Svetlana Legetic, founder of Brightest Young Things, on celebrating the holidays

December 22, 2011

Svetlana Legetic takes parties seriously. As the founder and manager of Brightest Young Things (BYT), a blog dedicated to Washington’s night life, arts and music scenes, she has turned blogging, tweeting and E-viting events into a full-time job.

So where does a 21st-century hostess take notes on holiday entertaining?

“I go straight to the source,” she said, “Martha Stewart magazine.”

Despite making a career online, Legetic, 31, avoids food blogs. “I just wind up hungry and envious,” she said. “Magazines help me relax.”

Since launching BYT in 2006, she has hired three full-time staffers and nearly 50 freelance writers and photographers. In October, they acquired their first offices. Previously, her staff worked out of apartments, coffee shops and “anywhere with an outlet and WiFi.”


Svetlana Legetic is the founder of Brightest Young Things, one of the city's most popular blogs for young people dedicated to covering the area's music and arts scene. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

She grew up in Serbia and came to the United States to study architecture at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2002, she interned at a Bethesda architecture firm while in school and fell in love with Washington’s cozy neighborhoods and “European scale.”

“It seemed like a good start-and-run city,” she said.

Start and run she did. In 2009, Legetic quit her job at a Dupont Circle firm to focus on BYT full-time. Today, the site averages 100,000 visitors every month. Legetic still coordinates every post on the site.

She lives in an Adams Morgan apartment with a friend from college. Although she doesn’t get giddy over tree-decorating and Christmas songs like her American-born friends, she does throw parties: BYT hosted its annual Christmas event (“The Greatest Holiday Party of All”) at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 9 and plans something even wilder for New Year’s Eve.

We spoke with Legetic at BYT’s new headquarters in Chinatown. Here is an edited excerpt.

Dream guest at a dinner party : I read an article recently about [filmmakers] Miranda July and Mike Mills, and it was fascinating. They sound really bizarre, but they’d make for great dinner company. “Beginners” was one of my favorite movies this year.

Beloved D.C. holiday traditions: I’m a big fan of the hot toddies at the Tabard Inn. I look forward to those every year. I also love going into Old Town Alexandria because they hang lights in all of the trees. You drive for 10 minutes and suddenly you’re in a perfect little town. While I’m there I’ll hit up PX or the Majestic to grab drinks with friends. I wish I could say I go ice skating, but I’m still recovering from the last time I rented skates at the Sculpture Garden. They were so painful! A great idea, in theory.

Playing tour guide: My background is in architecture, so I love bringing friends to the Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery. We’ll bring a lunch and have a fun, fake-urban picnic. I also like to bring guests into neighborhood joints to give them an idea of what living here is really like. So we’ll go to small places like Room 11 or Cafe Saint-Ex. And if we feel like dressing up, the views at the W Hotel’s rooftop bar are unbeatable.

Go-to hostess gift: Lately, I’ve been experimenting with cookie pops. For Halloween, I put sticks into the end of the cookies and dipped them in a homemade orange frosting and froze them until they hardened. They were a huge hit! For booze, I always bring a Serbian plum brandy called Rakija. It’s traditional and very, very strong. You can buy it in American liquor stores if you hunt for it. Did I mention how strong it is? It falls between a hostess gift and a dare.

Shopping ritual: I believe in being generous year-round. If I’m traveling and see something that a friend would enjoy, I pick it up. The second there’s pressure, it becomes a nightmare.

Thanksgiving with a twist: We didn’t have Thanksgiving in Serbia so I spend it with my friends. It has turned out to be my favorite day of the year. We go to someone’s house and cook, eat and drink all day. Then, we watch holiday movies. It’s an intimate group, maybe 10 people, and the food is out of this world.

On the table: The secret to a successful holiday meal is spreadsheets! We keep our dishes traditional, and someone is always in charge of the turkey, the stuffing, mashed potatoes, pies, and so on. To spice things up, I try to make everyone eat a beet salad because it reminds me of home.

Holiday cards: I don’t send cards personally, but this year we’re sending out BYT Christmas cards along with BYT-inscribed pretzel M&M’s. They’ll go out to our advertisers, business partners and institutions that we work with as a little way of saying thank you.

Two Christmases: I’m Eastern European Orthodox so my Christmas is on Jan. 6. For American Christmas, I have a nice dinner with friends. Last year, we went to Central and spent too much money and ate until we couldn’t see. Then, we went back to a friend’s house and watched holiday movies.

My whole family lives in this country now, so we celebrate together on Jan. 6. The pie is the big deal for us. We make a honey-and-nut pie with phyllo dough, and the woman of the house is supposed to hide a lucky coin in the filling. Tradition says that whoever gets it is going to have the best year.

Holiday weakness: Let me tell you, I am very into Christmas movies. I completely buy into them. We always watch “Just Friends,” “Home for the Holidays” and “Love Actually.” Of course, everyone has a couple weird movies that they know are bad but love anyway, so we have a pity movie night or two. My family loves “The Family Stone,” which is a horribly depressing movie, but we sit through it. It’s the holidays.

BYT New Year’s Eve: We’re hosting our fifth annual New Year’s Eve party and upgrading last year’s theme, “DJs & Beer 2011,” to “DJs & Beer & Books 2012.” The party will be in the 50,000-square-foot space that used to be the Borders on 18th and L, thus the “books” addition. We’ll have DJs, an open bar, a FotoWeek DC exhibit, giant hamster balls, a goofy secondhand book sale, lasers. . . . We admit it will be light on the books.

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