Chris Matthews, the Puck of politics, said last February, “I’ve been following politics since I was about 5. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament.” Mr. Matthews’ blood runs thick with hyperbole, we know, and something new is on the horizon, but “New Testament”?
Indeed, there is new blood, new energy. By the time you read this, hopefully I’ll be one of the New New Deal inauguration fun hogs thronging the capital, drinking in the new year. I need it, don’t you?
One of my loyal readers (there must be at least ﬁve) recently asked me, “Aren’t you tired of writing about the recession and cutbacks?” Tired of writing about it? How about tired of throwing my own shindigs on the cheap, tired of going to long affairs where “dinner” is room-temp sliders on a tray, tired of having parties I’ve covered for years, like Food & Wine’s Oscar week kickoff at Spago, be canceled entirely. Bring on the New New Dealers.
But we’re not out of the money-deﬁcient swing of things just yet, I keep hearing. I say the worst is yet to come, and babe, won’t it be ﬁne? In the meantime, let’s get behind the cheap and cheerful. Here are ideas for the new austerity.
Destroy All Name Tags Well, that may be going a bit too far. If you’ve already printed yours, ﬁne. But really, folks, can’t we survive without ’em?
B.Y.O. Gift Bag At the exit area, instead of presenting bags of giveaway stuff, half of which never gets used, sponsors are each given a little table where they can ﬂaunt their message to all, yet gift only those who are truly interested. A recent giant tube of toothpaste puts my take of tooth cleansers this year at about a decade’s supply.
Dim All the Lights, Sweet Darling Overlit is overrated. Before hiring a lighting designer, if you just want to throw accent lights on a few small interior columns, consider purchasing uplights that you can keep forever. Target has a nifty-looking item online called the Cylinder Accent Lamp in Polished Steel that I bet could replace what used to be called a ﬂoor can—and you can own it eternally for $69.99. (Please note: I support the lighting industry, so don’t get bent out of shape.)
Music Is the Answer Great music is the one guarantee that people will have fun. And a well thought-out iTunes playlist can be as good as $15,000 DJ. I remember hiring Samantha Ronson once for a Christian Dior party, pre-LiLo, and she still came late and argued with her sound people, delaying the fun for 30 minutes. Sorry, Sammy. (Some DJs are worth the money, though, and if you have it, I recommend Dimitri From Paris.)
Let Them Eat Cake And bread and crackers. Rather than torturing your guests by serving crab cakes smaller than your pinky nail, why not set up a big bread bar with crisp ﬂ at breads, crunchy breadsticks drizzled with olive oil, and thinly sliced and toasted focaccia squares? Pair it with generous vessels of tapenade, hummus, and fresh salsa. You save money, your guests don’t need to leave hungry, everybody wins.
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? No one will ask if you simply replace large arrangements with more well-placed tiny ones. Think nosegay.
Low-Tech Can Be High-Style Instead of an expensive LED lighting display, how about one beautifully projected slide of an unforgettable image on a white wall?
The Look of Love Does anyone remember little touches? Nicely folded napkins? Handwritten follow-up notes to event attendees? (And non-attendees, while you’re at it, no?) Placing a top executive not at the front but at the exit, thanking every guest for coming? Do these things still work?
Three Is a Collection I will always remember this Fendi party I went to eons ago where they only served three things: dry Prosecco, giant chunks of broken fresh Parmesan (with little metal scoops to do the digging), and sugared grapes laced with chopped mint leaves. “How dreary,” I thought, till I tried them all together. The secret? “Get your Parmesan from a full wheel cut open that day,” Joseph Bastianich once told me. “When they cut into one, the whole room smells of Italy.”
Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer If you’re going to spend money on a big affair, why not extend the impact by having a digital camera, a high-quality 4C laser printer, and simple, clever frames on hand? A picture in hand is worth two on the Internet.
I have lots of ideas of other ideas for the new new parties, but what would be newest of all is if the economy scaredy-cats realized that the only way to get pumped back up again is to loosen the purse strings and let the doves ﬂy.