But this year Hollywood came to gawk at Washington. Tom and Katie, Demi and Ashton, Tyra Banks, Jon Bon Jovi and Sting were all at the dinner.
President Obama, however, was squarely at the top of the A-list.
The celebs at the Washington Hilton turned out Saturday night not just to be seen, but to see him – and, fingers crossed, meet him.
Even for stars who've already shaken Obama's hand, his presence left them struck.
When Obama entered the room, actor Christian Slater, who has met the president twice, stopped mid-sentence, faced the dais and said, in a near trance, "Whoa. Okay. Oh my goodness. This is great."
Obama teased out his own appeal factor in his remarks.
"I strongly believe my next 100 days will be so successful I will finish them in 72 days," Obama said. "And on the 73rd day I will rest."
Obama's administration members, too, are enjoying fame by proximity.
Members of Obama’s administration, too, are enjoying fame by proximity.
One giddy dinner guest was nearly jumping up and down after she got a photo of herself and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers worked the red carpet.
But Obama was the focus of the pre-parties in the Hilton's basement ballrooms - and the dinner that drew 3,000 people afterwards.
At the ABC News, National Journal and The Atlantic soiree, Andy Warhol-like silkscreens of the president and his entourage lined the room. There was, of course, first lady Michelle Obama. But also Emanuel, Vice President Joe Biden, advisor David Axelrod and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
And maybe it's the recession, but Obama's economic team had their own silkscreens, too: Peter Orszag, Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers and Christina Romer.
"Once you're pop art," Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said as he eyeded the one of Valerie Jarrett, "you're immortalized forever."
Attorney General Eric Holder credited the commander-in-chief.
"He's revitalized the whole event the way he's revitalized this town," Holder said. "He's not only a star he's a substantive guy."
But not everyone was Obama-gawking at the Hilton.
Said RNC chairman Michael Steele, "I'm here for a good meal. I plan to eat and drink. That's my game plan."
Obama mocked Steele in his remarks, noting: "Michael Steele is in the house tonight – or as he would say, ‘in the heezee,’ he said, pausing for laughter before adding, "Whas’ up?"
The crowd roared.
At the beginning of her stand-up routine, comedian Wanda Sykes admitted that Obama is a tough target.
"It's hard to poke fun at the president because he's so likeable," she said, adding that people call up radio stations and dedicating songs like ‘Always and Forever’ to him.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood in the middle of the ballroom watching the flow of celebs trickle in.
"This is the largest crowd I've ever seen," LaHood said. "It's all about Obama. This is his night."
Tyra Banks, the former model turned talk-show host, acknowledged that the large turnout Saturday night was for one person and one person only.
"I think Hollywood is quite smitten with him," she said. "And I think it's a little relieved to be less obsessed with itself tonight."
To be sure, celebs took hundreds of pictures with fans, but they also happily took a backseat to Obama as the main attraction.
"It's a great honor to help him celebrate his night," said the actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. "It's his night for sure."
Asked if Obama felt like the man of the hour tonight, Gibbs said, "I think he's probably just ready to go home."