The 15-minute walk to the bathroom at the Governors Ball — the official afterparty for the Emmy Awards — might go down as one of the top 10 surreal moments of my life. Maybe it was the Champagne, but I felt like I was in a bizarre dream as I nearly plowed into the cast of Master Of None, sidestepped Bob Odenkirk, and then watched as one of the Stranger Things kids was whisked away by bodyguards. After pausing in the bathroom to touch up my makeup, I re-entered the dining hall and locked eyes with Tituss Burgess as he power-walked by me. We both nodded instinctively, and I somehow managed to suppress a scream of “You were robbed!” or the opening bars of “Peenot Noir.”
Imagine a football field full of tables, then double it. Or maybe it was only one football field? The scale was impossible to judge inside the all-black walls of the room, which were covered in blinking stars. The theme was “Golden Grandeur,” but a more apt descriptor would have been “The Galaxy’s Chicest Space Ship.” There were thousands of gold tubes hanging from the ceiling, as well as a four-piece, all-female string quartet in shimmering dresses playing on top of a giant column at the center of the room. I grabbed a glass of Champagne, completely overwhelmed by the scale of the thing, completely unable to absorb the fact that I was weaving between the cast of This Is Us to find my table.
What the hell was I doing in this room full of famous faces, along with thousands of other guests? We had all just been funneled a couple of hundred yards from the Microsoft Theater, in the most elegant bottleneck ever, to what is the largest seated dinner in America. Four courses, 25,000 bottles of wine, 200 chefs, and 600 servers, all under one roof at the L.A. Convention Center — and me, a guest of Sterling Vineyards, the official wine of the Emmys. Yes, there are some perks to being a food writer.
Once seated, I found a plate of delicious heirloom tomatoes already waiting for me, and a friendly waiter ready to pour the wine of my choice. I started with white and began to attack the plate of food. Ominously titled "Last Of The Heirlooms," they were legitimately some of the tastiest tomatoes I’ve ever had, topped off with balsamic jellies, basil, and quinoa.
Once my appetite had subsided from “roaring hunger” to “manageably peckish,” I was ready to resume taking in the spectacle that was happening around me. The sheer scale of it all baffled me. The televised ceremony is typically restricted to the first few rows of the massive Microsoft Theater. In person, it’s much easier to get a sense of the massive number of people required to create television; writers, producers, publicists, casting agents, lawyers, accountants, and all the various cogs and wheels that make the machine run. My brain could barely process the fact that I was in the same room as RuPaul; in between bites of filet mignon I looked up and caught Sterling K. Brown kissing his wife in the Winner’s Circle, a roped-off area where your ticket in is an Emmy statuette. In between bites of the roasted potatoes and a second helping of bread, I spied Lena Waite and her girlfriend and once again was filled with a weepy feeling of empathetic joy and amazement.
As the night started to wind down and tables emptied, the only people left were dancing in the center of the room, and the stars had all left in limos bound for after-parties. It was then that I was beckoned behind the velvet ropes and into the Winner’s Circle. My final pour of the night was a glass of Iridium, Sterling Vineyard’s limited-edition Cabernet Sauvignon that was gifted to every Emmy winner. Donald Glover noted earlier that it tastes like “success,” and, drinking it behind a velvet rope at the Emmys after party, it certainly felt like I had achieved something, even if I was merely a bystander.
“Have you posed with the Emmy yet?” someone asked, and handed me a spare one sitting at the bar. The winners were right, those little guys are surprisingly heavy.
As I exited, I saw Yara Shahidi snapping pictures of her parents in the hallway. This time I wasn’t overwhelmed to see the people from my TV and Instagram feeds come to life, but instead felt a tender recognition in seeing the sweet, private moment between a family. At the very moment, it no longer shocked me to see celebrities. However, the night was over, and the spell was breaking.
Outside of the convention center, everything was eerily quiet. The magic of the red carpet had been stripped away — all that was left was the actual carpet and labels where press outlets had stood. I walked alone back to my hotel. If the Governors Ball had felt like a spaceship, then I had been beamed back to earth, careening back to my regular day-to-day life. And, just like that, the most memorable dinner of my life was over. I only had a few poorly-lit pictures of food and a menu I’d slipped in my purse by which to remember it. Even my Rent The Runway gown would soon be packed up and shipped away. Soon, I will no longer be inoculated against seeing celebrities in real life and will have to go back to regular dinners for one instead of thousands. I will, however, forever have the story of screaming, “Did you see James Corden?” to a total stranger while Corden himself was still standing three feet from us. If that doesn’t sum up my night in one scene, I’m not sure what will.