WASHINGTON (AP) — While most Americans caught distant glimpses of President Barack Obama's second inauguration festivities from their living room TVs and on the Internet, a privileged set of celebrities and special interests got pampered access Monday at exclusive soirees just blocks from the ceremonies.
The parties are a January tradition, where high-powered lobbying shops and law firms open up their offices for clients, legislators and officials, affording opportunities to renew ties and lay the groundwork for lobbying and deal-making. The gatherings in K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue suites offered catered buffets and even balcony views as the commander in chief's caravan rolled by, venues supplemented by high-priced hotel rooms, gala balls and invitation-only parties.
As the A-listers streamed in Monday, Washington's political world had already adapted to a scaled-back version of the festivities of four years ago, when more than 1.5 million people packed the National Mall. Lobbying shops got fewer ticket requests from corporate clients and office parties shrank to appeal to smaller crowds.
Four years ago, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips held its traditional inauguration day party for clients at its downtown D.C. offices. On Monday, the firm opened its doors early as a "launch pad" for guests, a pit stop to warm up, drop off bags, recharge IPhones and toss down a bloody Mary before heading out into the morning chill.
The 9th floor balcony at the K&L Gates law offices on 16th Street offered a pristine view of the parade route during the inauguration, but guests preferred the party on the first floor, avoiding the cold by snacking on chili and cheese while watching the proceedings on four wall-length video screens. A life-sized cardboard Obama replica was available for photos while the real Obama launched into his second inaugural speech.
"The second inaugural's always much more subdued so your events have to be subdued as well," said firm partner Emanuel L. Rouvelas, who has hosted or attended inauguration parties dating back to the Nixon era.
Downtown Washington's hotels were jammed, though not to capacity, and its closed-off streets were invaded with hundreds of gleaming limousines. Nearby Dulles International Airport anticipated roughly 300 private aircraft for the weekend, though significantly fewer than the 700 planes from last time. Hotels offered top-dollar packages with views of the day's events, and some guests asked staffers to clear out excess furniture so they could pack in more friends.
At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue — at the Willard Intercontinental, overlooking the White House — corporations and associations booked many of the rooms with the best views to entertain clients. The 165-year-old hotel boasts that President Abraham Lincoln stayed there before his 1860 inauguration.
"Seize every moment to surprise and delight our customers," manager James Ryan told his team during a planning meeting to which The Associated Press was invited.
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