Dinner in Washington

I'm still new enough to the area to be struck by the novelty of dinner at the Hay-Adams Hotel tonight. Despite its name and its John Hay room, the hotel is relatively new, having been built in the 1920s.

Hay was the Lincoln secretary who wrote to his colleague John Nicolay that they were politically obligated to destroy George B. McClellan's reputation - he was that blunt about it. At the same time, the man was smitten with Fitz John Porter, considering him the epitome of military virtue. Odd.

This dinner venue was chosen by relatives from out of town. More interesting: Willard's. It's still there but has become an Intercontinental. And it's got a block-long bar.

Henry Willard bought the property in 1850 and transformed it from its origins as a modest hostelry in the dawn of the Republic to a grand gathering point where deals were made and art was inspired.

In addition to every U.S. President from Franklin Pierce in 1853 to George W. Bush in the modern era, past guests of the Willard include P. T. Barnum, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Mark Twain, Chief Justice John Marshall, Henry Clay, Walt Whitman, Tom Thumb, Jenny Lind, Samuel Morse, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert E. Peary, John Philip Sousa, the Duke of Windsor, Harry Houdini, Mae West, Flo Ziegfield, Gloria Swanson, and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Walt Whitman and Gypsy Rose Lee. The lines seem to merge, eventually, at Willard's.

Postscript at 1:50 pm: I learn that the Willard's these worthies stayed in was torn down and rebuilt. The current structure is not connected with their stays. Intend to check it out someday soon.

Which reminds me of another marketing scam. About 30 years ago I went to see a band whose day had already passed. They sounded not quite like their old selves. My newspaper editor (I reviewed books at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer) had attended too and I asked her about the strange sound. She said something like this: "The band's name was bought by a corporation; they hire whomever they want to play the music and send them on tour." Sort of like building any old hotel and claiming a connection with the previous hotel's guests, I suppose.

One more anecdote. At the height of the Wave phenomenon, about 20 years ago, the English cartoonist Ray Lowry ran a panel in London's NME. There were all these band clothes on stage, draped on mannequins, with music piped onto the club floor. He showed one hipster remarking to another: "Nowadays, the band just sends its clothes on tour."

That also reminds me of the new Willard's for some reason.