It’s Monday afternoon, and thousands of protesters are gearing up to sweat their way down Philadelphia’s Broad Street, registering their final, plaintive complaints before Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic nomination Thursday night. But you can’t hear any of that from inside El Vez, a Mexican restaurant where many of New York’s top female elected officials have gathered for a couple hours of shmoozing, back-patting and sucking down endless free margaritas, a commodity as abundant as the icy air flowing mercifully from the vents.
“Hillarita?” a server asks, thrusting a tray of frosty booze in my direction. It’s 1:30 p.m. “No thanks,” I say, keeping a wistful eye on the tray as it bobs away. I learned long ago that I lack the ability to drink and work at the same time, a handicap that clearly puts me in the minority at this event—and, indeed, in politics in general. All around me, sweat-dampened delegates, elected officials and reporters grab at the skewered finger foods circulating the floor, and, of course, at the endless trays of Hillaritas. I truly believe that no one in Philly was working harder at that moment than the El Vez bartenders, dispatching platoons of servers to the floor armed with round after round after round of drinks.
“What is the point of this thing?” I asked another reporter, who was there on behalf of a tabloid. He shrugged.
It’s not that the promotion for this mixer was misleading: It was, in fact, billed as a toast by New York’s top female delegates, celebrating their girl’s propulsion to the White House. The Eleanor Roosevelt Conference Committee, a non-profit that “provides unique opportunities to the women of New York State,” was its primary sponsor, though a few moments of clicking around on the group's website left me no closer to understanding what it actually does. As Executive Director Brette McSweeney put it a short time later: “The reason I founded ERCC was so we could all get together and drink margaritas.”
McSweeney was being cheeky, of course, but in the moment, she didn't seem far from wrong. By the time the speakers took the stage, the din in El Vez was quite nearly comparable to that outside of City Hall, where hoards of protesters gathered before heading to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, where around 50 would go on to get citations. But where the protesters were mad—livid about Hillary, livid about Debbie Wasserman Schultz, livid about what they say was intentional, concerted effort to deny Bernie Sanders the nomination—the mood inside the hermetically sealed, climate controlled bubble of El Vez was its foil: Jovial, self-congratulatory and, dare I say, optimistic. In here, Hillary was viewed not as a bland, establishment candidate running a bland, establishment campaign which, if all goes well, will lead to a bland, establishment presidency. El Vez radiated a veneer of excited, if not somewhat contrived, female empowerment. There was genuine enthusiasm, of course, but I'm pretty sure it's because everyone was hammered.
“Now is not a time to be complacent,” New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told the crowd, which could not be bothered to stop talking as she spoke. “We need to stand up against the bigotry, the misogyny, the sexism—everything else that exists, and that is being exhibited by the Republican side. It's ugly and they’re taking us backwards!” A little girl wearing a purple sequined dress hopped up and down in ecstasy at her feet, and the crowd, previously unengaged, erupted in cheers.
Shortly thereafter, Public Advocate Tish James stepped up to stage. “What’s her name?” she shouted into the mic, perhaps unnecessarily. “HILLARY!” the crowd roared back, a call and response that played out a few more times while I slowly went deaf. The girl in the sequined dress, previously exhibiting signs of fatigue, was back to hopping.
McSweeney, ERCC’s director, raised her glass to toast the future President of the United States, Hillary Clinton. I watched as two men at the bar, both dressed in blazers, raised their Hillarita glasses. Their eye contact with their respective phones remained perfectly, exquisitely unbroken.