The Pandemic is Over! Long live the epidemic? In New York, we say we’re back. In Florida, the party never ended. But, in the living rooms and ballrooms of Manhattan, this is the fall of our great content. The only pans banging at 7 PM are the caterers in the kitchen.
We celebrated this lowered level of mortal fear at three at-home cocktail parties.
Entertaining again? “I, for one, am super rusty,” said eternal hostess Barbara McLaughlin. We couldn’t tell, at the book launch for Ted Kennedy Watson’s Guide to Stylish Entertaining she threw with Maryann Jordan. They held it in the block long formal garden Barbara shares, a la Rear Window, with her six surrounding townhouses. Decorations and hors d’oeuvres came from his glossy guide. Barbara set the relaxed tone in plaid slacks, the embodiment, as ever, of the McLaughlin stores’ aesthetic.
“The book is perfectly timed because more and more people are hungry to have friends over,” Kennedy Watson told us. “But, they are still a little bit nervous about it.” If the wave comes back in winter? “Set up a cocktail area to give COVID tests as guests arrive.” Pre vaccine, Manhattan’s most exclusive parties had doctors testing.
Forget COVID (and we’re trying). In the best of times entertaining can be stressful. Want to enjoy your own party? Keep it easy. Obsessive perfectionism does not a perfect party make. The book gives simple recipes, conversation starters, even Spotify stations.
“I have a simple recipe for a chicken breast in there that makes the house smells amazing, that everybody loves,” Ted said. Remember, you’re not trying out for Top Chef. Go ahead, buy it: cheeses, charcuterie, prepared goodies. Then, set the table early. The Guide gives a look book of accessible table tableaus. “Use lots of flowers, and things you have around the house.”
“Maryann Jordan and I have been fans of Ted for many years and struck up an Instagram friendship recently,” Barbara told me. “When he posted about the book, we quickly volunteered to host a party for him. This Guide is just what we all need.” Ted knew Maryann first. He has a home and store near the Seattle Art Museum, where she serves as Senior Deputy Director as well as President and Chief Operating Officer at The Shed.
There were plenty of other art professionals catching up in the garden. Barbara was at Christie’s for 13 years doing special events, client marketing and operations. Other Christie’s alums included Jane Wong, Diana Salzburg, Patty Hambrecht, Jeanne Lawrence, Sarah Contomichalos, Missy McHugh, Alice Duncan, Evie Brown, Nicole Garwood, Robert Swingle, and Veve Brown.
The next return we celebrated was Casita Maria — one of Manhattan’s more fun and glamorous bashes — back at the Plaza ballroom, Oct 11. They’ll celebrate 86 years of providing Latino children in the Bronx with after school art and education, in its performance spaces, exhibition gallery, dance and music studios.
In anticipation, Jackie Weld Drake — whose great grandfather was the president of Uruguay — has been proudly supporting this Latin charity for “more years than I remember.” She invited her core group of cultured kin to her home.
“We have a trio of extraordinary honorees this year,” Jackie told me, “starting with Tony Bachara who has long been an icon of Latino art, Cesar Conde, Chairman of NBC News Universal and Gaby Pacheco, the force behind the DREAM Act.”
Jackie’s art cred is substantial. Her collection of original magazine illustrations from 19th and early 20th Century fill her walls in New York, Palm Beach and Aspen. She has written a biography on Peggy Guggenheim, and is featured, with her rare audio interviews, in the documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. We’ve heard Weld Drake lecture on furniture she’s donated to the Wolfsonian Museum, in Miami Beach. (Director Michael Hughes and two other patrons will fly up to host gala tables).
We shared an elevator with Casita Fiesta Committee member Tina Beriro, who told me, “A young boy saw me in front of the building, all dressed up, and said, ‘I’m so glad to see everyone going out again.’” He was ten (with his mother of course). He’ll be chairing a Junior Committee in no time!
Beriro has been a Vanguard Society Member of PETA, for 40 years. “We are trying to get the Palace Guards to replace their bear hats with faux fur,” she said. “And I think they’re going to do it!”
Our cocktail chat went from guards to heroines. Christopher Walling, whose eponymous jewelry store is downstairs from Jackie, told me about his mother. Odette Bonnat was so striking, she was gifted Schiaparelli designs to wear. Bonnat was equally heroic. “She was decorated by the French and British for being a very successful spy in World War II,” Walling told me. “She was captured in May, 1944, tortured in three prisons and thrown into a concentration camp. She was rescued at the very last minute by a member of the Swedish royal family, a friend. He gave her his cufflinks. Even though I’m a jewelry designer, I never wear any others. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”
There was no talk of being back in Susan and Hunter Cushing’s Palm Beach-centric soiree for ’The Paradise Ball,’ the Centennial Anniversary of The Salvation Army of Palm Beach County, at Mar-a-Lago (Dec. 10). Florida never closed. This white tie gala will evoke the spirit of the resort’s initial owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post.
“We’re trying to re-capture vintage old world kindness, graciousness and generosity,” said Holly Holden, Anniversary Committee Chair. Junior committee Chair Farley Rentschler also flew up for the fete. “I’m so delighted to see the Juniors embracing this,” said Holden. We know an Upper East Side 10-year-old who will be there soon.
Post purchased her private Palm Beach paradise the same year the Salvation Army was founded there. She further bonded herself to the charity, in 1930, when she stepped up to help thousands affected by the Great Depression, with the Marjorie Post Hutton Free Food Station, operated by The Salvation Army in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. During the depression, General Foods, Post’s family company, remained profitable. Just by putting her jewels in a vault and using the cancelled insurance money, she was able to feed 1000 hot meals a day in dignified surroundings, from 1930-35.
“She was a wonderful Palm Beach leading lady, a New Yorker, an American and a woman of service,” said Alison Pataki author of The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post. (there with her mother Libby Pataki). “She was also known as America’s Empress because she carried herself with such nobility.”
Photographs by Daphne Youree (Guide to Stylish Entertaining); Annie Watt (Casita); Patrick McMullan (Salvation Army)