DO YOUR PARTIES attract the Fidos rather than the Spuds MacKenzies? Do your invitations come back unopened? Is that what's bothering you? Well, there's hope, party person. Let the Party Doctor turn your tired chip 'n' dip meets into affairs that even your former in-laws will envy.
The envelope, please:
Q: Help me, Party Doc. My parties are listless and boring. I was the first to leave the last one -- and it was my own birthday party! What's to do?
A: Good parties take imagination and creativity, some planning, and, unfortunately, perhaps a bit more money. First, decide why you are giving the party. Is it for a special person or for an event? If it is for a person, figure out what their interests are and then plan a party theme or location around it. If the party is for an event, consider carrying the event's theme over to the dress of your guests and the refreshments. If it is a very personal event -- an anniversary, wedding or other family occasion -- consider moving the party out of the house and into a luxurious or special location. You may not live in a mansion, but you can rent one for a few hours. And you won't have to clean up, before or after.
Q: But don't these things cost money?
A: Living costs money. The large mansions are expensive, but some of them will set you back only several hundred dollars. It's the catering that costs. What the Doc suggests for large events is to contact a caterer first. Many have exclusive contracts at the large mansions or other popular party spots. Talk to them about your needs and the money you have available and let them guide you to an appropriate spot. Don't expect to rent a mansion and then bring a trunkload of your chips 'n' dip. Most of the mansions require that you use one of their caterers.
Q: All of my parties have been boring, except for the time my Uncle Henry used a chain saw to cut the cake. But they don't let him out any more. What can I do?
A: No problem. You can turn your party into a carnival, complete with a dunking tank, or maybe a magic or puppet show. If snakes give you the shivers, I have just the boa for you. Consider holding your event in one of the mansions, or on a boat, a trolley or in an elegant railroad car. Book a band or deejay. Above all, check this list of ideas:
FUN FOR ALL
ALL WET & DRY CARNIVAL -- Create your own carnival in your backyard. Rent a dunk tank, rope ladder climbing game and hot tubs. The tank is $169, the ladder climb is $149, the tubs are $169. 750-0850.
ARTISTS -- The American Institute of Fine Arts and Crafts, a co-op in McLean, will send you a caricaturist or portrait artist to draw quick sketches of the partygoers or guest of honor. Rates are $75 and up per hour. 241-1911.
BLUE SKY PUPPET THEATER -- Two different puppet shows, "Rufus the Red-Nose Raindog" and "The Not-So-Little Pigs." Live music, puppets and singalongs. $95. Different shows for adults, including "The Frog Prince" for weddings. They come to your place. 5317 Taylor Road, Riverdale. 927-5599.
CHANDRA'S MIDDLE EAST DANCE CENTER -- Mideastern entertainment for parties, from bellydancers to complete shows. $50 and up. 469-5952.
CAPITAL CHILDREN'S MUSEUM -- You have to become a member ($45) but after joining, you can rent a museum room for $25 for your child's birthday party. The charge is $1 a child; up to 8 adults are free. For this you get the room for two hours, unlimited time in the museum, chairs and tables. You bring the decorations and refreshments. 800 Third St. NE. 675-4149.
CHRISTIAN THE MAGICIAN -- Programs for children, adults and families. The shows run from 20 minutes to full 1 1/2-hour stage presentations. Prices range from $85 for a child's birthday party, and then go up. The company can also provide a wide range of music and entertainment. 425-6663
HAPPI FACTORY 4 KIDS & ADULTS -- Games, face-painting, entertainers, decorations and party favors for partiers of all ages. Fees start at $72 (and can go as high as $600) and include preparation, decorations, refreshments and cleanup. For adult parties, they'll provide skits, fortune tellers and costumed entertainers. 9128 Edmonston Terrace, Greenbelt. 441-9063. (Other party planners can be found in the Yellow Pages under the heading "Party Planning Service.")
BOB KOHLER PRODUCTIONS -- The 35-minute show offers comedy-oriented magic, with the children as participants, including the old balloon-into-rabbit trick. $85. 258-1169.
MYKLAR THE ORDINARY -- Magic, music and comedy. The show runs 45 minutes (for children, the magician will mingle with them for 20 minutes after the performance). $125. 839-3363.
REPTILE WORLD -- A one-hour educational show, complete with a turtle, lizard, alligator and a snake (boa, python or others) or two. $200. 464-5600.
STORYTELLER -- Sharon Butler, a professional storyteller, will entertain 3-year-olds for a half-hour of songs and stories, with an assist from puppets. $65. The stories are drawn from folk talks. The show for ages 4 through 9 is 45 minutes, and involves a story and an acting activity involving the partygoers. For 9 years and up, Butler will do slumber-party ghost stories. $75. Adult parties available, usually set around holiday themes. $100 and up. 652-7835
SUPERSTAR RECORDING -- Make your own tapes of the latest hits, complete with backup music. Superstar brings a recording booth, electronic equipment, recorders, engineers and sheet music. You and your guests provide the lead vocals on more than 250 songs. Every "recording artist" gets a tape. Four hours of recording for $1500. 537-1884
POEMS UNLIMITED -- One-of-kind, handmade invitations ($4 each), this-is-your-life poems ($100), and prose for all occasions (by the line). 929-1089
WASHINGTON DOLLS' HOUSE & TOY MUSEUM -- Birthday parties for up to 20 guests include refreshments and entertainment. For other parties, the museum can hold up to 100 guests. The birthday parties are $9.50 (afternoon) to $12.50 per person (lunchtime with sandwiches). Other parties -- after 5 or on Mondays -- are $50 an hour with a four-hour minimum. 5236 44th St. NW. 244-0024 or 363-6400.
YOUR OWN HALL -- Most VFW, Moose, American Legion and Knights of Columbus lodges can be rented. Many restaurants have private rooms (or will screen off an area for you); bowling alleys are popular, particularly for children's birthday parties.
This is a short and very incomplete list. For more sources of musical entertainment for your event, look in the Yellow Pages under "Entertainers," "Musicians" and "Orchestras & Bands," or the "Party Planning" classifieds in Friday's Weekend section.
PQ PRODUCTIONS can provide bands from rock to classical music, vocalists, deejays, video coverage and full party-planning services. The band fees start at $350 and go up, the deejays $250 and up. 6800 Vantage Dr., Alexandria. 765-3700.
ROCKING ROBIN -- Have a Fab '50s dance, with a deejay with her own records and sound system, '50s dance and trivia contests, light and mirror ball. $65 an hour, three-hour minimum. Burtonsville. 490-7156.
WASHINGTON TALENT AGENCY can provide anything from bands ($500 to $5000, with an average of $1200), with the difference being the popularity of the group. Deejays ($185, for three hours and own music). Mimes, magicians, clowns, etc., ($150 and up). Strip-o-grams ($90). 6129 Executive Blvd., Rockville. 468-5700.
ON THE GO
AMERICAN ZEPHYR RAILROAD -- Two restored Art Deco railroad cars can hold up to 50 guests per car. If the neighbors complain, you can move your revelers to more than 400 Amtrak destinations; $30 per person for in-station party (minimum 50). Traveling, of course, will cost more. 201 The Strand, Alexandria. 683-7550.
OLD TOWN TROLLEY -- These old-fashioned trolleys can accommodate up to 42 persons for a movable feast. $160 for two hours; $60 each additional hour. 3150 V St. NE. 269-3021.
POTOMAC PARTY CRUISES -- The Dandy can hold up to 200, with private or semiprivate rentals. $25 to $45 per person, plus tax, tip and drinks. Zero Prince St., Alexandria. 922-0023.
WASHINGTON BOAT LINES -- Two boats, one holding 350, the other 575. The rates vary according to the trip, but the smaller boat costs $1,800 plus a minimum food charge per person. The larger boat can be chartered for 350 people for about $7,300. Other plans for smaller parties available. Pier 4, Sixth and Water streets SW. 554-8000.
ARTS CLUB OF WASHINGTON -- These two elegant townhouses and large gardens can hold up to 300 guests. The rental fee ranges from $250 to $1,000, plus the club's own caterer. 2017 I Street NW. 331-7282.
ATHENAEUM -- Originally a bank and now an art gallery, this 1851 Greek Revival building can hold 200, using the gardens. $100 an hour, with a two-hour minimum. A $25 membership in Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association required. 201 S. Prince St. Alexandria. 548-0035.
BARNS OF WOLF TRAP -- Two 18th-century barns can accommodate 400. Caterers must be approved. $600 for small barn for six hours, $1,150 for both barns. 1635 Trap Rd., Vienna. 938-8463.
CALVERT COLLECTION -- This four-story mansion is filled with antiques, paintings and sculpture. It can hold up to 250 guests. Party planning services available. $800 to $1,500, depending on the day and size of the party. 2301 Calvert St. NW. 387-5177.
DECATUR CARRIAGE HOUSE -- This historic townhouse, a block from the White House, can accommodate up to 400 people in its three drawing rooms and gardens. No ceremonies allowed. Caterers must be approved. $1,500 to $2,500. 748 Jackson Pl. NW. 673-4273.
H.H. LEONARD -- This four-story Victorian townhouse is available for "special, special, special" occasions. No fee for the mansion, which is filled with wonderful objets d'art, but they will cater your event. Food costs can run from $15 to $300 per guest. 2020 O Street NW. 658-8787.
MEREDYTH VINEYARDS -- The vineyards, open-air tasting pavilion and the winery can be rented for a party or reception. Middleburg, Virginia. $75 up. 703/687-6277.
MONTPELIER MANSION -- This 1780 Georgian Mansion (George Washington slept here) can hold 100. The boxwood gardens and gazebo are perfect for weddings. Prince George's residents, $270 (two rooms) to $420 (three rooms) for six hours. Nonresidents, $400 to $600. Muirkirk Road, Laurel. 953-1376.
MONUMENTS -- Yes, your party can go down in history. Or at least go down near it. You can hold your event next to the Lincoln or Jefferson memorials or in dozens of U.S. parks. Free, but you must make arrangements. 485-9874.
PHILLIPS COLLECTION -- This museum of modern art can hold up to 500 guests. Red wine and smoking are prohibited at stand-up affairs. Caterers must be approved. $5,000 plus security fee. 1600 21st St. NW. 387-2151.
WOODEND -- This Georgian mansion owned by the Audubon Naturalist Society has a hemlock grove for ceremonies. It can accommodate 150 (using the grounds). In-house caterer. $1,000 for nine hours; lower rates on weekdays. 8940 Jones Mill Road, Chevy Chase. 652-9188.
THEY WROTE THE BOOK
For more information, advice and party suggestions, get a copy of Capital Entertaining, by Bunny Polmer and Ann Yonkers. Though some of its listings and many prices are outdated, the $6.95 paperback from 101 Productions remains useful to anyone planning a special event around Washington. It's available in many area bookstores.