Event Industry New Year's Preview

December 17, 2002, 12:00 AM EST

Time to bust out the ridiculous hats and noisemakers—New Year's Eve is upon us! While corporate holiday parties are going on in various forms (or not going on at all), venues all over town are pulling out the stops to get revelers to spend their last remaining ducats of 2002 whooping it up for 2003. Like last year, most restaurants and clubs are opening their parties to the (paying) public instead of hosting closed, private affairs. Several upscale restaurants are offering special menus with musical entertainment, and a few parties will have big-name DJs at high-profile event spaces.

Selling More Bang for the Buck

“Ticket prices are basically the same [as last year, but] this year we're spending more money on production,” says Noah Tepperberg of Strategic Group, who along with business partner Jason Strauss is promoting one of the biggest events of the night: Capitale's New Year's Eve blowout with big-name DJs Paul Oakenfold and Deep Dish. The evening will have a laser light show, and guests who can't tear themselves from Dick Clark can watch the ABC broadcast of the ball drop in Times Square on a big screen at the event. Tepperberg and Strauss will also host a more exclusive, celeb-heavy event at Tao, which will bring in Carson Daly after his hosting duties for MTV's New Year's broadcast ends. Both events carry entry fees of $200 each.

Another massive event: Joonbug Productions will host a bash at Guastavino's with DJ BabyBlu. Compared to last year's Joonbug event at 200 Fifth Club, this one promises to be more elaborate, with Brazilian percussionists, an enhanced menu, giant projection screens to watch the ball drop, and top shelf open bar and Champagne from sponsors Stolichnaya and Perrier Jouet. The price of this year's ticket is up only $25, to $150 for general admission and $200 for premium tickets. According to company president Shane Neman, the hoopla is helping sales, and the event was half-sold on Friday, December 13. “There's a whole group of people who buy early and another group who wait until the last minute,” he says. “We're about on pace with ticket sales as last year.”

This year Tavern on the Green will host a masquerade ball, complete with a buffet reception, open bar, music from Joe Battaglia's 17-piece New York Big Band, an ice sculpting demonstration by Ice Fantasies' Joe O'Donoghue and a fireworks display at midnight. “We usually just do the gala with ice sculptures and the band. This year's masquerade is more lavish, ” says Tavern spokesman John Wedeles. As if the Tavern wasn't already a visual spectacle, added decor will include 750,000 holiday lights, 30,000 feet of garland, two miles of gold rope, 4,000 yards of red velvet, 60,000 feet of ribbon and two 14-foot Christmas trees loaded down with 3,000 ornaments. And the venue is selling all this for a ticket price lower than last year's: $149, down from $250.

The Bubble Lounge will offer two parties on New Year's Eve: One with a Great Gatsby-esque theme called the Moet High Society party with music by the Central Park Stompers, and a late, post-midnight party with DJ Billy Beyond. Like most parties, Bubble Lounge is going for a flat price that includes food, drink and music, rather than the simple open cash bars they had last year.

For those who would like a bird's eye view of the action in Times Square, the Marriott Marquis' Party Within a Party event will take over the eighth floor of the hotel with dinner, dancing and a confetti and balloon release at midnight. The hotel's view of the proceedings downstairs and outside is so good that TV camera crews broadcast live from the roof of this event.

Restaurants and Bars Go Low Key

Restaurants and bars all over town are vying to be part of patrons' New Year's Eve plans, and are offering some alluring—yet sedate—alternatives to big, boozy parties. Alain Ducasse at the Essex House will host a luxe dinner that will include golden osetra caviar and Maine lobster. Chanteuse Christine Andreas will be back in the Bellecour Room at Daniel, where a special five-course gala menu with foie gras, wild duck, black truffles and scallops will be served. Chanterelle will also offer a gala menu, featuring osetra caviar, Kumamoto oysters, lobster, foie gras and venison. And the ever-swank 21 Club will host a black-tie bash with a seven-course dinner and music by the Manhattan Swing Orchestra.

Danny Meyer's restaurants will lay low for New Year's: Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern will close for the evening, but Eleven Madison Park will keep its doors open with its regular menu for the first time in two years. Tabla will offer its regular a la carte service and a special tasting menu with champagne. “I don't think people want something too crazy,” said Randy Garutti, Tabla's general manager. Blue Smoke will do it up the most: The Bill Charlap Trio is the featured entertainment downstairs at the Jazz Standard, and the flat fee will include a barbecue dinner and Champagne at midnight.

All of Steve Hanson's B.R. Guest restaurants will offer special prix fixe menus, and the more party-oriented spaces—Ruby Foo's, Ruby Foo's Times Square, Blue Water Grill, Blue Fin, Dos Caminos, Atlantic Grill and Park Avalon—will have DJs or live bands for entertainment.

On the bar front, hotel bar company Midnight Oil is teaming up with the Event Marketing Resource Group to host parties at Whiskey, Cherry and Underbar, and a private event is booked at Whiskey Park. The remaining bars, Wetbar and Whiskey Blue, will be open for regular business. “We did really well last year just keeping the bars open for business as usual, so we're doing that again this year,” says Andrew Winter, Midnight Oil's director of promotions and special events.

Late Bookings Prevail

As they did with corporate holiday party booking, the slow economy and the tightened holiday season (with Thanksgiving falling so late in November) have combined to leave venues waiting for last-minute bookings. “The window is unbelievably narrow,” says Scott Isebrand, the director of communications and marketing at Metropolitan Pavilion. “This incredibly short turnaround time has been a year-long trend.” (Isebrand cites one event for Merrill Lynch that was booked less than two weeks prior to the day of the party.) The venue currently has booked one event for New Year's in its North Pavilion, but is still looking to book the rest of the space for other events.

Tracy Protera at the Puck Building (which will host an event for the New York Stock Exchange and Harlem Hospital's annual New Year's benefit this year) agrees that reservations have come with short notice: “People usually book during the summer for a New Year's party, but this year the bookings were very recent.”

Suzanne Ito

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