TAMPA, Fla. — Intermittent showers and constant mugginess failed to stop visiting Republican delegates, lobbyists or the political press corps — many of whom have spent the past three days in a mind-numbing holding pattern (we hear hotel bars are KILLING it) — from wandering the streets of downtown Tampa on Monday night in search of a good time.
Following a lightning-fast opening session, pent-up politicos finally got into the swing of things.
We followed the entertainment-starved masses around to two slickly produced fetes featuring everything from live “mermaids” to an electrifying salsa ensemble. (And lots and lots of open bars.) Under the Sea
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States got folks nice and liquored up via a no-expenses-spared shindig at the mesmerizing Florida Aquarium.
About 600 guests were invited to stroke swiftly swimming manta rays, ooh and ahh at playful otters or just generally marvel at the total freakiness of Mother Nature’s rarely seen handiwork.
Drinks were flowing like, well, water, with mini bars tucked into every possible twist and turn of the aquarium’s winding exhibit tunnel. Formally attired barkeeps and leggy promotional models competed all night long to see who could put more imported beers, honey-aged bourbons, flavored vodkas and thimble-sized shots of pick-your-poison into the hands of passersby.
Being surrounded by all the stunning marine life didn’t seem to sway attendees from attacking the Discus raw bar.
“We do it all the time,” a friend from the Tampa Tribune assured me.
Cooked items ranged from hand-carved mahi mahi tacos adorned with corn salsa to savory roast pork sliders drizzled with tangy orange sauce.
We didn’t spy too many sitting pols — a colleague swore he saw former Wisconsin governor and current Senate hopeful Tommy Thompson — but did bump into power players Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.
Down the road in historic Ybor City, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the American Conservative Union, under the umbrella of their Future Majority Project, worked to pave the way toward a redder America by dazzling folks at their Latin-themed “Nuestra Noche” fiesta.
Some of the magic, however, appeared to get lost in translation.
“Are you Cuban? What does joon-toes with Romney mean?” a trio of perplexed seniors inquired while waving their Spanish swag in our face.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson seemed to have no problems communicating.
The 2012 presidential nominee for the Libertarian ticket gladly posed for pictures and chatted with anyone who approached him. Not that he was swamped with admirers.
After a weekend spent cowering in fear of Tropical Storm Isaac, most partygoers (one media wrangler told HOH over 3,000 people had RSVPd) seemed determined to make up for lost time.
One proudly Republican reveler elected to mix business with pleasure, wildly prancing around in pachyderm headgear while granting TV interviews.
An army of blue-blazered-gents (standard GOP uniform) could be seen guzzling liquid courage before following their booty-shaking dates onto the dance floor. Therein the bumping and grinding turned epic, with salsa virgins awkwardly shuffling around trying to keep time to the frenetic music, while the more rhythmically inclined worked out till rivers of sweat poured down their flushed cheeks and dress shirts increasingly darkened.
We saw one stiletto-heeled dancing queen, who looked so like she’d dined on nothing but Cuba Libres, eat it on the way down the marble staircase. Elsewhere, cigar aficionados busily stuffed hand-rolled stogies into every pocket they could spare.
As the visibly exhausted filtered back out into the night, one savvy street musician devised a sure-fire way to milk a few extra bucks from the hotel-bound: He broke into a saxophone version of the Champs’ “Tequila.”
Chants ensued. And crumpled greenbacks were dropped.