TAMPA --The Republican National Convention canceled its first day of events Monday as Tropical Storm Isaac lashed Tampa, but as evening fell lobbyists and politicos partied on.
The most-sought after invitation of the evening -- and of many conventions in recent memory -- was to the lavish party hosted by the Distilled Spirits Councils of the United States, a trade group that lobbies for liquor producers like Patron and Pernod Ricard.
This year, DISCUS asked some 500 guests to the Florida Aquarium, a 250,000-square-foot space the guests did not even come close to filling.
As lobbyists and politicos weaved their way through the aquarium's shell-shaped dome, feasting on shrimp, oysters and mahi mahi, they ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the giant tanks of sea turtles, sea otters, exotic fish, sharks and even a giant python.
At nearly a dozen liquor stations set up between the fish tanks, scantily-glad women offered up shots of Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur, Macallan Scotch single malt (aged 18 years), and organic vodka from Idaho.
Guests were then sent through a fog machine and deposited, grinning, into a large central room, where an elaborate Patron Tequila station atop dripping ice sculptures greeted them. Bartenders served up Reposado, Silver and Anejo Patron as shots or on ice as sharks circled in a tank behind them, and ominous music lightly played.
And then, without warning, two mermaids drifted down into the tank.
Fish darted to the left and right as the blond-haired mermaids descended, shaking shimmery, scaly blue tails and contorting in glittery bikini tops. After taking breaths through two long tubes, the mermaids floated over to guests clustering around the tank. One mermaid placed her hand against the glass to meet the hand of a journalist on the other side.
As the night grew late, guests filled a smoky lounge at the bottom of the aquarium, where a live band played and dozens of cigars from the Dominican Republic awaited them. At one table, a white-haired man hand-rolled cigars. "I'm Cuban, but the cigars are from Equador," he said. "You want Cubans? Go to Miami." Some guests insisted to their friends that they had found real Cubans in Tampa's hip Ybor City, but the cigar-maker said it wasn't true.
When the clock struck one, the aquarium at last began to empty. On the second floor, blue-uniformed workers used Shopvac-like machines to suck water that gathered beneath the dripping Patron ice station. On the first floor, aquarium volunteers answered the questions about sea creatures from tipsy guests.
And at the exit, a band of lobbyists gathered, looking for a taxi to go to House Speaker John Boehner’s famed late-night “warehouse” party. This year, the party takes over three downtown buildings, filled with palm trees, waterfalls, and a 20-foot-long smokers tent. Little else is known, as no media are allowed to enter.