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YouthAIDS Gala Trashes the Ritz-Carlton (Sort of)

For the annual YouthAIDS gala, planners evoked a punk rock theme with a trashed hotel room, a fake tattoo station, and a tour bus parked in front of the Ritz-Carlton.

The YouthAIDS gala at the Ritz-Carlton

Photo: Jonah Koch for BizBash

The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t generally encourage trashing its rooms, but Simon Cooper, president and chief operating officer of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, made an exception for the YouthAIDS gala after-party Friday night. To go along with this year’s “The Power of Music” rock 'n' roll theme, YouthAIDS deputy director Marshall Stowell recreated a rock band’s trashed hotel suite in the Tysons Corner hotel’s Old Dominion room, tossing lingerie on the light fixtures, tilting picture frames, and artfully arranging broken lamps, pizza boxes, and empty Jim Beam bottles on tabletops.

“I have to say, hats off to Simon Cooper,” said Stowell, noting that Cooper co-chaired the gala with BET co-founder Sheila Johnson. “He was fully onboard with the theme of the after-party. He allowed us to take that liberty with the Ritz-Carlton, which is such a lovely hotel. They were terrific sports about it.”

The after-party was just one facet of the elaborate annual gala, which ranked as one of the top benefits in our roundup of Washington’s Top 100 Events. The evening honors political leaders, health professionals, musicians, and celebrities who have contributed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The three-part benefit, which includes a V.I.P. pre-party, the gala, and an after-party, is known for drawing notables, and this year was no different. YouthAIDS global ambassador Ashley Judd, Sharon Osbourne, Bob Geldof, and Anna Kournikova all attended; Annie Lennox had to cancel due to a back injury.

The evening revolved around the hard-partying theme, evident in everything from the Gibson tour bus parked outside the hotel (complete with a fake punk band to greet the more than 550 partygoers) to the glow sticks added at each place setting in the ballroom. A fake tattoo station offered butterflies, hearts, or skulls and crossbones. Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza even got in on the act.

Stowell continued the punk look in the Ritz-Carlton’s ballroom, which had an industrial look with exposed light bulbs, patent leather tablecloths, and sleek black plastic chairs. The room decor also included 12 graffiti panels created by children at D.C.’s Words, Beats & Life nonprofit with the help of graffiti artist Claw Money, who contributed a 20- by 40-foot work placed behind the stage. The 49 tables in the ballroom featured roses, orchids, and spray paint cans displayed in Lucite cubes, some up to five-feet tall.   

The night’s musical performances included a set by John Mellencamp and songs from students in the Urban Nation H.I.P.-H.O.P. Choir. And, although the event’s guest list was smaller than last year’s 650 guests, the gala still raised $1.2 million to help protect young people from HIV/AIDS, with Osbourne and Judd pitching in to win items from the live auction: Cartier jewelry and a golf trip, respectively.


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