There comes a time in every party girl’s life when getting all dolled up for restaurant and bar openings, charity fundraisers, and B-list-celeb-studded parties gets a little, well, stale. Some nights I’d rather watch the Grey’s Anatomy finale (tonight!) than attend another overcrowded, over-Botoxed event, where the weightiest conversation topic is Paris Hilton’s jail time. (The horror!)
And other nights, it’s just a matter of choosing wisely. Last Friday, instead of going to Madhatter’s Ball for the sixth year in a row - and pretending not to be annoyed with David Schwimmer for his self-importance - I attended the opening of Crescendo (222 W. Ontario St.), the new bar in the old L8 space from the people who brought us Reserve (one of whom, Tony Demasi, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission recently accused of fraud). Despite the fact that the bar was barely ready to open when the party started - quite literally, we watched the paint dry - the guys managed to pull off the most creative opening I’ve seen in the 11 years I’ve been covering this crazy business. That’s right; I said it: The most creative opening I’ve seen yet.
OK, so the execution was clunky: the sound system broke down a couple of times, leaving a roomful of party-goers perplexed; the strobe lights kept shining directly into our eyes, practically blinding us; getting a drink proved challenging; and we could have blinked and missed the passed apps courtesy of Chef David Blonsky.
But, suddenly, four fanfare trumpeters from the Chicago Brass Quintet appeared, as if out of a dream (I’m told the trumpets were the same ones used to herald the L.A. Olympics). A troupe from the Joffrey Ballet danced, decked out in costumes a la Marie Antoinette. And Lyric Opera’s Christine Steyer, currently singing the title role in Madama Butterfly at Oak Park’s Village Players Theatre performed operetta selections to a crowd of 500 or so onlookers, including Forrest Whittaker; actor Geoff Stults, from one of my favorite new shows, October Road; party boy Ozzie Guillen Jr., with some Sox players in tow; and my new pal Michael Laungani, from season five of The Apprentice. Think media darlings; fashion industry types; hangers-on; and men in suits, smoking cigars and looking shady. Oh, and a handful of big bodyguards surrounding Demasi.
It was a spectacle, all right, though the formality of the operetta seemed a bit out of context compared with what came next: lots of hooting and hollering, as models - including CariDee English, winner of last season’s America’s Next Top Model - strutted down an awkward makeshift catwalk in as highfalutin a fashion showcase as Chicago sees. Clothes from the likes of Giambattista Valli, Alexander McQueen, Oscar de le Renta, Jil Sander, Nina Ricci, and Dolce & Gabbana turned heads, but what got the most chuckles was the stick-thin models in sky-high heels treating the crowd to a dramatized game of tag - or something like it.
While my Crescendo companions and I didn’t attend Madhatter’s, we did meet up with friends for the afterparty at The Underground. When we arrived, I caught a glimpse of Schwimmer, dancing in the middle of the club with hordes of overtanned, underclothed women begging to brush up against him. Too bad for them, he seemed smitten with the same young lady with whom he’s been spotted canoodling at The Underground lately.
Joey Slotnick - Schwimmer’s co-host, along with Billy Dec (natch), and one of the founders of the Lookingglass Theatre, which Madhatter’s benefits - is an old friend of mine. But while we were catching up amid the chaos (he was complimenting me on my new haircut - thanks, Joey), Schwim kept yanking on Slotnick’s blazer, trying to get his attention. He must have had something so important to say at 3 a.m. that it just couldn’t wait.
Photography by Tyler Curtis