Another year, another budget night binge drinking session that failed to reach even the middling heights of 2010, despite Tony Abbott’s best efforts at the notorious Portia’s Place Chinese restaurant.

The “Holy Grail” mythology had again been trotted out this week, but only The Australian’s George Megalogenis was keeping the 3am dream alive astride the ACT’s grottiest dance floor, as a succession of scribes lined up to pick his brain on the angles they’d missed.

But the real Kingston action — a medium-density dormitory suburb that most residents compare unfavourably to Padstow — occurred hours earlier with an ebullient opposition leader hunkering down for a long and deliberate conversation with new Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker and top charges Terry McCrann and Steve Lewis.

Abbott offered The Age table a cursory “hi” before an extended examination of Malcolm Farr’s iPad on the footpath outside as the temperature plummeted, revelling at the news The Tele were about to crucify Wayne Swan with a “tortured Monopoly man” front-page. Such was the animation, this morning’s “class war” assault could well have come direct from Portia’s patio.

After the chat, the versatile McCrann shifted over to the adjacent Kennedy Room, also the venue for Crikey’s annual dinner hosted by Alan Kohler and co, who kept the table continually topped up with Canberra’s finest pinot.

The famed Kennedy aura was laid on thick as talented youngsters Paul Howes and Latika Bourke brushed together at the bar, corralled by a posse of Liberal Party advisers. One Malcolm Turnbull economic wonk was seen in deep conversation with Saul Eslake before an animated Nicholas Gruen moved in to prevent further water torture.

As Robert Gottliebsen gave Crikey an extended lesson on why the Resources Super Profits Tax was a terrible idea, famed Greens tipplers Tim Hollo and Dan Cass moved in to quarantine us from the beery misogyny wafting from the sea of black suits towards the dining area.

Suddenly it was 12.45am, with Kennedy bar staff refusing to let anyone else in the door (one white-haired adviser given the “don’t argue” unwisely threatened the venue with the loss of its liquor licence). Time to walk the 45 metres to the Grail, but not before a final Portia’s drive-by where the Courier Mail was continuing the festivities well after official opening hours.

The scene at the Grail’s glorified sports bar was lubricated but tense as hacks divided into warring News and Fairfax camps and pretended not to recognise each other. The Oz‘s heavy hitters, who had obviously arrived hours earlier to secure prime position, luxuriated indoors, while Greg Hywood’s crew made do with environmentally ruinous cafe heaters on the bricks outside.

A crack Victorian contingent had made the trip, including the impressively-bearded Stephen McMahon from the Herald Sun, and Josh Gordon and Reid Sexton from The Age who were entertained for many minutes by an amusing Tony Wright.

Crikey ventured into enemy territory for a chat with various News scribes in various states of distress, but with the schooners going down like nails, First Dog nowhere to be seen, and shirts getting untucked on the podium, it was time to hail a cab — which surprisingly for Kingston was already idling curbside.

Sensible scribblers like Ross Gittins had wisely abandoned this sad circus many hours earlier.  And it showed this morning as Gittins, resplendent in a fawn suit and white joggers, bounced out of the Marque Hotel on Northbourne Avenue and into the rickety Fairfax coach bound for Sydney.

It seems even the nation’s best economic polemicist — who stayed off the turps and filed by far the most sensible piece on Swan’s speech — wasn’t immune from his newspaper’s war on expensive air travel.