By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photos by Larry Hirshowitz|
The brain trust of Jeffrey Best’s party-planning empire, Best Events, is headquartered not in a crystal palace in the sky, not even in a gleaming, high-rise power office in the middle of Century City or downtown L.A., but in a cozy bungalow with scuffed hardwood floors on Vista Street, a tree-lined residential road between Melrose Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. Just outside the door are a series of bas-relief statues partly covered with moss and flaking gold paint, four goddesses, or muses perhaps, carved into stone. Just inside, in what would be the living room, are four hefty midcentury modern steel desks, one for each of the goddesses on Best’s office staff: Emma Hite, Melanie Lemnios and Jessica Gehring, and another, under a vintage glass chandelier, for his assistant, Leslie Dubuque, who reigns like Olympia at the head of a war room. They are all young and pretty and have the well-choreographed energy of a relay track team. But in one corner of the room there is a curious black-and-white photo. It is of two cat-fighting lingerie models scratching each other’s eyes out. “Come in, come in,” Jeffrey Best says, beckoning me across the threshold. “Can I offer you something to drink?”
A long time ago, before he became the emperor of party planning, Jeffrey Best worked as a maitre d’ at a hot Los Angeles restaurant called the Grill. “I got my first experience when a William Morris agent said, ‘We’re having a meeting in two hours — bring me hors d’oeuvres and a couple bottles of wine, and get it over here in 10 minutes.’ Soon it was, ‘I want to surprise my girlfriend with a romantic picnic, can you get me two cobb salads to go?’ We didn’t do food to go at that restaurant. They’d say, ‘Can we have a tablecloth?’ Yes. ‘Can we have some forks and knives?’ Yes. ‘Can we have a waiter?’” He leans forward meaningfully, lifting his eyebrows, as if something is about to change, as if at any moment Darwin’s first fish will leap out of the sea and begin to walk. “So I say yes, and the next call is, ‘So-and-so is having a birthday party — we need you to do a martini bar.’” The parties got bigger. The clients, more glamorous. Parties for 50 turned into 100, which turned into 300, which turned into 3,000. After doing a couple hundred of those parties, he decided it was time to start his own company. That’s when stuff really started cooking.
He hooked up with a couple of guys who owned even hotter L.A. restaurants and bars: Jones, Swingers, Bar Marmont, Good Luck Bar. “Now, instead of parties for 3,000 people, it would be like, ‘This is our friend Anna Sui and she needs to do a party.’” Again the pause, the meaningful eyebrows: “I was in this whole other world where, instead of doing events for corporate entities and agents, they were for celebrity society.” Next came the celebrity weddings: Rosanna Arquette’s, Beastie Boy Mike D’s, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s. Best made more money and bought a few bars and restaurants of his own — Firefly in the Valley, Habana in Orange County, Amuse in Venice — after which he went to the movies.
“When Miramax first came out, there wasn’t a single planner in town who wanted to work with them, because they had no money. They came to me and said, ‘Jeff, you’ve got $13,000 for a party of 500 people. Figure it out!’” He put together a party for the premiere of a movie little-known at the time called The English Patient, which went on to win every conceivable award. Each of which, of course, required a party. He trucked in sand and poured it into Moroccan tents. He dressed servers in khaki fatigues and dog tags.
“Parties are a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have a reputation for doing good parties, then the more people want to come to them. If you have a reputation for doing tacky parties, then not so many people want to come.” Entire companies exist that do nothing but find the right people to invite to parties. “The idea is to get those who set trends in their peer group to see a product before anyone else, to dialogue with people about what their experience was with that product. All of which is based on how much they dug the party. It’s like, ‘I was at this Cadillac party and there were these hot chicks and there was this Escalade and they had this DJ in it and I was hanging out in the back seat before anybody’s ever seen it!’ Escalade then has a reputation in people’s minds of being a cool car.” ‰
Best understands the theory behind the party scene as marketing strategy because he was a business-finance student. But he conquered the party scene by first learning to serve in the world he intended to lead. He was a dishwasher, a waiter, a singer in a punk rock band, a limo driver and a street-corner vendor (of Hollywood star maps). He worked in restaurants and bars that were the happeningest places you’d ever been to, so happening they could have served dog kibble and people would have lined up to eat it. And conversely he worked at — even owned — restaurants that had the best food, the best service, the best décor, the best music, but were dead. “There’s a certain quality that people are looking for in their experiential life. It is something that transcends the technical brief of ‘I went out, I ate food, and it filled my stomach.’”