By Stephen Lindsley
When it comes to planning a party, perhaps the only people more difficult to please than mothers of the bride are children. If a Spongebob Squarepants cake and table cloth from the local grocery store just won’t do, or perhaps the event – such as a bar or bat mitzvah or “sweet sixteen” party – calls for something a bit more special, it’s time to put the party planning in high gear. Event planners and their clients are constantly finding more unique and exciting themes and venues for these high-end children’s parties.
PARTY IN THE CITY
Nestled in the heart of the once-thriving garment district in downtown St. Louis, the City Museum is an anchor of the revitalization efforts along Washington Avenue. Occupying a former International Shoe Company warehouse, the cavernous City Museum actually boasts a cave of its own that burrows through the facility with fantastic dinosaur shapes and tunnels leading in every direction.
The Enchanted Cave is just an introduction to the City Museum experience – one that includes visual delights, educational activities and surprises at every turn and on every level, including its own aquarium, circus and small-scale railroad.
With all this entertainment in one place it’s easy to understand how children and their parents can agree that the City Museum is a great venue for a special party. The museum is the brainchild and masterwork of artist Bob Cassilly, for whom enough, it seems, is truly never enough. His fertile imagination is the source of much of what the City Museum has become.
Nicole Keller, on-site facilitator at the City Museum, has helped arrange children’s events of all sizes at the sprawling facility. For an intimate birthday party experience, there are small rooms available on the third floor, and $15 per person obtains pizza, drinks and cookie cake from the Samwiches in the City Café (yes, it’s really spelled that way, after owner Sam Bauer) and hours of full access to the museum. Staff member Robin Schrager is the birthday party coordinator, and she can help with add-ons including admission to the World Aquarium, face painting, a clown, or a circus workshop in which kids can learn actual circus skills.
This is the City Museum’s idea of a traditional food/cake/presents kind of birthday party, but it does not even begin to take full advantage of the possibilities for the facility. Evening rentals, usually on a Friday or Saturday, start at $2,000 with add-ons from there. This includes the price of admission for each guest. Daytime rentals start at $750 for the Vault Room, up to $1,000 for the first floor and the Architectural Hall, and $2,000 to rent the entire facility (only available Monday and Tuesday.) For larger groups the first floor space can accommodate up to 100, while the Vault Room – complete with actual bank vault door and a whole wall of safe deposit boxes – holds up to 200, and the Architectural Hall can accommodate 300.
City Museum has a list of six preferred caterers, which happens to include some of the best-known companies in St. Louis catering.
Keller says that themed parties are very popular. The staff at City Museum has helped coordinate parties with fortune tellers, magicians, jugglers, and even a Cirque du Soleil theme. Because the City Museum experience is fueled by imagination, creating themed events in the space makes perfect sense.
FROM ECLECTIC TO ELEGANT
If you have a more formal event in mind, the Coronado Ballroom in midtown St. Louis, adjacent to Saint Louis University, offers all the amenities you would expect from a five-star venue.
“We give as much attention, if not more, to bar and bat mitzvahs as we do to weddings,” says Rob Schaefer, the Coronado Ballroom’s senior catering manager and event planner. “Like a wedding, a bar mitzvah is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so everything needs to be perfect.”
With valet parking, coat check, custom hors d’oeuvres passed butler-style, crystal, silver and bone china table settings, assorted cheeses, cordials and more, a typical event at the Coronado is anything but ordinary.
Originally built as a hotel in 1926, the Coronado played host to many celebrities of the era and was a popular wedding and reception venue well into the 1950s. Later, the building was converted into Saint Louis University dormitories. A major renovation completed in 2003 returned the Coronado to its former glory.
With its grand lobby and barrel-vaulted ballroom complete with illuminated terrazzo dance floor, the Coronado has been a popular venue from the moment it reopened. Schaefer notes that $20,000 is a minimum cost for a Saturday event, with extras such as custom decoration, lighting and musical entertainment pushing the price tag even higher. Planning the event well in advance is also recommended. The Coronado is currently taking reservations up to one and a half years in advance.
“What separates us is more than 18 years’ experience in catering and event planning, and our follow-through from the initial planning stage to being on-site during the event, making sure that everything goes smoothly. We plan a culinary timeline that creates a natural progression for the event,” says Schaefer. All the food is prepared on site by Steven Becker Fine Catering, which has its origins in the Clayton-based Lazy Suzan restaurant and catering company.
Identifying menu customization as a continuing trend, Schaefer notes that menu options can be as creative as your imagination (or your budget) allows. Perhaps a Caribbean theme is the answer to brightening up a February event, complete with an elaborate buffet featuring regional cuisine and colorful decorations to match. Other items that have been popular at child-oriented events are beef carving and sushi stations with chefs on hand, baked macaroni and cheese served in martini glasses, and, of course, specialty desserts.
High teas for little (and not so little) girls are another popular theme at the Coronado. These elegant functions include tea sandwiches, deviled eggs, English scones and other delicious tea-time snacks. This can be a special treat that doesn’t necessarily need to be associated with a birthday or other important date. Sometimes the best special treats come at unexpected times.
BIG IDEAS FOR LITTLE GUESTS
Children’s parties are becoming less and less traditional, and less parent-oriented, says Josie Littlepage, owner and president of Cosmopolian Events in St. Louis. “Kids want to keep things youthful and playful, and we try to do that in a way that’s still elegant enough for the parents.”
Littlepage recently organized a party with an Amazon adventure theme, featuring a large tropical entryway and coordinated food and entertainment. She says another element that is gaining more prominence is the technological and audio-visual angle. “Kids may be more savvy about new technology than their parents, and they want to add a high-tech component to their events,” says Littlepage. “The kids are the ones asking, ‘Is there a way to do this?’ and we are working with the parents to make it happen.” Technological aspects of a party might include a large video projection screen, computer kiosks or plasma TVs with colorful effects and music videos.
Birthdays come around every year, presenting a challenge for kids and their parents to top what they have done before or seen at friends’ parties. Other events, such as bar and bat mitzvahs, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that deserve special treatment. No longer are these events always dull cake and ice cream affairs. Perhaps the best approach is to think like a child for just a little while and imagine the possibilities that arise from the vast array of resources and venues available today. Then, put back on your grown-up meeting or event planner hat and just make it happen. MM&E
(Stephen Lindsley is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)