How to Overcome a Major Venue Obstacle

The traditional home of AT&T's Best of Washington party, the National Building Museum, installed a huge maze in the center of the venue. Here's how planners adapted without cutting the guest list.

By D. Channing Muller July 22, 2014, 7:15 AM EDT

Chicka set up a four-sided main bar atop the museum's fountain. This year, planners moved DJ Chris Laich's perch above the bar and used grass-covered bar tops that incorporated mirrors and playing cards.

Photo: Tony Brown/ for BizBash

AT&T Best of Washington Party
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Washingtonian returned to the National Building Museum Wednesday night for its seventh annual AT&T Best of Washington Party. While the event once again sold out, with nearly 1,800 people attending, the venue threw organizers a curve ball this year when it came to accommodating those numbers again. The museum recently installed its Big Maze exhibit: a 3,600-square-foot maze that occupies more than one-third of the Grand Hall, where Washingtonian traditionally has hosted more than 70 restaurant, winery, and brewery stations and sponsor activations.

“After they told us, the first thing we did was brainstorm how we were going to have incorporate it into our theme in an exciting way and redesign the event,” said Rebecca Schwartz McFarland, the magazine’s director of marketing and events. Ultimately, her team decided to move about half of the food and drink stations upstairs, which previously was reserved for the V.I.P. reception and lounge. “We went to the museum and really looked at how much space it would take up and walked around planning the restaurants we would move upstairs,” McFarland said.

Then, McFarland turned to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom’s design team to incorporate the maze into the event’s decor. This year’s Alice in Wonderland theme lent itself to turning the first floor of the museum into the Red Queen’s garden with an oversize chess board and pieces; tall grass hedges; playing cards suspended from the ceiling; and black, white, and red decor throughout.

Signage by every stairway, notifications in the program and event map, and announcements from the DJ directed guests to the second-floor restaurants. Despite the increased foot traffic in a considerably more narrow hallway, the divergent crowd flow helped rather than hindered the overall guest experience.

“Guests are telling us it was their favorite year yet,” McFarland said. “There weren’t the lines at each of the stations like we had in the past, and guests said they liked being able to go upstairs to take photos and see the party going on down below.”

Though sponsors traditionally have designed their own decor, this year returning sponsors BMW, American Beverage Association, Patron, and title sponsor AT&T stayed on theme with black and white lounges, Alice in Wonderland-themed drinks, iPad card games for prizes, and a hat shop within the V.I.P. Mad Hatter’s Tea Party reception space.

Here’s a look inside the night.

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