As a young newspaper reporter back in 1970-something, I threw a New Year’s Eve dance party so successful that neighbors called the police to get us to turn down the music (a mostly Stevie Wonder play-list, if I remember correctly). It’s where my then-future husband and I cemented our relationship. Forty years, two grown children, a daughter-in-law, two perfect grandchildren and one dolorous-looking beagle later, we’re living proof that the right party can change your life.
Fast-forward to the ’80s, and, as young marrieds with two kids and our first mortgage, we hosted a party for a band of Ringling College instructors who called themselves the Art Sharks. Because they were a garage band, we spent the weekend cleaning all the stuff out of our garage and strung Christmas lights around the outdoor frame. Everybody was ushered out into the driveway at a preordained time, my husband pushed the clicker to raise the garage door and, voilå, the Art Sharks were revealed—banging out an enthusiastic rendition of Louie Louie. Under the moonlight and the Christmas light glow, our guests danced like revelers at Woodstock.
These days, I must confess, my parties mostly consist of wild evenings of Mexican train dominoes at home with neighbors. But however your party rolls, every great one needs a moment. In 1970-something it was a police intervention; in 1980-something-else it was the delight of seeing middle-aged friends as radical rock ‘n’ rollers. Nowadays, it’s realizing we’ve made it to 10 p.m.
Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball my parties weren’t. Now that was a moment. What I would have given to be a fly on the wall at the party that defined the Swinging Sixties, when the famed author assembled 540 socialites, movie stars, authors, artists, journalists, European princesses and more in the grand ballroom of the Plaza Hotel for his “little masked ball” to honor Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham.
Capote’s bash went down in party-giving history because he invited such a fascinating group of people from diverse walks of life—some of them notorious, but all of them bold-faced fixtures of the gossip columns of the day.
To help you throw parties that will go down in history—or at least be remembered—we asked for tips from both professional party planners and people who simply love to give parties. We were looking for some magical mixture of drinks, décor, music and canapés, and they did offer some advice about those elements. But what surprised us was their one absolute imperative: inviting people you enjoy who will enjoy each other, and making sure there’s some Capote-like diversity. “The company makes the party,” one declared.
Before you start working on your guest list, take some time to browse through our party primer. You’ll find everything from 2019’s hottest cocktail and the best local party venues to a New York theater columnist’s story about a Broadway director behaving badly at an opening-night soirée.