The onset of fall marks the beginning of one of the busiest, yet most welcome, times of year. With several major holidays in four months – not to mention a variety of festivals, Saints and LSU football and an upcoming New Orleans Super Bowl – there is no lack of reasons to gather friends and family for a celebration during fall and winter. Halloween is right around the corner with Thanksgiving shortly to follow, and Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s will be here before you know it.
Those hosting a holiday party or fall/winter gathering of any kind would do well to start planning now, as well-designed, customized events can take weeks of proper preparation. From invitations and décor to the food and favors, covering all your bases doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you enlist the help of local party experts.
Once you pick a date, Betty Hunley of Betty Hunley Designs recommends getting a jump on invitations.
“Start your guest list as soon as you decide to have a party,” says Hunley. “Get the invitations in the mail a month ahead of time, which means ordering them about six weeks before the event.”
A stationary and invitation boutique, Betty Hunley Designs (6057 Magazine St., 895-2870, BettyHunley.com) has been a staple in New Orleans for nearly 30 years. The boutique stocks a vast array of printable papers from which to choose, and Hunley’s creativity adds the finishing touch that officially gets the party started. Customizable party accessories are also available, as well as traditional and non-traditional holiday cards.
While six weeks is the ideal timetable for custom orders, in-house invitations can be printed quickly, and Hunley assures that even last-minute orders will be accommodated. Part studio and part retail boutique, Betty Hunley Designs is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Holiday-themed family photographs are always popular for holiday cards; additionally, enlarged and framed photos can add a personal touch to your holiday décor. A long-established New Orleans institution, Orient Expressed (3905 Magazine St., (888) 856-3948, OrientExpressed.com) continues to dress area children for every occasion with their exclusive hand-smocked clothing for boys and girls. New to Orient Expressed is a trendy new line of outfits for the “tween” age group of girls. Great for family photos and for holiday events, Orient Expressed’s classic style is the perfect balance of whimsy and sophistication.
In addition to children’s clothing, Orient Expressed offers party-friendly home décor items such as table settings, serving trays and platters.
When preparing the home for an event, many people limit themselves to the interior. Local entrepreneur and designer Beverly Katz of Exterior Designs, Inc. (866-0276, ExteriorDesignsBev.com) offers a fresh perspective on party décor with Partyscape™, an outdoor landscaping service tailored to your event.
“Partyscape goes a step beyond the interior florist,” says Katz. “I work on the outside. It’s not just adding mulch and planting – I make everything more lush, make sure you have pots and add color to match the interior or the theme of the party.”
One unique aspect of Katz’s work is its lasting quality. Whereas interior floral arrangements may droop in a week or two, a Partyscape™ can last for months or longer. Exterior Designs offers the option of maintenance in addition to design, so those who want annuals replanted or need occasional pruning can make sure Katz’s neat, clean and colorful vision remains intact.
Depending on the size of the desired Partyscape™, the design and implementation can take up to two months.
“A week would be last-minute,” says Katz, “but I could do something. Three to four weeks is appreciated and gives us time to scout the property.”
In addition to customizing your invitations and landscaping, party favors and accessories should make your list of to-dos. Customizable, Styrofoam “go-cups” are always popular, as well as personalized napkins, plastic cups and party favors.
A fully stocked party boutique, Whimsy (5420 Magazine St., 273-5900, MyWhimsy.com), features holiday décor in addition to party supplies such as plates, napkins, Styrofoam cups, party favors and gifts. From quirky Halloween items to football-shaped platters, Saints and LSU custom cups and holiday-themed wine glasses, Whimsy leaves no celebration untouched.
“You can really find everything in once place,” says Marcelle Perez, owner of Whimsy. “For the holidays, our most popular Styrofoam cup has a big red, ‘Ho!’” she laughs. “Another popular item is the spun holiday wine glass resembling a Santa suit.”
Guests with a sweet tooth enjoy the custom candy party favors that Whimsy supplies. Hosts choose from a variety of candies, pick their packaging and customize a sticker with a personal message to guests. Candy orders take about 10 days to two weeks for processing.
With your plates, napkins and cups chosen, it’s time to plan the food and drink to accompany them. Depending on the event size, you may decide to cook, cater or use a combination of both. For a light holiday meal or a fresh addition to a larger menu, Fresh Bar (6101 Magazine St., 309-9513, FreshBarNola.com) offers a refreshingly new alternative to a boring bowl of salad.
“We offer a premium salad and wrap bar, which can be help-yourself or full-service,” says owner Ellie Thomas. From small-scale wrap platters to a full-service salad bar, Fresh Bar can accommodate parties of any size and presents a fun and healthy way to cater. Salad bars consist of 12 customizable toppings, your choice of lettuce and five dressings.
“We stand out from local grocers because of our extensive menu,” says Thomas. “We have your everyday veggies, but we also offer premium toppings like artichokes, hearts of palm, avocado, nuts, dried cranberries, beets, several meats and seven different cheeses.” All create-your-own and signature salads at Fresh Bar can be made into wraps, with each wrap platter feeding 12 to 14 people.
Equally important as the food are the beverages, and local wine and spirits experts at Martin Wine Cellar (3500 Magazine St., 894-7420; 714 Elmeer Ave., Metairie, 896-7300; MartinWine.com) have fall and winter favorites they’re ready to share. Whether you’re looking for a case of wine to supply a party or a bottle to give to the host, Martin Wine Cellar has a great tasting wine to fit any budget and highly trained and educated staff on hand to answer questions and make suggestions.
“When you walk down an aisle and someone is telling you about a wine, they’ve likely met the producers and seen the winery,” says Hope Martin. “We have wines for every budget and quality wines under $10. Owner Cedric Martin personally checks each wine for quality, especially for party wines.”
Additionally, the Metairie location of Martin Wine Cellar offers a large selection of gourmet cheeses and pates. They also offer full-service catering with an extensive variety of menu options.
Host a Party at a Home Away from Home
The elegance of a home is ideal for a warm holiday soiree, but not everyone wants to host at their personal residence. Imagine hosting amidst the charm of the French Quarter in a home where John James Audubon drafted Birds of America in the early 1800s. Audubon Cottages (509 Dauphine St., 586-1516, AudubonCottages.com) isn’t a hotel, nor a catering space; the collection of cottages is a series of 12 bedrooms across seven eclectic, residential cottages, each with a parlor and patio and all surrounding a private New Orleans courtyard with a saltwater swimming pool. With personal service provided by Roderick Bernal, French Quarter Butler, Audubon Cottages present a luxurious home away from home.
Guests of a single cottage may entertain small gatherings of up to 12 to 15 people, though all seven cottages may be rented simultaneously. Roderick helps the guest make arrangements, choosing, setting up and retrieving food if necessary. The cottages are also perfect for hosting a small cocktail reception before perhaps meeting a larger group with reservations at any number of nearby French Quarter restaurants.