Following an awards ceremony and luncheon at the Four Seasons earlier in the day, Travel & Leisure threw its 13th annual World's Best Awards party at the Hudson Terrace Thursday night. Inside the new bilevel venue, the magazine and 500 guests toasted winners with Patron-sponsored cocktails and a performance by Grammy-nominated group Yerba Buena. Aiming to promote name recognition of the reader survey—with some subtle and not-so-subtle branding—T&L designed three spaces that each drew inspiration from a distinct corner of the globe.
Travel & Leisure special events director Penelope Bonaldi aimed to create the feel of a visit to places like Buenos Aires or Bangkok (two of the winning destinations of 2008) while paying tribute to New York with sweeping views of the Midtown skyline from the venue's outdoor spaces. Although an ominous forecast forced Bonaldi to tent the roof Thursday morning, the space didn't go to waste. Some lobster-wonton munching guests stayed atop the Pan-Asian-infused roof for the three-hour event, although a few were disappointed by the appearance of a tent on what turned out to be a clear midsummer night.
Bonaldi enlisted fellow Aussie Jonathon Beck to bring the brand and award-winning destinations to life. “My goal was to give little flavors of things,“ said Beck. “I wanted Philippe Starck’s Faena Hotel in Buenos Aires to resonate in the lounge, and for the Four Seasons in Cairo to seep through the terrace.” One challenge was the weight restriction of the venue elevators, which required transporting much of the decor, including 12-foot palm trees, up several flights of stairs.
Upon entering the upstairs salon, guests found themselves surrounded by the vibe of a Nuevo Latino lounge. The bongo beat of Latin-Afro fusion band Yerba Buena welcomed new arrivals into the space accompanied by passed empanadas, red lighting, chips and salsa-topped tables, and a wall lit with faux candles. The Travel & Leisure logo revolved on the ceiling on LEDs inside two chandeliers.
With the wafting scent of barbecue and ample cozy places to mingle, the Middle Eastern and African-themed terrace scarcely had an empty seat the entire night. The only outside area free of a tent, the terrace featured Match Catering's buffet of spiced flank steak, grilled veggies, and grilled chicken wrapped in a flat pita with peanut and cucumber yogurt sauces.
The magazine scaled down an original branding plan (three 10-foot-high multi-dimensional buildouts of the awards logo—large enough to sit inside—were to be placed on different levels of the venue) and instead opted for giant red vinyl stickers that spelled out “World's Best Awards 2008” on the roof's windows to simulate being enclosed by the brand.
Long after editor in chief Nancy Novogrod and new publisher Jean-Paul Kyrillos gave short speeches (piped throughout the various spaces), further acknowledging the winners, guests lingered to dance and taste the one dessert: a phyllo nest with vanilla honey cream and pistachios. Only a few left before 11 p.m., grabbing copies of the magazine's latest issue on their way out.