Chicago's Inauguration-Night Balls Range From Canceled to High Tech  

By Jenny Berg January 21, 2009, 1:34 PM EST

Footage from the Washington balls played on an oversize screen at the Parkway Ballroom.

Photo: BizBash

A line of news trucks stood outside McCormick Place last night, where the Chicago Inaugural Committee hosted its official ball. There were more lines inside, where two cash bars—each staffed with a single bartender—catered to a crowd of roughly 700 guests.

Last week, planners expected the evening to draw a crowd of about 600, but the sudden cancellation of an inaugural ball that was to take place at the Aragon Ballroom led to a last-minute spike in attendance at McCormick Place. According to Alan Cottrell, who headed up planning efforts for the Chicago Inaugural Ball, organizers of the Aragon Ballroom event didn't sell enough tickets to hold the space, so he and his fellow committee members agreed to honor tickets to the Aragon event at their own ball. (Those with tickets to the canceled event who didn't go to McCormick Place got refunds.) 

Beyond the bar lines and some audible grumbling in the McCormick Place lobby—“I would've expected more than two bartenders and a cash bar at an event that cost $175 a ticket," one guest remarked—a ballroom housed a stage for a live band, a dance floor, and several candle-flecked tables where guests ate salads, humus, chicken, and pasta from the evening's hot and cold buffets.

At the end of the ballroom, an oversize screen featured three presentations comprising photographs of Barack Obama and clips from several of his past speeches. One of the presentations was also shown at concurrent Washington events, but two were originals that the Chicago Inaugural Committee put together especially for last night's ball. 

Though the majority of guests seemed content to witness some favorite Obama moments—clips from his famous 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention drew cheers—one guest said: “We've seen this all a thousand times. What I'd really like to see is live footage from the D.C. events." 

That footage was shown at the Bronzevillle Inaugural Ball, which took place farther south at the Parkway Ballroom. The event cost $50 a head, drew approximately 300 guests, and included a DJ, dancing, and an open bar that offered Grey Goose vodka cocktails with thematic names such as “Pear Force One” and “Obamapolitan.”

Three interactive white boards from Smart Technologies proved a major draw for many guests, who lined up to write messages to the new president on the boards with special pens. A rep for Smart Technologies explained that the messages would ultimately be “exported in an artistic way, and hopefully shown to Obama." 

Both the McCormick Place and the Parkway Ballroom events wrapped up at 11 p.m.

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