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Party Girls

In a city where their dad is an interloper, the Bush twins are totally at home.

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Lauren and Barbara Bush at Zach Posen's fall 2004 show, next to director Vincent Gallo. Jenna Bush at an Iowa campaign event.  

On August 2, day two of the summer terror scare, Jenna and Barbara Bush had to go to midtown. They were said to be staying with friends in Battery Park when the First Lady asked them to accompany her to the Citigroup Center tower, which had been identified a day earlier as the site of a possible Al Qaeda attack. It would be the Bush twins’ first public appearance in the city that has been their nocturnal playground for the past few years. They stood there as their mom told a few hundred Citigroup employees that there was nothing to fear. There were more photos as Jenna and Barbara stopped at Cucina, a coffee shop in the seven-story Citigroup atrium. Then they were off to dinner with Laura at Nobu—their favorite restaurant. An hour and a half later, they went off to meet their friends.

This was the day’s real event. At the sleek, dark bar on the first floor of BondSt, a Noho restaurant, they met up with their friend Maggie Betts, the quick-witted African-American daughter of Roland Betts, the developer of Chelsea Piers and President Bush’s closest New York connection. Betts was hanging out with two guys Jenna and Barbara didn’t know but who had famous dads of their own: Chris Miller, the portly, jovial son of the Miller Gallery owners, and Jamie Johnson, director of the documentary Born Rich and an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. Fabian Basabe, the handsome son of an Ecuadoran businessman who made the front page of the Daily News in February dirty-dancing with Barbara at a Chelsea club—and who was subsequently rumored to have been banned from the White House—was on hand, too.

Barbara—friends call her Barbs—text-messaged some other people to come meet them, friends they hadn’t seen since their graduation trips abroad (Barbara experienced the postcollegiate bohemian life in Eastern European cities; Jenna hiked the Pyrénées). The twins once talked about how much they hated doing “political stuff,” how they wished they didn’t have to have a role in their dad’s campaign but felt obligated to do so. “People want us to be political, like Karenna Gore, but we’re not,” a friend reports Jenna as saying.

Later, Miller invited the whole group, about a dozen of them by now, back to his loft farther down Bond Street, where they drank wine that someone had brought from their dad’s wine cellar. The party continued till 3 a.m. or so, which made it kind of an early night for the twins, who have been known to shut down meatpacking-district clubs like the tiny, exclusive Bungalow 8. Once, at that club, Jenna saw Joey co-star Jennifer Coolidge and a few friends in a banquette across the way. “I loved you in Legally Blonde 2,” gushed Jenna (Coolidge played Reese Witherspoon’s hairdresser confidante).

Coolidge didn’t know who she was, and smiled wanly.

“My daddy’s the president,” offered Jenna.

At a party, a Secret Service man knocked and asked if Barbara would be spending the night. “Barbara,” said a guest. “Your dad’s at the door.”

Coolidge and her friends were still confused. One person wondered if she was talking about the president of Bungalow 8.

Tonight Jenna and Barbara decided they needed their beauty rest. They both had buttons on their phones to let the Secret Service know that Twinkle (Jenna) and Turquoise (Barbara) were ready to move. They made their way down to a black SUV with tinted windows, the one with a backseat often strewn with cast-off sweatshirts and comfortable shoes to change into after a night of high heels. Three years after reports that the Bush twins sometimes try to lose their Secret Service escorts for kicks—“You know if anything happens to me, my dad would have your ass” is the taunt Jenna reportedly hurled when they finally caught her—Jenna and Barbara are gracious to their drivers.

“You don’t just ditch Secret Service,” says a friend. “This isn’t Driving Miss Daisy.”

The first thing Jenna and Barbara’s friends will tell you is that they are social girls. They’re both bright, and they’re funny, and they have no idea what they want to do with their lives other than hang out with their friends. (The White House declined to comment on their behalf.) There’s always a wicked gleam of mischief in Jenna’s eyes. Barbara is equally strong-willed, but with a more tranquil side to her character. Many friends say that she’s actually the Dionysian one, not Jenna, although Jenna is the one who gets in more trouble. Jenna is simpler, more crass, less focused and controlled; she says what she thinks, or at least, makes it clear with her tongue.

Clearly, both are W.’s daughters, at least the hard-living, fun- loving frat boy W. used to be.

Jenna and Barbara are really best friends. Barbara calls Jenna “Little Sister,” because Barbara is one minute older. She’s the young urban sophisticate who graduated from Yale; Jenna’s the teenager who never left home, attending the University of Texas at Austin, near the governor’s Greek Revival mansion where she spent her teenage years. “Barbara’s very engaging and open, the first to say hello and meet new people,” says a friend. “Jenna could care less if she meets anyone new. She could sit around with the kids she knows from high school and college in some apartment and be happy.”

They’re both free spirits and, like lots of women their age, want to live hard, be constantly surrounded by a pack of popular friends, and embark on adventures with handsome guys they hardly know—kind of like the night they went back to Ashton Kutcher’s house after partying at a club and, according to Kutcher in Rolling Stone, let a friend of his smoke them out on his hookah. Manhattan being Manhattan, it’s a perfect place for such behavior, especially for two 22-year-olds who are currently boyfriend-less. Barbara weekended in New York regularly during the four years she was at Yale. Jenna’s sojourns here have been more intermittent. While many New York publicists and nightclubbers would like to claim them as part of their circle, the truth is that neither one has made much of an effort to become a social-scene fixture. They’ve left that to Lauren Bush, the regal, much-photographed daughter of Neil and Sharon Bush and an Elite model, who conveniently chose to take a semester abroad in Australia last month, the better to avoid the publicity surrounding her parents’ vicious divorce. Recently, she became a spokesperson for the World Food Program.


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