On Thursday night, the inauguration came early to Washington's Ritz-Carlton, where perky p.r. staff welcomed guests to an expo of Obama swag. Jazz musician Bliss Ananda played 50 Cent's "In Da Club" and the Fugees' "Ready or Not"--allegedly some of Obama's favorite tunes--on his neon blue violin. Chefs served Hawaiian roast pig and towering chocolate sculptures. A boutique soap company offered bars of Amber Waves of Grain and Purple Mountains Majesty. And possible First Pooches posed for cameras in front of a canvas dog bed shaped like the White House.
Ritz rep Dana Pellicano said the hotel had done extensive research to learn what the president-elect likes. (Or, at the very least, it took a stab at what items its wealthy inauguration guests would associate with presidential opulence.) But, when it came to alcohol, there was a snag. "Obama's not really a drinker," Pellicano said over Ananda's strings, which dueled with a fuzzy, looped recording of Obama's "yes, we can" chant. So, the hotel let guests choose their favorite cocktails earlier this year. "The electorate very much drank blue," Pellicano said, gesturing to the Delicate Donkey and Obama Pama. (Pretty convenient that the prez-elect's name rhymes with a super-trendy liqueur.)
"Power-elite" jeweler Ann Hand displayed her special inaugural line: crystal-encrusted Obama sunglasses, silver dog tags that say "I was there," and gold brooches with the presidential seal. "I tell the American story in precious metals," explained Hand, who, with her frozen smile, brown suit, and coiffed hair, looked like a bizzaro Nancy Pelosi.
Other p.r. minions showed off gifts that guests will receive in January, including Armani amenities and an inauguration survival tote bag packed with necessities like donkey-shaped mints ("Don't worry, they're sugar-free, no fat"). Two other guests will enjoy the hotel's Politically Correct Package, which starts at $50,000 and includes a chauffeur and inaugural ball attire from Saks Fifth Avenue. Currently, two couples are vying for the package. Reps weren't sure how a duo will be chosen, but a question about whether there will be a High-Roller Deathmatch to determine the winners was met with a deft "no comment."
Somewhere between the table of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, served by a massive man in a kilt, and mannequins in sleek tuxes and gowns was Patti Harris-Tubbs, the event's only reality check. Harris-Tubbs, the owner of Obama's favorite pizza joint in Chicago, offered steaming pies to the crowd with an incredulous grin. She admitted that she's never met Obama or learned his favorite toppings, because he's the kind of guy who orders in.
While her husband and son, who had trucked in the pizza ingredients the night before, cooked in the hotel's kitchen, Harris-Tubbs guarded her table with a mix of excitement and suspicion. "It's so ritzy," she said, no pun intended, while surveying the room. "Where do we fit in here?"