WASHINGTON--I now know the real reason why Google just moved its 20-person crew here into a 22,000-square-foot work space: to host sprawling, glowing parties, of course.
On Thursday night, a few hundred familiar faces in the technology policy scene--a slew of think tank, advocacy group, and trade association folks; abundant congressional staffers; a smattering of government officials; journalists and public-relations flacks--braved unrelenting sleet and rain to see the search giant's new downtown digs awash in dim lighting that changed from one rainbow hue to another as the hours passed.
Google employees, on the whole, may be overwhelmingly Democratic Party donors (excepting the runaway popularity of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul), but this shindig turned out to be a bipartisan affair.
My party guest informants and I spotted at least four of the five Federal Communications Commission members ambling around--Republicans Kevin Martin, Robert McDowell, and Deborah Taylor Tate, and Democrat Jonathan Adelstein--with buzz, confirmed Friday morning, that Democrat Michael Copps also made an appearance.
We also noticed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a former chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association. (We press members weren't privy to a VIP reception before the real party got under way, but we heard that a handful of congressmen, including present and past House Judiciary Committee Chairmen John Conyers (D-Mich.) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), showed up there.) D.C.'s chief technology officer, Vivek Kundra, showed up, but Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty couldn't make it, as he was attending a somber candlelight vigil for a local tragedy involving the alleged murders of four children.
CEO Eric Schmidt, who'd been in town to speak to NASA officials, was on hand to offer a quick welcome speech to the partygoers and espouse the importance of his company's Washington presence, but we didn't see much of him after that. We glimpsed "Father of the Internet" turned-Google-executive Vint Cerf meeting and greeting too.
The atmosphere that Google's enterprising party planners assembled was part ultralounge, part disco--minus the dancing, that is (this is D.C., and some things, like congregating in small clumps to swap business cards, are still sacred).
Conference tables had been moved out to make way for lounging furniture, though the dark-suited crowd seemed to prefer to stand, anyway. People nibbled from spreads of mini hamburgers, sushi, and coconut shrimp; downed made-to-order cocktails from glowing cups supplied by multiple open bars; and, for the road, plucked baseball caps and business card holders emblazoned with the company logo. With all the space, the event never felt particularly crowded. (For those keeping score at home, the entire Google office space actually measures 27,000 square feet, but for now, a 5,000-square-foot chunk is literally vacant, awaiting future hires. It came in handy Thursday night.)
Even the cubicle pod area, which was off-limits to anyone not getting a private tour from a badged employee, was decked out with paper ball lanterns. And about a dozen people at any given moment were trying out the D.C. 'plex's game room, which was open for rounds of ping pong, foosball, and Rock Band. (If you browsed our photo gallery earlier this week, you'll recall that it's also a favorite spot for Google employees to unwind on Friday afternoons.)
Others flocked to Nintendo Wii and Xbox consoles and stations, set up throughout the party space, where they could try out YouTube videos, Google Earth, and other company products projected onto facing walls.
The bash was noticeably thinning out by the time I departed, around 8:30 p.m. EST. The caterers had begun peddling the last of the miniature ice cream cones and thumb drive-size brownie-and-ice cream sandwiches, and the check-in table in the lobby had been dismantled. But even though the party had been scheduled to end by 8, some appeared content to sip their drinks and chatter away in the newest Googleplex until dawn.
Update at 8:48 a.m. PST: Editor-at-large Garrett Graff of Washingtonian magazine, which has covered a party or two in its day, deemed the soiree "the swankiest 'office' party Washington has seen in years." He also noted the presence of Washington Post Co. CEO Donald Graham--"not exactly a regular at these types of events," he wrote. Perhaps Graham was trying to soak up some of the secrets to Google's ad sales success by osmosis.