Shelby About Town
The best parties of the decade
If there is one thing that Houstonians know how to do, in addition to making fortunes in the energy business, it is how to party.
We have surveyed the party landscape of the last decade, focusing primarily on charity events, and have come up with a handful that continue to resonate with all that is spectacularly grand and wonderfully giddy about Houston. Along with the philanthropic evenings, we've thrown in one private party and one over-the-top hotel opening. After all, what would the Houston social scene be without the big gesture and our unbridled party spirit.
For love of the Louvre
Becca Cason Thrash has hosted more than a few most memorable parties in her home in the past decade—among them the Super Bowl party where Willie Nelson performed and the star line-up included Paris Hilton, Nicky Hilton, Tom Arnold, Cindy Crawford and more. The Best Buddies benefit featuring Marc Anthony and the high-fashion soirée highlighting Christian Lacroix couture gowns rank in the stratosphere of the city's party lore. But Becca's finest hour as charity gala chair came in June of 2008 when she practically single-handedly orchestrated three grand days of partying in Paris on behalf of the American Friends of the Louvre and International Friends of the Louvre.
There were enough Houstonians in the mix and so much Becca involvement that Liaisons au Louvre clearly stands out for many Houstonians as the best of the decade. Highlight was the black-tie dinner soirée for close to 300 guests, including Princess Caroline of Monaco, YSL designer Stefano Pilati and Bianca Jagger. The evening moved through four venues in the hallowed museum with dinner served in the Galerie Daru, with The Winged Victory of Samothrace looking on from her perch in the Denon Wing.
International party planner Ben Bourgeois of Los Angeles created two enormously long, parallel mirrored tables for the seated dinner and decorated the gallery in profusions of yellow orchids and roses. The party moved on to the reception hall beneath the pyramid where Duran Duran rocked into the wee morning hours. But for those who couldn't get enough, even after 2 a.m., the Louvre's Café Marley opened for disco dancing until dawn.
The round of parties raised $2.7 million for the Louvre and huge kudos, both at home and abroad, for La Becca.
Former President George H. W. Bush's 80th birthday celebration at Minute Maid Park easily reigns as one of the most spectacular evenings of the decade—a seated dinner for more than 5,000 guests in Minute Maid park, five former heads of state and President George W. Bush among the on-stage notables and an entertainment line-up that included Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Dennis Miller, the Gatlin Brothers, Wynonna Judd, Tommy Tune and Reba McEntire. CNN's Larry King served as emcee of the program that included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bo Derek, Bruce Willis, Jim Nantz, Nolan Ryan, Chris Evert and Scott Hamilton, among others.
The June 2004 evening, long on patriotism and adoration of the 41st president, concluded with a breath-taking drop through the open stadium roof by the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, followed by a dazzling fireworks display. This mega-event was created and managed by Houston-based special events gurus Nancy Ames and Danny Ward, Ames coming up with the "41@80" theme.
Baylor boogie woogie
It is doubtful that anyone has ever had as much uninhibited dance fever fun as guests attending the January 2008 Noche Caliente benefiting Baylor College of Medicine. Chairs Sue and Lester Smith, Susana Brener de Stern, Dr. Juan Stern and Mary Tere and Ricardo Perusquia chaired the benefit that not only lifted the spirits through the roof but also rollicked to unprecedented heights in fundraising. A record $11.4 million net was raised in conjunction with this event, thanks in no small part to the fact that the Smiths underwrote party expenses.
The ballroom of the Hilton Americas-Houston rocked to the Latin sounds of two bands—the outrageous Héctor Tirado y Su Grupo from Mexico City and Caliente, the house band for Emilio and Gloria Estefan's Bongos Cuban Cafe in Orlando, Fla. The dance floor was packed as the 950 party animals got into the swing of the salsas, merengues and cha-chas. The conga line that ensued was one of the largest ever seen in this ballroom.
Part of the fun was the wacky headgear and costuming provided by Tirado. Throughout the night, guests donned watermelon hats and pineapples and carried paper palm trees as part of the energized play. A bountiful Mexican buffet dinner was supplemented at midnight by a breakfast. All night long, the mojitos, frozen margaritas and tequila shots flowed.
Houston Grand Opera's 50th
The elements of the cultural universe aligned in April of 2005 to guarantee that HGO's golden jubilee at Wortham Theater Center would be one of the grandest evenings on record. With social star Lynn Wyatt as gala chair and HGO impresario David Gockley making his gala swan song, the stars signed on with enthusiasm. Wyatt pal Sir Elton John performed as did baritone Bryn Terfel and sopranos Renée Fleming and Laura Claycomb. Sir Roger Moore served as debonaire emcee. The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, joined Lynn and Oscar Wyatt at their table, her escort jewelry designer Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia.
The social swells, a number paying $100,000 per table, turned out in their finest designer gowns and serious jewels for the lavish concert and late-night dinner in the theater's Grand Foyer. The Events Co. and catering standout Jackson & Co. worked their remarkable magic to create a dinner setting and menu befitting Houston's social royalty.
The gala netted more than $2.5 million, knocking the city's cultural fundraising efforts off the charts. Adding to the coffers was Elton, who jumped in to aid in the live auction by taking the microphone and offering a second set of tickets to his show in Vegas and a second set of of his signature red sunglasses—autographed. This evening closed with a surprise explosion of fireworks and a shower of silver confetti floating down from the heights of the Grand Foyer.
Hotel ZaZa opening
Not all night-time spectaculars are charity oriented. Consider the jaw-dropping opening of Hotel ZaZa, a Bacchanalian bash in May of 2007 that entertained 2,200 revelers on all levels of the hip hostelry, formerly the sedate Warwick Hotel. Owner Charlie Givens oversaw the night during which the cast of hotel characters included costumed French maids, geishas, a bikini-clad human sushi bar and leggy models in the bathtubs on the open-air terraces of the haute suites. And let's not forget the midnight shower of beach balls that plummeted from on high into the swimming pool.
The champagne and other libations flowed. The hotel kitchen worked overtime to keep the party fare coming. Music blared. And the people-watching was as rich as it gets in this city. As the night progressed, the party action cranked up with the Monarch Restaurant opening late and the DJs spinning tunes to accompany the human razzle dazzle. By night's end, which was actually well into the next day, guests were dancing on the tables, swigging champagne straight from the bottle.
This party established Hotel ZaZa as the hippest address in town. And, yes, people are still talking about it.
A whopping success
In terms of sheer dollars, this event rocked the record books. It was cheers all around in November of 2001, when the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center celebrated its 60th anniversary at Minute Maid Park. The seated dinner for 2,000 on the floor of the baseball stadium and the program of over-the-top entertainment brought in an astonishing $10.3 million for the cancer center.
Marie and Bill Wise and Lynne and Pete Coneway chaired the gala evening that featured the Houston Symphony performing and backing up Lyle Lovett, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan and Dianne Carroll. Joan Lunden served as emcee for the program that included remarks from former President George H.W. Bush and M.D. Anderson president Dr. John Mendelsohn. The grande finale was a performance by a 350-voice choir backed up by the symphony.
The elaborate staging and seating, according to organizers Ward & Ames, still holds a record today — 40,000 square feet of Terraplas flooring placed over the baseball field to protect the grass.
When trial lawyer John Eddie Williams and wife, interior designer Sheridan Williams, brought their 190-foot super yacht, the Lady Sheridan, to Galveston in February of 2008, they invited more than 500 friends to venture down to Pier 21 over two nights of partying that included tours of the yacht and wining and dining in a spectacular waterfront tent. Sight-seeing aboard the multi-million-dollar yacht alone would have been worth the trip, an experience that most of us only dream of. But the grand soirée in the beautifully-decorated tent was icing on the cake that made this party one of the spectaculars of the decade.
White carpeting, crystal chandeliers, hundreds of candles, draped walls, gilded mirrors, beaded table linens and bushels of peach-hued roses set the stage—in the tent. Thank you Richard Flowers and the Events Co. for the lavish creative thinking. Catering by Culinaire's Barbara McKnight ran with the open-ended budget to create bountiful food stations reflecting international ports of call including Capri, Nice and Portofino. In a nod to the Gulf Coast, a treasure chest overflowing with caviar, boiled shrimp, stone crab claws, oysters and more surrounded the vast ice sculpture of the Lady Sheridan.
This was one night when no extra entertainment was necessary. The venue was all that was required for a dynamite evening.
Mardi Gras madness
Every year, Tilman Fertitta seems to top himself from the year before when it comes to the San Luis Salute, that wonderfully raucous Mardi Gras celebration that draws hundreds of Houstonians to Galveston for a wild and woolly night. We can't name every San Luis Salute as one of the best of the decade, though they would surely qualify, so we settle on the most recent—the San Luis Salute in February of 2009, hosted by Paige and Tilman Fertitta.
The dance floor of the Galveston Island Convention Center was packed even before the dinner salad was served to the record 800 enthusiastic guests, a sure sign that this party would rock. And it did. With the parading Philadelphia Mummers starting things off, the entertainment continued with the energized Pink Flamingos. Beach balls soared across the hall and into the dining area. Partygoers stomped bubble wrap that was spread across the dance floor. They strummed inflated guitars and danced until their feet wouldn't dance anymore.
The San Luis Salute annually benefits the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.