You simply would not have recognized Tony's on Saturday night. In a 17-hour transformation, the already-swank restaurant blossomed into a sophisticated dinner club for a 50th birthday bash that will have guests talking for months to come.
Citigroup investment banker Steve Trauber completely surprised his wife, Leticia, with the party for 190 and surprised those guests with the elaborate decor and planning.
Steve gave event planner Lisa Newburn carte blanche with only a few instructions — the color pink should prevail as that is Leticia's favorite; the valet court in front of Tony's had to be enclosed, air-conditioned and outfitted like a very classy cocktail lounge; and a top-notch band was requested as was a memorable dessert presentation. And he wanted a video tribute.
"I wanted to create something incredible and special for her and something that Houston had not seen before."
The team of more than 60 workmen started the transformation at midnight Friday, after the Restaurant Weeks crowd had cleared. Out went all furnishings other than the dining tables. In came acrylic "ghost" chairs, miles of sparkling table linens, special china and monogramed napkins. Austin-based florist David Kurio worked his magic with phalaenopsis and cataleya orchids, all in shades of fuschia, a visual riff on the birthday girl's pink fettish. In all, Kurio brought in more than 4,700 orchids to create the rich tableau.
"Leticia is probably one of the kindest people I've ever met," Newburn said after the party. "I wanted to create something incredible and special for her and something that Houston had not seen before." This was the third party that she had done for the couple. Her first was Leticia's 40th birthday in Napa Valley.
The biggest challenge was transforming the valet area into a sleek nightclub. The roof was covered, Lucite walls installed and 85 tons of air-conditioning was pumped in to the space where over-stuffed banquettes, chairs and ottomans and banks of ferns and orchids created the sophisticated setting that Steve had commanded.
Guests sat down at the elaborately dressed tables that spread throughout the restaurant including the bar and wine room. Tony's team served a spectacular four-course dinner that concluded with the restaurant's traditional and dynamite ice cream bombe and individual chocolate birthday cakes by Who Made the Cake — the ultimate ice cream and cake combo.
The 30-minute video of friends from around the country was another surprise for the birthday girl. "Steve put together a beautiful tribute video that left everyone in tears," Leticia said, "and culminated the evening with the best dance band (Starlight Experience of New York) in the country. We didn't leave Tony's until 1:09 a.m."
Revelers included Leslie and Tom Hix, Clayton and Shel Erikson, Mindy and Jeff Hildebrand, Beverly and Jim Postl, Paula and Jeff Hayes of Dallas, Terri and John Havens, Andrea and former Mayor Bill White, Yava and Milton Scott and Penny and Paul Loyd.
Both graduates and supporters of Rice University, the Traubers included Y. Ping Sun and David Leebron, Rice president, on the guest list. Their son, JT Trauber, starts Rice as a freshman this year. Their daughter, Lexi Trauber, flew in from Los Angeles for the party. Serious basketball fans, the Traubers also welcomed to the party Clyde Drexler and his wife, Tonya, and Dikembe Mutombo and wife, Rose.