WASHINGTON — It was not so long ago — was it really just last year? — that the three-day, Hollywood-fueled party apparatus surrounding the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner was nearly as talked about as the dinner itself, if only for the odd-couple-style mingling of journalists, celebrities and elected officials, and for the reliable complaints that the whole thing was much too cozy for comfort.
This year, to the delight of critics and the dismay of partygoers, the bubble popped. Sort of.
President Trump left town — offering his own bit of counterprogramming with another diatribe against the news media — and the Hollywood cool factor that had accumulated during the Obama years was all but gone. The weekend’s most glamorous parties were canceled months ago, and hotel rooms were still available and cheap. But on rooftops, in bars and in the tented backyards of the nation’s capital, the parties went on, bookending two main events: the actual correspondents’ dinner and a televised special hosted by the comedian Samantha Bee, which celebrated a free press, criticized the president and continued to mourn the loss of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.
Salad, beef and a side of North Korea.
Mr. Trump might have abstained from the weekend, but, really, he was present at every event: The minute-to-minute media saturation achieved by his administration was the conversational backdrop as partygoers tried to either make fun or make sense of his presidency.
A telling Washington scene unfolded at a high-profile dinner party on Friday evening, in the backyard of a home owned by David Bradley, the owner of Atlantic Media, and his wife, Katherine: Most of the Trump administration had shunned the weekend’s festivities in solidarity with their boss, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis attended the party, taking his seat at the same table as the billionaire Richard Branson and Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia Democrat. As plates of grapefruit salad were laid out on floral tablecloths, the defense secretary kept his eyes on his meal as well-known journalists debated among themselves whether a war with North Korea was possible.
“You probably all got alerts on your phone that they launched another missile tonight,” Martha Raddatz of ABC News said. Dinner guests nodded and showed one another their phones: Like clockwork, the president had sent out a Twitter message admonishing North Korea.
Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic, cracked a joke: “If Jim Mattis leaves suddenly, we’re going to move the party to the basement.”
The lobbyist Heather Podesta, who looked only slightly bored, watched the discussion, and said that in a normal year, she would not have had time to stay through dinner. But this year, she reasoned, “there are a third of the parties.”
Press freedom, veterans and brunch.
On Saturday, the will to give a party held strong, even as the president prepared to gleefully assail the news media from a farm expo center in Pennsylvania. A long-running brunch, organized by the media consultant Tammy Haddad and held at a private home, drew a crowd of prominent political journalists, including Greta Van Susteren of MSNBC and Bret Baier, the Fox News anchor; politicians; and a handful of military veterans. On a private list of attendees guarded by organizers, people were sorted into color-coded categories: Entertainment, Media, Influential.
The mood was tribal.
“364 days of the year they’re competing with each other,” Ms. Haddad said of the news media. “I think journalists and influentials are looking at each other with a deep appreciation we’ve never bothered with before.”
Near the front door, Valerie Jarrett, the former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, hovered with her daughter, Laura, who covers the Justice Department for CNN. The two were planning to attend Ms. Bee’s taping later, which was part comic relief and part therapy session for those who long for the days of the Obama White House.
Ms. Jarrett said she had been indulging in a bit of nostalgia herself by keeping tabs on the former White House photographer Pete Souza’s Instagram account, which contains not-so-subtle digs at Mr. Trump.
“It’s delicious,” she said.
Crunching down the gravel driveway was Mr. Warner, one of the few elected officials to attend, along with Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, and Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, who will face a tough election next year.
“I’ve got to go inside,” Mr. Warner said to a photographer, quickly crossing the threshold into the home, which the organizers firmly said was off-the-record territory.
Inside the party, where a mimosa bar and a wall full of doughnuts served as Instagram fodder, a brave soul said he would speak freely: It was the actor Matt Walsh, who plays the former White House press secretary on the HBO comedy “Veep.”
“We weren’t planning on coming,” said Mr. Walsh, who attended with his wife. “Tammy roped us in.”
The after-parties take on President Trump.
After Ms. Bee taped her show and the “Daily Show” comedian Hasan Minhaj gave hundreds of journalists tough love at the correspondents’ dinner, a younger crowd took over a local bar at BuzzFeed’s “Red, White and Banned” party, where Mr. Minhaj and the commentator Melissa Harris-Perry were spotted mingling with guests.
Across town, while journalists descended on the NBC News and MSNBC after-party at the Organization of American States building, Hollywood types — the ones who came, anyway — turned up for Ms. Bee at the W Hotel, where cocktails like the Bad Hombre, the Nasty Woman and the Orange Russian reminded attendees which type of party they were attending.
Sitting near a giant illuminated sign that read, “FREE PRESS,” Will Ferrell, who had reprised his George W. Bush impersonation earlier in the day at Ms. Bee’s taping, did not feel like talking.
The comedians Retta and Ana Gasteyer were in attendance. “I don’t have the energy for this heat,” Retta said of the 90-degree weather.
Other actors were recognizable but tricky for partygoers to identify by name. (It was a running theme of the weekend.)
“Her face looks familiar, but I don’t know her,” a man whispered about a woman in an orange dress and jade-colored earrings. She turned out to be Alia Shawkat, the actress who played Maeby Fünke in “Arrested Development.”
Ms. Shawkat said the past few months had been tough for those in the arts. “But this feels light and fun,” she added.
Padma Lakshmi, the host of “Top Chef,” said that she and her date, Adam Dell, had to develop a “safe word” to keep themselves from talking too much about Mr. Trump.
What was it? They could not think of it.
“‘Stop it?’” Ms. Lakshmi offered.
As the evening stretched on, there was plenty of room to roam as Elvis Costello took the stage to perform. On the rooftop, Ms. Bee, in a black dress, tried to make her way through an adoring crowd with the help of a security guard. The mood in Washington might be an “interplanetary” change from how it was a year ago, Ms. Bee said, but in this moment, she just felt relief.
“Anything that goes well for me as a performer is a good night,” Ms. Bee said.