At the back of Burlington's Olde Northender Pub, the big-screen TV was blaring. But the scene on the screen - coiffed movie stars in tuxes and evening gowns - had nothing to do with sports. A crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings clustered around the TV - men in dark jackets and ties, women in cocktail dresses. "What are you wearing?" someone demanded of a newcomer. Several yards away, at the bar, a handful of casually dressed female regulars chatted, seemingly oblivious to the glamour.
It was Oscar Night at the Old Northender. While Ellen DeGeneres was presiding on-screen, the master of ceremonies here was David Zacharis, 31, of Burlington. His black formalwear was impeccable. Zacharis said he's been holding Oscar parties for nine years, though "the first one was just me and my cat and a bottle of champagne in my apartment."
Since then, attendance has grown substantially: Last year, Zacharis realized the party wouldn't fit in his apartment. He relocated it to Café Piccolo, but the establishment had problems with its TV reception. So the Burlington glitterati fled to the Olde Northender. Though the party may seem incongruous in the down-to-earth, wood-frame bar, its walls covered with sports memorabilia, Zacharis said he and his friends are Tuesday-night regulars. Now on its second year in this venue, the event showed evidence of careful advance planning, from the rows of chairs set out for the audience to the homemade cookies and flatbread and, of course, popcorn, arranged on a buffet table and surrounded by blue fairy lights.
On the screen, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal was presenting something - given the ambient noise from talking and pool cues, it was hard to know what. Zacharis' friend Loyal Carlon shook his head and said, "She has the biggest right shoulder I've ever seen."
Like many of the 15 or 20 Oscar fans here, Carlon hadn't actually seen most of the films nominated for Best Picture. He meant to watch Babel today on DVD, but ended up at Macy's instead, shopping for his tie - the first he's had since he was 17, he revealed.
Most people apparently had seen The Departed. When Mark Wahlberg didn't win Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the Scorsese film, boos were heard. A young man with a tie and tattooed forearms yelled, "It's a conspiracy against the Irish!"
Alison Emerson, who wore an aqua floor-length dress, was rooting for Little Miss Sunshine. "He throws the best Oscar party," she said of Zacharis, whose events she's attended for the past five years. "It's great, 'cause you can dress up."
Like the actual Academy Awards ceremony, perhaps, the party was less about honoring talent than about reveling in film-industry gossip and snark. Every star who came onstage got a reaction - catcalls and comments about spaceships for Tom Cruise, awwws for 10-year-old nominee Abigail Breslin. "It's George Clooney! Make out with him!" Zacharis exclaimed, as the World's Sexiest Man led Jennifer Hudson offstage.
When it's not about the movies themselves, what's the appeal of the Oscars? Brooke Dooley, in a slinky black gown and heels, answered without hesitation: "It's the emotional complement." She remembered "being 12, with my ear pressed to the wall, listening to the Oscars in the other room and hearing Whoopi Goldberg say, 'Somewhere out there, there's a 12-year-old watching this who'll be here one day.' Well," she concluded, "this is as close as I can get. I can get a gown and go to the Olde Northender."
As in past years, the ceremony was dragging. By the time the Michelob Ultra clock showed 11:30, most of the well-dressed Burlington crowd had gone home, though the big awards had yet to be announced.
Zacharis and a small knot of friends were still in fine form, though. "Death reel! It's the best part!" Booley shouted, as the "In Memoriam" segment began. The montage of recently deceased Academy members is notorious for being a popularity contest, with some names drawing deafening applause and some none at all. In the Kodak Theatre, Robert Altman got the lion's share of mourning. At the Olde Northender, if applause was any indication, the most regretted loss was Don Knotts.
By the time a bald, placid-looking Jack Nicholson handed the Best Picture statuette to the producers of The Departed, everybody was exhausted. There was general agreement that Helen Mirren is hot, Penélope Cruz's dress was a disaster, and Clint Eastwood didn't deserve another Oscar after his 2005 wins for the movie Zacharis derisively called Boxers Don't Cry. Ellen DeGeneres had quipped, "Without blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars," and Melissa Etheridge had reminded us all about global warming. It was time to navigate the slushy streets of the Old North End and dream about next year.
» MULTIMEDIA: Seven Days videographer Eva Sollberger was also at the Oscar party. She filmed it for her video blog, Stuck in Vermont.