Democrats like to party

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

-- You know you are at a political convention when you see wonks dancing in the streets at 3 a.m, even in this city’s sober downtown. When it comes to serious socializing, the real parties at this year’s Democratic National Convention are the parties after the parties.

You’ll need VIP passes to get into the hottest parties (which requires a few well-connected friends, like everything else in politics) and a touch of insomnia. Some are so exclusive that the locations aren’t announced until the last moment, sort of like Madonna’s wedding. After all, the party planners wouldn’t want anyone from an unimportant state sneaking in.

Rock the Vote’s apres-concert disco with Mr. Mariah Carey, Nick Cannon, manning the music machine was the first of these this week. Those who survived the ear-splitting guitar riffs at the official concert -- which featured Jakob Dylan, Fall Out Boy and N*E*R*D -- and had managed to score the proper credentials got a chance to dance into the early morning hours in the basement of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. (“Tosca” wasn’t on the play list.)

The gathering was intentionally small. Drake Bell, from the Nickolodeon show “Drake & Josh,” mingled in the crowd of about 150. So did a guy wearing a devil costume. (A few people quipped that he looked like Dick Cheney. They are Democrats after all.)

The honorable Tony Payton Jr. of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives enthusiastically lept to his feet when Cannon cued up a sampling of Rick Springfield (“Jessie’s Girl”) and Barry Manilow (“Copacabana”). Maybe it was the altitude, but somehow it sounded sort of cool. Payton started to dance -- a mixture of the funky chicken and the Macarena -- just the thing to celebrate Joe Biden’s hardscrabble boyhood in Scranton, Pa., which Democratic rhetoric increasingly makes seem like Devil’s Island.

Payton was dressed in a blue suit, an Obama button on his lapel and delegate credentials swinging from a lanyard around his neck. His friends stood off to the side, laughing, but they joined in when Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” began to play.

Joel Flatow, the West Coast director of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, mused: “The ‘80s will never die despite our best efforts.”

The bartender shouted out the last call, and the crowd started to thin. By 3 a.m., a few die-hards were wandering the streets singing while the exhausted remnants tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to find a ride back to their hotels. (If you think it’s hard to find a cab in L.A., try Denver three hours before dawn.)

A few blocks away the GQ party, at a restaurant on bustling Larimer Street, was breaking up. About three-quarters of the guests were guys in business suits whose biggest gesture to fashion was carrying off the free copies of GQ left on every table. (We’re talking two-button jackets and rep ties.)

There was a Randy Jackson sighting. Beverly Hills’ own Daphna Ziman led in a posse of glitzy blonds past the velvet ropes and women with the demeanor of hall monitors, holding lists of names on clipboards. Any further sparkle had to be obtained from the overflowing trays of Manhattans and margaritas.

There are full evening -- and early morning -- parties scheduled through Thursday. There’s something for every sort of politico drawn to Denver. Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti hosted a gathering for up-and-coming politicians. (People a lot like, well, Eric Garcetti.) Other bashes were open to a wider audience, like Tuesday’s Glover Park/Politico bash, which had grown so large that it had to be held in two bars on the same block. (The locations were not disclosed until after midnight Monday.)

Then there were all the state parties. Payton had been to at least three of them -- Pennsylvania, New Jersey and another he couldn’t recall.

Aside from Rock the Vote’s event, he said his favorite bash had been the Planned Parenthood party called “Sex, Politics & Cocktails.” That one featured special guests Ashley Judd, Aisha Tyler, Alan Cumming and Emme. (Don’t ask about the party favors.)

One of the most anticipated fetes coming up is the Vanity Fair/Google gathering in the Exdo Event Center after Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday.

Payton and his hardscrabble pals just can’t wait.