Planning a Party for 100 Guests? Piece of Cake

While most of us might fret about how to pull off a dinner for eight, there are certain people who can effortlessly put together a fete for 100, set to a nautical theme because it’s almost summer, so why not?

Without question, they are also setting a table for 20, or maybe 50 (who’s counting?) at Thanksgiving, Christmas or Passover. Even the lesser occasions happen at their place.

What’s Halloween without a costume party, am I right? Come Fourth of July, you can assume the barbecue will last well after the fireworks display ends. The living room somehow feels as if it were meant for you to walk in and grab a drink. And so you always do — and year after year, their home is the place where everyone goes.

But parties are expensive, time-consuming and can turn a perfectly lovely home into a perfect mess. Setup can take weeks, if not months, of planning. Guests, particularly the ones you’re related to, can be finicky. And if you’re doling out the drinks and canapés, guess who’s going to be fielding the complaints? Then, after the last guests have headed home to prepare for their hangovers, someone has to clean up the aftermath, a task that can consume the rest of the weekend. So why would anyone want to be the perennial host?

For Jay Spach, 67, who, with his wife Mary Dale Spach, has thrown more parties than he can remember at the couple’s Staten Island house, the answer is simple: “If you only see friends and family in onesies and twosies, you don’t have the pleasure of seeing them all together.”

And the point is to see them all together, which is why the Spachs paid so much attention to accommodating guests when they expanded their house 15 years ago from 3,600 square feet to 8,000.

They renovated the attic and basement so there’d be plenty of space for overnight visitors, because what’s a party without a sleepover? They installed a chef’s kitchen with two dishwashers — a single- and a double-drawer Fisher & Paykel. In the living room, the couple built a mahogany wet bar, with six bar stools, Tiffany-style pendant lamps and a stained-glass window. “Guess what everybody’s favorite part of the living room is?” Ms. Spach, 76, said. “It’s Jay’s bar.”

Their biggest blowout, without question, is the annual Christmas party, where save-the-date cards go out in October to about 100 friends and relatives. Cocktail attire is required and one of the regulars, a musician who performs in “The Lion King” orchestra on Broadway, plays piano while the Spachs serenade their guests. Ms. Spach performed on Broadway in Alan Jay Lerner’s short-lived 1983 musical “Dance a Little Closer” and toured with “Stop the World — I Want to Get Off.” And Mr. Spach previously worked as a controller for the Acting Company and the Negro Ensemble Company.

“Everybody has to get dressed up and we sing and they sing,” Ms. Spach said. “Nobody does this kind of party anymore, so they love this!”

About 20 years ago, soon after I moved to New York, I attended one of the Spachs’ summer barbecues, invited by their daughter, a co-worker at the time. I knew practically no one, yet somehow felt as if I was part of the family. Mr. Spach stood by the grill, wearing an apron and cheerfully barking at guests to bring the buns, plates and side dishes to the table. I recall happily running into the house to help.

Lisa Cokinos, a co-founder of B-Lee Events in Manhattan, says that the consummate host has a knack for making guests feel as if they’re participating in the festivities, not just observing. “It takes a unique person to be at ease catering to different personalities,” she said. The event may feel breezy and flawless, but it never is. Every detail is carefully considered, with a host who need not be the life of the party, but definitely controls it.

The home may look like it was designed for entertainment, but that, too, can sometimes be an illusion. “It doesn’t have to be the biggest house, the best house, and it doesn’t have to be centrally located,” Ms. Cokinos said. It’s the host, not the space, who sets the mood.

And the mood is key. “The number one thing about being a great host is being present,” said Lindsey Kauffman, a co-owner of Celebrated, which sells party supplies online. “And you can’t be present if you’re not organized.”

Alex Aberle takes scrupulous notes when he prepares for the parties he throws at the house in Philadelphia that he bought for $550,000 in 2017 with his partner, Violette Levy. He jots down his mistakes, details he overlooked and things that went well.

“There is a little bit of self-competition,” said Mr. Aberle, 27, a real estate agent who likens himself to Monica Geller, the obsessive and hypercompetitive caterer on the television show “Friends.” “I made five pies last year and this year I have to make six.” Ms. Levy, 27, is a nanny.

The couple’s biggest party happens every year in early October, when they invite 120 guests to watch the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Germantown, a Revolutionary War battle fought on what is now the front lawn of their house, a 10,000-square-foot, Federalist-style home built in 1798.

A few weeks later, it’s time for the annual Halloween party. Last year, they decorated the 2.45-acre property with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, chronicling the setup on the home’s Instagram page, Historicupsala, because of course an 18th-century mansion would have an Instagram page. As night fell, guests sat around a table dressed up for a Mad Hatter tea party, surrounded by giant red mushrooms, a croquet court and fake hedges, and doled out 40 pounds of candy to trick-or-treaters.

The celebrations are always fun, but they are never cheap. “After every party, I look at the credit card statement and think we could have taken that money and gone on vacation instead,” said Mr. Aberle, estimating that the re-enactment party costs roughly $20,000 a year — a sum that could finance a few fantastic vacations. (Their property includes an easement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which mandates the annual re-enactment.) But he considers the cost the price of fun. “I’d rather spend that money bringing friends and family into my house to eat and celebrate.”

For their next event, Fourth of July, they’ll fire up the grill and invite about 20 people. As practiced as they are, Mr. Aberle and Ms. Levy still have room to up their summer barbecue game. On their wish list is an in-ground pool, because if you’re going to have a summer party, you might as well have a pool.

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Published at Fri, 24 May 2019 13:00:01 +0000