I love throwing parties. Ever since I moved into my first tiny apartment on 121st and Amsterdam, I’ve endeavored to bring people together and make them have as much fun as space and noise ordinances will allow. Since then, I’ve graduated to larger and more elaborate productions, from dance parties in my giant loft apartment I shared with five other people, to full-on dirty basement after hours decadence. I’m far from perfect at it, and I’ve made a ton of mistakes, but I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two since that first crowded party nine years ago during which my male friends decided to play “touch the pipe” with the exposed heating element in my kitchen. Hence, I give you: 14 road tested tips for throwing a party people will remember for the rest of their lives.
1. First, figure out why you want to throw a party.
Parties are a lot of work and it helps to have some larger existential goal in mind. Do you wish to gratify your Type A desire to plan every little detail? Do you wish to support local music and bring artists you like to a wider audience? Do you wish to give people permission to let go of all the shit they worry about in their normal lives and just dance and have fun? Do you want to outwit death by creating an event in time and space that people will remember for a long, long time? All of these are fine reasons, along with pretty much any other reason you can think of.
The only thing I would caution you against is throwing a party out of some Gatsby-esque desire to attract your crush to you like a moth to a flame. Once upon a time, I did this over and over again with the same person. He showed up quite a bit, but never with the results that I wanted. He rarely talked to me, and when he did, I was usually interrupted by some pressing issue. And once, he blew up my bathroom so badly that everyone went up on the roof. On the upside, this helped me get over him.
I even met my current dude for the first time at one of my parties (oh hey, I just remembered this!), but we said about two words to each other and nothing came of it, and we didn’t meet again for months. In my experience, your party is not the time to meet the love of your life.
1.a. Choose a theme for the party. (People like themes!)
Last Halloween, my party throwing partner and I threw a robot party. The year before that, it was a monster mash. This year, we’re throwing a cult party. But it doesn’t need to be Halloween to have a theme.
2. Don’t wait until the last minute to do everything.
Parties are supposed to be fun, and this will only make you begin the night with an air of stress about you. If you need ten TVs to build a decent pyramid, start looking for them a month before! Speaking of which…
3. Add a multimedia aspect.
People love parties that are a party-slash-something else. Blame it on our poor attention spans. One thing I learned from going to Motherfucker and Rubulad a lot in my youth is that it’s not really possible to overstimulate people who show up hoping to be overstimulated. (Or maybe it is, but they like it.) This works the other way, too: seeing a band play a triumphant midnight set in a room full of drag queens is more fun than seeing a band play a regular set at a regular band venue. But you don’t have to go all out for it to be cool. Do you have an artist friend? Offer to show some of their art. Now it’s an art party! Do you have a musical friend? Offer a “special performance” of her acoustic Metallica covers. Or whatever.
When all else fails, put lots of crazy crap on the walls. My party-throwing-partner will probably kill me for saying this, but making art is not that difficult. You can print out giant images at Staples for $2! Making good art, of course, is a different story, but people know your house is not the MoMA.
4. Buy more booze than you think you need.
I don’t know if it’s a function of me being Jewish or coming from the suburbs or what, but I was shocked at the amount people drink here when I first moved to New York City. You know your guests’ tastes better than anyone, but in my experience, people are fucking animals who will drink your booze until it is all gone. And maybe your friends are classier than mine, but I try to buy the cheapest beer and liquor I can find. Nobody cares, and it saves money.
5. Minimize risk.
Talk to your neighbors beforehand and tell them you are having a party. Invite them, even! They’re a lot less likely to call the cops on you if they feel they’ve been included in the process. Offer to have the noisiest part done by midnight, and tell them to call you if they have any complaints. It also can’t hurt to have an off-duty cop working security. (He will magically make the cops way less likely to come.)
6. Plan for the worst.
Despite your best efforts, there’s a chance the cops will get mad and want to hold someone responsible. This usually happens if they have to come back a second time. Have a clear idea who that person is, and make sure said person doesn’t have any outstanding bench warrants or anything. (Like the kind you get when you don’t pay your open container tickets.) If they’re really pissed off, they might haul you off to jail for a few hours, but if they can’t find anything on you, they’ll let you go with a summons. This will prevent you from having to hide in a closet while everyone pretends they don’t know whose party it is. Which reminds me…
7. Don’t get too fucked up.
I love drinking and doing drugs as much as the next party person, but there needs to be at least one person sober enough to deal with any pressing situations that may arise. Once upon a time, I’d consumed so many good vibes that I couldn’t stand up to her when one of the DJs stormed out and demanded a bunch of money, and I was too busy petting various people’s hair to do anything about it when a crew of shitty ravers swept in at 4am and installed their own DJ. This year, I plan to have most of my faculties in tact. HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT, RAVERS.
8. Have someone you trust doing the money.
If you are charging money for admission and drinks, cash will pile up very quickly. You will need to take a bunch of money to a secure place several times throughout the night. This place should have a lock on the door, and should not be used for anything but storing money. (The money room is not the VIP room!) Parties have a way of hemorrhaging money, so you want someone you trust (preferably YOURSELF) handling it. That way, if a ton of money goes missing, you will have only yourselves to blame, and you won’t be in the awkward position of not knowing whether someone is stealing from you.
9. Have someone taking pictures.
I know we live in an image-obsessed society where it’s impossible for people to exist in the moment, but it is what it is. Having a designated picture taker will keep you from pulling your phone out every five seconds. It’s also fun to have a photobooth with a cool backdrop (pictured), where people can goof around (maybe with props). My partner likes to make one that goes along with the theme of the party each time we have one.
10. Find a cool space.
If your apartment is too small for what you want to do, you will need to find a space. It’s more exciting to attend a party in a place that is not a bar, but I know how hard it can be to find this. Ask around, and don’t rule anything out. I’ve been to parties/shows in restaurants, American Legion halls, churches, warehouses, and…the subway. It helps if you know a lot of people in your community.
11. Don’t be afraid to throw someone out if they’re causing trouble.
Once, I let some jerk ruin an amazing (if I do say so myself) 4th of July rooftop BBQ for everyone because he wouldn’t stop setting off fireworks. Before I knew it, there were a bunch of firemen there who wouldn’t relent no matter how hard my friends and I flirted with them. Don’t let this happen to you! Have a few intimidating friends who are prepared to help you do this if need be. One asshole should not get to ruin the party for everyone. This also goes for when you want the party to be over, but a group of random dudes no one knows wants to linger in your kitchen until 6am. It’s your party and they’ll leave when you want them to.
12. If it costs money, charge money.
Once upon a time, my parties were intimate, BYOB affairs where I’d throw down $75 for a keg and borrow PA equipment from friends. Now, my partner and I shell out at least a few hundred each for art supplies, liquor, etc., not to mention all the talented artists and musicians we would like to pay. (I wouldn’t write for free, and I don’t expect musicians to play for free. Even if it’s only like, $50, throwing them something is a matter of respect.) Don’t be afraid to charge $5 at the door and/or a nominal fee for drinks. (If you buy wholesale, you can keep it cheap. You’ll be shocked at the mark-up most bars sell drinks at.) Tell people it’s a small price to pay for all the fun they’ll get in return. Don’t worry about being greedy, you’ll probably still lose money.
13. Get your friends to help clean up afterwards.
Coerce a few people into helping you clean up. Sweeten the deal with a hangover brunch. Or, if you have money left over, go back to sleep and hire a pro clean-up crew.
14. Have fun!
Remember, it’s just a party. The stakes are relatively low. As DIY pater familias Todd P once told me, no one’s going to die if you can’t hear the vocals. Once the party kicks off, it becomes a breathing, growing organism all its own. Appreciate it for what it is, and don’t try to control everything. Have a drink! Dance with your friends! Speculate on who the naked guy in the Eyes Wide Shut mask is! Be the beautiful social butterfly you always knew you’d blossom into once you left your stifling small town surroundings. Maybe Daisy will fall in love with you, after all. Just kidding, she won’t. But your life as a thrower of sparkling parties will be so very excellent you’ll hardly notice the cavernous emptiness inside.
Photobooth photos: Jena Cumbo