ivory dress. She’s taking the kids on a skiing vacation out West this summer, she said. Free time is very big for her these days. “It’s so wonderful,” she said.

“Not being famous is hot,” said Kathleen Parker, a Washington-based syndicated columnist and frequent panelist, along with Mr. Brooks, on The Chris Matthews Show. “You know, if you Google someone and get nothing? That’s what I aspire to!”

False modesty is both hot and timeless. (Lying has always been Washington’s Chanel suit!) Ms. Parker gathered her bold melon-colored skirt and her lime-gowned friend, smiled warmly at Mr. Brooks and sashayed off.

Hot: The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. But hotter now is skipping the dinner to have a quiet meal with friends at one of Washington’s fine eating establishments—say, Bistrot du Coin.

On the way, one can spy what’s really in. Teal, darling! On 18th Street, near Lauriol Plaza—where they serve margaritas just as delightfully big as your head!—the women are all in teal shirts and boot-cut jeans. Blonde highlights abound. For the men, the equivalent of highlights is now the newest bracelet—not in yellow, like the Lance Armstrong one for testicular-cancer awareness, but in lime green, for Darfur awareness!

All the restaurants now give waiting diners those light-up buzzers. On a spring evening, the streets are thronged with young and old alike, clutching their maître d’ beepers, making D.C. feel just like one big fun theme restaurant.

Bistrot du Coin is on Connecticut Avenue, just south and west of the Hilton. The 100-seat restaurant—Washington’s “most vibrantly Gallic eatery,” according to United Press International—had an hour-long wait during peak dinner hours last Saturday night. It features traditional Belgian-French cuisine, including a $24 beef tenderloin, which, per restaurant policy and despite any diner’s most vigorous protestations, the chef will not cook above medium-rare.

There, a waiter reads the night’s specials through a plastic Stella Artois bullhorn. In 2004, The Washington Post, describing it as “tres chic,” identified “Bistrot” as one of the District’s “six hot foosball spots.” Foosball! Hot!

Bistrot du Coin—pronounced “du KWONN,” as one Congressional communications director helpfully explained—hosted a few small and super-hot groups of tuxedoed correspondents’ dinner escapees, as well as a large crowd of well-dressed locals.

And also: one bachelorette party.

Six twentysomething women had donned black feather boas to fête Vanessa Kramer on the way to her May 27 nuptials. The blessed event will be held at the Hotel Dupont in Wilmington, Del. Ms. Kramer herself wore a gold, fake-jeweled tiara and a purple feather boa.

“We’re wearing Jessica Simpson jeans,” said Erika Orloff, a Capitol Hill staffer who declined to specify where on the Hill she works, or in what capacity.

(Last month, the maker of Jessica Simpson jeans filed suit against the pop star because she herself refused to wear Jessica Simpson jeans out in public.)

But it’s not just the clothes that make the town: Washington also has a rich and colorful nightlife! The “Dupont Circle–Adams Morgan–U Street corridor area,” a group of abutting neighborhoods in the city’s northwest region, essentially contains the District’s entire panoply of night-out hotness options. A few local clubs have even started to offer bottle service—just like New York City!—said bachelorette celebrant Katherine Martin. “That means that instead of buying drink by drink, you can get a whole bottle of alcohol for $160 or $200.”

Which may seem cheap to New Yorkers, but in Washington, they explained, it’s not money that matters. “It’s power,” said Ms. Orloff, to nods all around. “It’s where you work. It’s who you know. It’s what committees you’re on.”

“As an example,” she said, “I just went into the bathroom, and there were some women in there wearing gowns. So I said, ‘What are you ladies dressed up for?’ And one of the women said, ‘The White House correspondents’ dinner. We work for Bloomberg.’”

Ms. Orloff pronounced “Bloomberg” as if working there were the sort of thing men wrote in to Playboy about.

“Typical,” she shrugged and went back to her drink.

There was a temptation to venture to Smith Point, a Georgetown bar recommended by Ms. Martin as “Young Republican Central. It’s where Jenna and Barbara go.”

Instead, an investigative journey was made to what was said to be the heart of D.C. hotness: the infamous Bloomberg after-party to the White House correspondents’ dinner.

MSNBC president Rick Kaplan wasn’t feeling the hotness of either the party or D.C. He said the whole affair gave him the “heebie-jeebies,” and get him back to the city—he meant New York, silly!—please, the sooner the better.

Asked what was hot in D.C., CNN anchor and District resident Wolf Blitzer launched into a five-minute monologue about the athletic prowess of the Washington Wizards. (It’s a basketball team!) “I love them,” said Mr. Blitzer. “I’m a season-ticket holder!”

“We’re one of America’s premiere second-tier cities,” said American Prospect staffer Garance Franke-Ruta, caught waiting in line for the bathroom. “I’ve been here nine years, and I can say one thing: It’s much better than it used to be.” And? “And it’s way better than St. Louis, I’ll tell you that.”

And that was the party where Tucker Carlson was seen. Mr. Carlson borrowed the fire-engine-red lipstick of a companion to write down a phone number. It was the phone number of a member of the Cleveland Browns who wanted to appear on Mr. Carlson’s meagerly rated MSNBC show.

The previous day, Mr. Carlson said, his boss, Mr. Kaplan, had given him the permission to relocate to Washington. “This is where the energy is if you do what I do,” Mr. Carlson said. “I know it’s hard to imagine: Brooklyn isn’t the epicenter of the universe.”

Mr. Carlson paused to take a sip of his drink.

“Where do you live?” he asked. The Smarmies of the Night