I mulled over the situation while chewing on a tasteless, soggy dumpling at an advertising awards show, when it hit me like a tasteless, soggy dumpling: advertising awards show dining. I had found my Switzerland of topics. It's a subject everybody can agree on: "Too many awards shows, not enough hors d'oeuvres." Who could argue with that?
Since the average ticket price is at least $100, not to mention the equally hefty entry fees on top of that, one would expect an Andy Berlin-sized meal at an awards bash, but, as you'll see, that's not always the case. So consider this your Zagat guide to over a half-dozen 1995 awards shows. Enter at your own risk, bib not included. (And my apologies to the Clios staff. There just isn't enough California Chardonnay in San Francisco to endure that again.)
The New York Festivals: The New Copacabana Club; January 12; $125.
At the cocktail hour the raw vegetables had more dressing than the belly dancers, who, wearing only fruit, used the international sign for "come hither" and wooed us to our tables, where hard rolls and butter awaited us. Dinner wasn't served for another three hours, so nothing would detract from the fine entertainment: Spokesmodels in glittery decolletage being photographed with non-English-speaking Gold winners. The open bar during the show was the best value, but at $125 a ticket you'd have to drink about 80 glasses of wine. I did. And I still wished I'd stayed home and washed my hair.
The New York Addys: The Roxy; March 30; $95.
Like a trip to Seattle for a fraction of the price. Sponsored by Deutsch (why don't they just call it Donny?) at what is normally a very downtown gay club transformed into a very downtown straight club. Black leather was exchanged for black T-shirts; ponytail required. Those without were given clip-ons at the door. (A few made it in with just baseball caps, worn backwards, of course).
The actual show was cut down to a Guinness (not the beer) World Record of 90 minutes, with two 90-minute cocktail sessions before and after. The caterer, after consulting a crystal ball, created hors d'oeuvres out of hangover food. Miniature hamburgers and pizzas were strategically placed to soak up Mr. Jenkin's Tanqueray.
Despite the lack of Pearl Jam (I think I actually heard a Spinners song), the early closing of the second cocktail hour-and-a-half (I guess all the Deutsch people had to go back to work) and the lethal level of second-hand smoke, it was the perfect template for advertising awards shows, below 23rd St., to come.
The Obies: Hotel Macklowe, New York; May 3; two complimentary tickets to finalists.
If you can imagine a 30-sheet poster-sized group of outdoor salesmen dressed in black tie without a hint of polyester, fueled by four open bars for two hours, you're almost there .*.*. without spending the roundtrip cab fare. Fortunately, the briskly efficient and unobtrusive waitstaff kept me satiated without my personally having to navigate this roiling sea of hard sell. The chicken-on-a-stick with peanut sauce was a particular favorite. And, after about a dozen, I actually perfected the skill of removing all the chicken without swallowing the skewer. The actual show was also an abbreviated hour and a half, but seemed longer, as in forever. Was it the lack of alcohol, the Oscar-length acceptance speeches ("I'd like to thank the client, the media buyer, his secretary .*.*.") or Kevin Seal, the terrifically unfunny presenter and former MTV personality who should have been unplugged. No dinner was served-unless you consider the presenter roasting under the spotlights.
My suggestion, if you're not a member of the salesforce: Bring a good book (no, not a portfolio). And if you are, bring your own lampshade, because this is your night of nights.
The International Andy Awards: Town Hall/Laura Belle; May 9; $125.
The only show to add an extra incentive for entering besides a loss of cash. The Andy Award Committee taunts entrants with a $50,000 prize to the winner of the Grand Andy, second place winners presumably receiving a set of steak knives. Ironically, it was awarded to the only person who probably has that much lost between the cushions of his casting couch (regarding his day rate, not his morals): Mr. Big Shoot, Joe Pytka.
With a cocktail hour before and a voluptuous buffet dinner after, both held at the supper club Laura Belle, it's also the only show (besides the One Show) that's close to being worth its inflated ticket price. Having skipped the earlier cocktail hour, I managed to belly up to the buffet before the usual stampede, to sample mostly delicious but cold everything: salmon, chicken, salad, rolls, steamed vegetables and even risotto. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but risotto isn't.
After dinner, chocolate and coffee were served, providing the caffeine rush necessary to dance to a few too many Michael Jackson hits or run the hell out of there. Unless, of course, your idea of fun is a midtown disco on a Tuesday night.
The One Show: Alice Tully Hall, New York; May 24; $130.
The Academy Awards of advertising. The one and only show to attract people from as far away as, say, glamorous Minneapolis, has also adopted an austerity program. The one show known for holding an "absolutely fabulous" party afterwards (held at Club USA and the China Club in previous years) has opted to eliminate it. On the other hand, the pre-show cocktail party, with its hyperkinetic "if you don't schmooze, you lose" theme, was extended to two hours this year. (Apparently, if you drink more before the show, you won't notice you're drinking less after the show.) And with four available bars, getting a drink at the One Show is no longer as difficult as getting a Pencil.
A bacchanalian buffet of pasta, salad and carved roast beef dominated the left side of the room. And for people more interested in bullshitting than beef, a variety of hors d'oeuvres were featured on shiny silver trays rotating around the crowd like planets. Bite-sized baked potatoes, complete with sour cream and chives, and barbecue beef were an anorexic's dream. The size of 10-point type, they would have looked more appropriate in a Goldsmith/Jeffrey ad.
Considering the fact there were 14,000 entries, the show should still be going on today. Fortunately, the judging staff was as stingy as the party planners, which kept the show to an approximate 115 minutes. (Let's see ....14,000 x $100 minimum entry fee = an average BBDO salary.)
After the show, $40 more (included in the total price) got you back into the lobby for champagne, coffee and powdered cookies on paper doilies. I think I've had more fun at a Tupperware party.
But let's face it, no matter how much they reduce their hors d'oeuvres supply, this show will always carry the most weight. Besides, all you need is $230 (ticket price plus single entry fee) and a dream.
The New York Art Directors Club Show: Essex House; June 1; $185.
The menu was French, the audience was Asian and the entertainment was lesbian. Is this a great country or what?
Traditionally the most sophisticated show, there were no surprises in the brief but elegant cocktail hour. A stately mixing of black tie and white wine was complemented by tasteful if not understated (i.e., invisible to the naked eye) hors d'oeuvres. The Barquette of Julienne vegetables was a bit dry, but so was the crowd.
With the ticket price being $30 more than the next highest-priced show, you'd probably expect printed menus, a five course meal and fine entertainment. Two out of three ain't bad. Reno (she looked like Janet Reno but wasn't as funny), whose act consisted of cleverly matching Allan Beaver's name with female genitalia, was as void of taste as the dinner was full of it. Fortunately, she arrived about the same time as the petit fours, so as not to do any real damage to the preceding courses.
According to the menu, we had Feuillete of Wild Mushrooms, Field Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette, Tournedoes of Beef with Beurre Blanc Fine Herbes and Concasse of Fresh Tomatoes, Herb Crushed Baked Potato and Haricots Vert with Yellow Pepper Strips. No, that isn't French for rubber chicken. (English translation: salad, steak, baked potato and green beans.) Served with liberal amounts of white or red wine, each course was like buttah. Even the butter was like buttah. The dessert of Homemade Pear, Cassis and Melon Sorbets was served in a chocolate-covered cookie dish, which, unfortunately, tasted dishwasher safe.
The table service was extremely punctual, and although my tablemates did not share the English language, I quickly learned the international sign for "I want my picture taken with my newfound American sex slave." Afterward, the tables were littered with empty Fuji film boxes and prenuptial agreements.
The two and a half hour show was predominantly design oriented-for those who actually go for the awards-and most of the time was spent trying to pronounce the winners' names. The witticisms of Reno combined with the tinkling of a baby grand piano, this 74-year-old show was equal parts bathroom and Rainbow Room.
The AICP Show: The Museum Of Modern Art; June 9, $140.
Is it art imitating life? Or is advertising imitating art? True, most ECD's should be put in a museum, but should an advertising awards show? Well, with its spacious lobby, Loews-sized auditorium and expansive courtyard, what better place to put 700 or so drunken sailors?
More than any other show, this one is notorious for mass consumption. It's the frenetic atmosphere, four bars and a party that lasts from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. It's a new concept in awards shows: An optional show. With two hourlong screenings available, you can either watch award-winning commercials or you can get to know the poker-faced bartenders on a first-name basis. Apparently, they were advised in advance to serve conservative-sized glasses of wine, adopting the philosophy of, "If the glass is half empty, the cash registers are full."
But who cares if you have to trot back and forth to the bar a few hundred times? If your timing's just right, you eventually get to see everyone you want to see-and everyone you don't. I chose this route myself, and the buffet is a blur. I have fond but faint memories of salmon, salad and risotto. I vote two thumbs up and two aspirin down.
Coming soon: Fish night at the Betty Ford Clinic.