An article yesterday on New Year's Eve plans should have said that the Westin Fairfax Hotel has sold six of its $1,299 "Y2K" packages for the holiday weekend. (Published 10/20/1999)
Three nights at the St. Regis Washington, with airfare and posh lodging for 12, limousine service, in-room massages, a cooking class, symphony tickets and a seven-course dinner -- $110,000. Two nights in the Pentagon City Ritz-Carlton's presidential suite, with his-and-her 18-karat gold watches, a chauffeured Jaguar, daily salon service and the obligatory seven-course dinner and ballroom extravaganza -- $100,000.
The run of the entire 40-room Tabard Inn near Dupont Circle, with a private party and the feast and live bands to go with it -- $50,000. An "Evening of a Lifetime" at the Kennedy Center, where rooftop patrons dine and dance and receive "special commemorative gifts." Only $2,000 a person.
Looking for the bash to end all bashes this New Year's Eve? Apparently not.
With rare exceptions, the most lavish, over-the-top enticements to greet the new millennium in style are going begging across Washington and its suburbs. Only 74 days before the epochal night, the priciest promotions have few takers, and rooms and restaurants remain widely available -- to the disappointment of their marketers.
The bids "just weren't as great as we thought they would be," conceded Jeremiah Cohen, co-owner of the Tabard Inn, which has opted to throw a more typical New Year's Eve dinner celebration since the rental bids it received came in well below the $50,000 minimum.
Rather than folks splurging with abandon -- the common prediction a few months ago -- they're being more careful. "Ultimately," Cohen said, "a lot of people would rather spend that money on their kid's college education or a longer vacation."
Donna Desormeaux, spokeswoman for the D.C. Convention and Visitors Bureau, sees a more fundamental problem with such offerings as a $12,000 spa celebration for 40 in Bethesda or a $75,000 Potomac River cruise (sans food).
"The average Joe doesn't have this kind of money," she said.
The convention-size New Year's Eve events, with thousands of tickets, began serious advertising just this month. And those at the big-name hotels and restaurants insist they'll toast a full house when bubbly starts flowing. Potential revelers are merely shopping around, they explain, or just beginning to focus on what they really want to do that night.
"People are making their plans real slow," said Katherine Kerley, who helps handle publicity for the St. Regis Washington, the Westin Grand and the Westin Fairfax. As of last week, the Westin Fairfax had sold just three of its $1,299 "Y2K" packages and not one of its $1,599 "Sweet '99" packages.
Now that the White House has begun releasing details of its three-day celebration on the Mall, Kerley and others think reservations will pick up. But Kerley does worry that expectations about this New Year's -- "The Last Great Party of the Millennium" reads one typical promo -- are almost counterproductive.
"There's so much pressure to do something awesome, you just don't do anything at all," she said.
Strange times indeed, and sociologist Bronislaw Misztal predicts they one day will be analyzed, not at all favorably, for the extreme marketing frenzy and commercial hype. "All of this is profoundly irrational," declared the Catholic University professor, who studies social movements and the political and moral effects of rapid change.
To Misztal, it is scant consolation that no one has yet shelled out 100 grand for the Ritz-Carlton package, because some couples are paying $3,000 to spend New Year's at the Hay-Adams Hotel across from the White House, or more than $2,800 for dinner and a single night's lodging at the Inn at Little Washington near Warrenton.
Come January, he said, "there will be lots of consumer counseling."
A few soirees already are being modified. The Kennedy Center several days ago "refocused" its New Year's Eve plans. Instead of $2,000 a person, partygoers will pay $250 to $350 each to dine on the terrace and then repair to the grand foyer for dancing. Tickets to any performances are, of course, extra.
Millennium or not, survey after survey has forecast a definite public apathy. A poll this summer by Blockbuster said 45 percent of those questioned intended to be home on New Year's Eve. The Travel Industry Association took a head count and found that more than 60 percent of Americans had no plans to leave town for the holiday. A third poll, released last week by the light-bulb company in charge of that big ball that drops in Times Square, noted that 43 percent of Americans would rather stay home and watch television on Dec. 31.
"I'm not going anywhere," professor Misztal said emphatically.
Even Desormeaux, of the convention bureau, confessed: "Personally, I'm no big New Year's Eve person. . . . I plan to be home or with friends."
No one doubts, however, that intense celebrations will occur, whether it's the two women hosting 60 guests aboard the double-decked Miss Christin riverboat for $7,000, or the black-tie merrymakers assembled in three ballrooms at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel.
"If you look at everything that's included, our price is very, very reasonable," a Willard spokeswoman said of packages that run $2,000 or more a couple, depending on such details as whether the glass is full of Dom Perignon or Moet & Chandon.
The entire MCI Center is slated to become a "Millennial City," with more than 11,000 party-maniacs paying $199 to $349 apiece to dance, eat and drink on concourse after concourse after concourse. With enough bands to launch a new record label, indoor fireworks and a time-zone-by-time-zone countdown to midnight, organizer Mike Harrigan at Shack Events is confident all tickets will go -- though only a few hundred have been purchased since sales started Oct. 1.
Several blocks south, the more high-minded and high-priced "Party With a Purpose" will take over the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The purpose: to raise $1 million for 10 Washington area charities, from the Capital Children's Museum to the Congressional Award Foundation. And the party: for $500 or $2,000, the majority of which is tax deductible, nearly 3,500 hoped-for guests will dine on international cuisines and watch headliner Roger Daltrey -- yes, The Who's Daltrey -- lead a classical orchestra, rock band and gospel choir that all perform under the name British Rock Symphony.
Giles Beeker, the trade center vice president, knows he has competition and bemoans all the "over-commercialized" hype. Yet he can't help but offer some of his own. "One of the best events in the world that night," he calls his production.
Not every bank-account-draining affair is still advertising, however. A New Year's Eve dinner for four at Sam and Harry's will set patrons back $19,999.99, yet the downtown restaurant already has credit cards holding three reservations.
It will be worth every penny, promises Bill Wernick, the restaurant's vice president, with a magnum of Pol Roger Couve 2000 champagne and bottles of wines of such quality that superlatives do not do them justice. "The finest white burgundy ever produced," he exulted. "The most wonderful Sauterne you can find." Cognac of a 1900 vintage.
"It's all about the wines," Wernick said, but rest assured that for this equivalent of a house down payment, folks will eat well, too. For nearly four hours, they will feast on Beluga caviar, Scottish smoked salmon, Swedish sea scallops, Maine lobster.
Wernick began this ultimate oenophile's search 18 months ago and expects the dinner will be great fun. Said he of the evening's prospects, "I'm a little bit in awe."