2/12/12

The After-Party Party

As most savvy New York hosts know, when you throw a large cocktail party, you can expect approximately 60 percent of the invitees to attend. Of the 40 percent who don’t come, most have a scheduling conflict or illness and are truly sorry to be missing the affair.  So, what if you immediately offered these people an alternative—a kind of make-up party?

That’s exactly what my friends Ned and Donna did. They held a big cocktail party one Saturday night and invited the people who sent “regrets” to a smaller party the very next Saturday.

Ned and Donna are people who do not entertain very much, so at first it sounded crazy to me that they would decide to have two parties in a row. But this nonhosting tendency on the part of this couple is in fact why the double party idea was perfect for them. Once they had managed to find the impetus to entertain, whipped their house into guest-ready shape (cleaning it from top to bottom, even rearranging the furniture) and stocked the larder with staples like soda, snacks and booze, the second, smaller party was a veritable snap for them. They even had leftover wine and supplies that the guests from the first party had brought them.

Having two parties in a row may sound exhausting, but it can be much more efficient than spreading them out. You can pay back everyone you owe an invitation in a spectacular one-two punch. Really, it’s like getting out all the painting equipment to paint a room and then deciding that, while you’re at it, you may as well paint another small room at the same time.

Also, having a second gathering is a great way for the hosts to soak up every bit of fun they can; after working hard to make a party happen, hosts can feel it is over too quickly. Most people I talk to who, for one reason or another, had dreaded hosting a party, are so energized afterward they wonder why they don’t host more often. Might as well have another party while you are in the mood!

You can also employ a similar version of this kind of party clustering when you find you have more than one dinner party you need to give. Instead of hosting one dinner one month and another one the next month, why not have a dinner party weekend?  Make one big pot of something hearty and fabulous—say, oxtail stew, boston butt or chili–then hold two dinner parties one after the other.

Contrary to what one might think, the second set of guests are not getting shortchanged, because by the second dinner you are probably more relaxed (having cleaned and shopped like a madwoman before the first one), and usually the Italian pot roast you spent hours making is even better the second day.

Of course, in the case of back-to-back dinner parties, the guests must not know about each other at all. While a make-up cocktail party is like being offered a wonderful consolation prize, being part of a double dinner party weekend can seem more like a prize cut in half.

The one rule to follow when hosting consecutive parties is that you can never let the people at the second party get the idea that your first party was in any way more enjoyable than the one you are having with them right now. You want them to feel fortunate and much sought-after, as if you are going to extra trouble just for them—which, in a sense, you are.

The people who could not attend the primary event should feel flattered that you have gone out of your way to extend your hospitality to them. It’s as if you are saying, “I want to have you over so much I will even have a do-over just to get you here!” even though it is really a case of a relatively easy two-for-the-fuss-of-one for you.

Speaking of two-for-one, I somehow got to go to both of the lovely parties given by Ned and Donna. Not fair that they invited me to both? Hey, there’s got to be some perk to this whole Miss Mingle thing!


Originally published by the West Side Spirit, January 26, 2012

2/4/12

What's Your Sign?

I don’t usually travel on the subway with a white plastic Venetian face mask, but that’s what I was doing last Monday night.

I wasn’t wearing the mask, I was merely holding it in my lap. And yet, almost immediately after the train left the station at 23rd Street, a cute guy with super-chic eyeglasses got up from where he was sitting across from me and approached. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you,” he smiled, “but didn’t you just LOVE it?” He wiggled his eyebrows in a conspiratorial fashion, nodding at the mask.

The “it” he was referring to was Sleep No More, the experimental piece from London theater group Punchdrunk, which I had just had the good fortune to experience—hence the mask (every audience member must wear one during the show.) Avant-garde and utterly unique, Sleep No More is part theater, part haunted house and part art installation held in a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Chelsea. It’s hard to get tickets. After you have seen it, you definitely feel as though you have been initiated into a special, elite club.

It was not premeditated on my part, but by carrying the mask, I was advertising the fact that I had just come from this play. The mask would mean nothing to those who were not in the know. But for anyone who had “checked in” to the McKittrick Hotel on 27th Street (the setting for Sleep No More), it was like having a secret banner, a sign that read: “I’ve just been to the coolest thing in New York.” I proceeded to have a truly fun chat with the cute guy about the show.

This kind of recognition and subsequent bonding frequently happens when you are carrying theater programs. After I saw The Normal Heart, I sought out other people who were holding the program after I got on the subway at 42nd Street; I had been so moved by the performance that I was looking for people to talk to who were in the same emotional place I was. (They were not hard to find; besides the programs, they had the same stricken looks on their faces as me.)

Whether it’s a public television tote bag, an admission sticker from the race track or an ink mark on your hand from the hottest New York nightclub, this kind of visible “prop” can identify you and attract like-minded people. It’s a sign that tells someone he probably has more in common with you than he might normally have with a stranger. That the two of you have shared an experience, whether it be an art exhibit, a concert or a political demonstration. He has found someone who is in his “club.”

Even a Mets cap, to another Mets fan, can provide an opening for conversation, though that’s not exactly a small club. A souvenir from the World Series would be better. Like the Sleep No More mask, a souvenir from the World Series illustrates that you are in an exclusive club.

It’s the exclusivity, as well as the shared experience, that engenders a great conversation. There’s nothing like that “We’ve got a secret” feeling you get when you run into a stranger who is carrying something that only a few people have or would recognize. The smaller the club, the more excited you are to run into someone who is a member.

New York is one of those places where, on any given subway car or street corner, there are probably people with your sensibility or life experiences hidden among the crowd. You can’t tell much by clothing (though if someone is wearing a nun’s habit, you might surmise they are religious), but if someone is draped with a New York City Marathon warming blanket on the day of the race, you know they have just completed a 26.2-mile run. And if you yourself have ever run a marathon, both you and the runner are going to be more than delighted to engage in conversation. You are practically meeting up with a soul mate.

For me, in the case of my Sleep No More compadre, it was like discovering a stranger who had had the same vivid, beautiful, disturbing dream I had. When my fellow theatergoer got off before me, at 50th Street, I felt almost sad. Some other people who got on to the train cast odds looks my way, as if they were expecting me to subject them all to some kind of unwelcome dramatic presentation. But I just smiled and held proudly onto the mask, my secret emblem of the evening.

(Originally published in the West Side Spirit, January12, 2012)