BY BRIAN D. WHITE
There is nothing more glamorous than New York over the holidays.
We were there in mid-December for a Colonial Warriors dinner dance at a private club, dinner at “21,” the Metropolitan Museum for the Delacroix and Armenian exhibits, and to see The Band’s Visit. We were then invited as guests of dear friends Laura and Larry Ekstrom for their daughter Ella’s debut at The 64th International Debutante Ball, which is held every other year at The Pierre. She was in another long established cotillion last year, so this was nothing new to her, and we were delighted to attend.
This second visit just after Christmas started with dinner at one of the most elegant, intimate restaurants we’ve been to in New York. The Simone, located on the Upper East Side was recommended to us by dear friends in Chicago who have known the owners, Tina Vaughn and Chip Smith, for over 20 years. Reminiscent of Les Nomades, our favorite restaurant in Chicago, we particularly appreciated that most guests were actually wearing a jacket and tie and there was a strict no cell phone rule, which is so rare. The dinner and the accompanying wines were amazing. With its intimate setting—there are only 11 tables—and the elegant music playing in the background, it is a must for any discerning traveler. I’d suggest making a reservation a good month or more in advance as it’s certainly a hot spot for those in the know.
The next day we went to the Warhol exhibition at the Whitney and were delighted to slide right in with our Art Institute membership cards! (Yes, membership to the Art Institute of Chicago does come in handy when traveling!) We had seen a prior Warhol exhibit with my mother at Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, last spring so we were happy to see this amazing exhibit of rarely seen art followed by fantastic lobster rolls at The Standard Grill just down the street, and a quick stop to Belgian Shoes on East 55th Street to pick up a couple of pairs of new Belgians for Jim.
Next, we prepared for the main event: celebrating our dear friends’ daughter at The 64th International Debutante Ball. I’ve had friends who came out at this in the early ’90s and even a friend who served as a military escort. They typically have 10 West Point cadets, and I found out they actually travel the world to 6 or 8 debutante balls around the United States, London, and Vienna. I have to say that “The International,” as it’s referred, was every bit as glamorous, elegant, refined and genteel as one would expect, with an unbelievable amount of energy and excitement in the air (it is New York where everything is heightened and taken to a new level).
There were 23 debs representing Belgium, England, France, India, Liechtenstein, Scotland, and 9 American states, and our Ella Albright Ekstrom and Meredith Olivia Shields, chosen from Illinois, were as poised and elegant as could be. We’ve done this before so knew to arrive a tad early so the cocktail hour isn’t completely consumed by time spent in the receiving line, but we always enjoy personally congratulating each deb, remarking on how pretty their dress is, how elegant they are, or, when we know them, how delighted we are to be there cheering them on. We have had many friends’ daughters debut in Chicago, and we feel strongly about supporting not only the causes they support but the traditions they represent.
We were also joined by Estelle Walgreen, whose son Ricky was attending; Grant Ekstrom (Ella’s brother), who served as her escort; Peggy Scoville (Laura’s mother); and Courtney Pitt, who was a former deb at The International. And why doesn’t it surprise me to know my dear friend and Pine Manor girl, Kipper Lance Hendrick, was a deb at The International as well?!
I have to say the ballroom at The Pierre was stunning. With its Venetian chandeliers and capacity of only 350 people it was more reminiscent of a private club ballroom than big hotel. After dinner the debs were presented and then it was dancing to The Lester Lanin Orchestra all night. This is certainly a highlight of the New York Social Register set social season, and it was an honor being there—and a really fun and glamorous ball! In fact, while there I ran into Kip Forbes sitting at the table next to ours and told him what a marvelous job the new stewards are doing with all the social events going on around the country for The Social Register, which he was delighted to hear as former steward.
The next day after sleeping late after getting to bed around 3 am, we went for brunch at Joe Allen and went to see The Waverly Gallery with a star-studded cast including the legendary Elaine May along with Lucas Hedges, Joan Allen, Michael Cera, and David Cromer—phenomenal acting and one of the best plays we’ve seen in years. I highly recommend it. After the past holiday month of every rich decadent meal imaginable, we opted for Chinese and a low-key, quiet night before New Years.
On Monday, settling into our room at The Carlyle, we went around the corner to Saint Ambroeus on Madison Avenue for lunch and brought back a few pastries to have with champagne back in our room prior to getting ready for the black tie New Year’s Eve party going on at the hotel. We opted to start with the dinner at Cafe Carlyle with a fabulous menu and Steve Tyrell performing favorites such as “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “It Had to be You,” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” followed by dancing in the lobby to The Peter Duchin Orchestra. It was all very locked down with tight security keeping watch but so chic to be dancing in the lobby of one of the most glamorous hotels in New York. After dancing, we settled into Bemelman’s Bar till around 3:30 am when we finally called it a night!
Our last day in New York was spent with good friends Alex Donner and Annette DeLorenzo at a private club for their New Year’s Day celebration. The club was packed and there was a marvelous buffet with music playing all afternoon. Alex and his orchestra perform regularly in Chicago, and I just had him for the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award USA Gala with HRH The Prince Edward that I chaired back in September. He will again be performing at a club in Palm Beach in a few weeks for The Colonial Warriors, which we are looking forward to attending!
Finally, an easy flight back to Chicago and a mountain of thank you notes to write!
Happy New Year!