Annibel’s Imposter

Last week a Washington couple – would be socialites – allegedly snuck into President Barak Obama’s first official State Dinner at the White House without an invitation. The couple crashed the glitzy, elegant affair at which they met President Obama and even uploaded photos of themselves taken with vice president Joe Biden and other dignitaries and celebrities.

While United States Secret Service officials say the President was never in any danger, security officials are embarrassed and are trying to figure out if they can press charges against the couple. While trespassing is illegal, they were, after all, essentially admitted to the party, so it is unclear whether “party crashing” is technically breaking the law.

Michigan had its’ own “Great Imposter” for many years. Barry Bremen, an insurance salesman from West Bloomfield, developed an art for crashing major sporting events. In a counterfeit uniform, Bremen shagged fly balls during batting practice at the Major League All-Star Game. He actually played a few holes of golf with Fred Couples and Curtis Strange during the practice round for the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. He nearly made it onto the field at the Super Bowl dressed as the San Diego Chicken. Bremen’s crowning achievement, if you will, was a short lived turn dressed in drag as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. Security officials were not amused and showed him no chivalry when they hustled him off of the field at Texas Stadium before arresting him and fining him. Bremen said he gave up his hobby in the post-9/11 era when security was tighter than ever and use of the stun gun became prevalent.

As a travel writer and journalist, I have crossed a couple of lines in my day. I was provoked to do so mainly by harmless professional curiosity more than mischief. I have found that the best way to slip into a private party, special event, VIP gathering, restricted area, or even first class seat on an airline, is simply pretend you belong there. Nod and say “hello” confidently when confronted with barriers, but do so in a hurried, impatient manner. Overdress appropriately, perhaps carrying a clipboard or other official-looking prop.

One evening in London, in March of 2002, I was out on the town, very well dressed in a camelhair blazer, tan trousers and tie. After drinks and an early dinner with some British journalists at the Wig and Pen in Covent Garden, the group broke up for the night. I decided I wasn’t quite finished, and, feeling adventurous, instructed the London cabbie to drive me to Annabel’s, a famous, but very private nightclub I’d heard about on Berkeley Square in Mayfair. Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Aristotle Onassis, Frank Sinatra, and even Her Majesty the Queen of England had been members of the tiny but posh elegant establishment. I wanted to be next.

The cabbie, who reminded me, or rather, warned me, that Annabel’s was an exclusive club, dropped me off at the doorstep. I promptly, without a hint of hesitation, marched directly to the stairway leading from the street down to the small door, and drafted into Annabel’s behind a wealthy couple. It was very quiet inside, so in the manner of a human divining rod, I went straight to a seat at the bar where I ordered a Scotch whisky, neat. While taking a sip from the two fingers of Glenlivet in the rocks glass, I took a deep breath. “So this is what it is like to be inside Annabel’s,” I thought to myself. As might a secret agent, I took mental note of the details around me, kept my eyes peeler and my ears open for celebrities, and rather enjoyed my sudden status. I hadn’t yet thought about how I would pay for my drinks, since I noticed the few other patrons using only member numbers – not cash – to settle up. “Devil may care, for now,” I figured. “After all, I was in Annabel’s. Who knew what the night would bring me! An heiress? A starlet? A smashing business relationship? A secret scandal?”

Then came my fatal error. I went to the loo, which was back near the curtained entrance to the club. The ladies room is on one side of the lobby – gentlemen’s on the opposite side. My slight hesitation in whether to turn right or left brought the very tall, English maitre d over immediately.

“Sir, of course you know the men’s room is over here,” he said politely, looking down at me.

“Thank you, of course,” I replied, turning, before he asked me a question I dreaded hearing.

“Sir, you are a member of Annabel’s, correct?”

This was my moment of truth. I know that my only hope was to look him straight in the eye.

“Naturally,” I said.

“Then as a member of Annabel’s, sir, you surely must be aware of our dress code. Gentlemen are to wear suits with matching trousers and jacket. Not, as you are wearing, trousers with a matching blazer.”

It was my move in this potentially embarrassing chess game, but I didn’t flinch.

“Since when?” I countered, in a secretly desperate reach.
He cracked.

“Well, sir, you’re right. It is true that during the holiday period the club had relaxed the restrictions a bit. But we found that some people were becoming too casual. For instance, some people arrived in denim.”

“Jeans!” I scoffed, shaking my head with indignity. “That’s bloody unimaginable!”

“Indeed, sir. So you see why we’ve restored the dress code. I am terribly sorry you were not properly informed. Please, though, continue with your evening. I apologize for interrupting you.”

I withheld a grin, but knew I’d dodged a bullet, so I seized the opportunity to retreat unscathed.

“Out of respect for the rules of my club,” I told the maitre d, “I shall depart for the evening. I wouldn’t wish to set a bad example for the other members or trouble you with the burden of making an exception to the dress code for me.”

“You needn’t do that, but I understand, sir.”

I nodded.

“It’s what’s best,” I said, reaching for the exit and tugging the door handle before I turned back around to admonish him. “But you will make a better effort to properly inform me of these capricious policy changes next time, won’t you?”

“I will, sir. Have a good evening.”

December 6, 2009
“Annibel’s Imposter”
Originally printed in the Lansing State Journal

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