The best and worst of the Sundance lounges

‘It’s the economy!’ seemed to serve as the brief excuse to, well, any Sundance lounge or party appearing to come up short. Regardless of the current financial environment, L.A., New York and their brethren still came to Park City, Utah, to invite, entertain, reject and annoy. Here is a look at the best and the worst of the hospitality lounges for 2009.

Best lounge design: This goes to the one lounge that started its publicity efforts well before the rest: the ABSOLUT-sponsored Queer Lounge run by glaad (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Conceived by the Green Lab Design Studio in Hollywood, the multi-floored and roomed space – which included the ABSOLUT Mango Mangrove in the basement – was packed with events from parties to dinners like the annual “Meet the APA (Asian Pacific American) Filmmakers Reception,” the lounge proved to be a much better choice for the latter compared to last year’s China Panda Restaurant. Even when events weren’t taking place, the funky decorations provided an eye-popping backdrop for filmgoers to check e-mail and simply take a rest from the Main Street hubbub.

Worst lounge design (and worst lounge compared to last year): The Hollywood Life House had a lot of space, but that was about the only positive aspect going for it. The press release touted a Internet café which featured just four computers when the room easily could have held a dozen. Gifting – the technical term for “swag” – sponsors were crammed into rooms upstairs that, as it turned out, required unadvertised prior approval for mere entry, which meant that some members of the press couldn’t even learn about the sponsors’ newest products on the market. Finally, the opening time of 9 a.m. was a bit too ambitious for the lounge, as it wasn’t ready for public consumption on the first day, and early on the second, publicists were audibly instructing volunteers to station themselves in areas while guests were already being let inside. All in all, the Hollywood Life House was a sheer disappointment compared to last year’s edition, which rotated interesting products and guests. 2008 included the fabulous and practical Vera Bradley bags, Solstice sunglasses, Andrew Marc, Sephora, and personal consultations with a warm and friendly Ole Henriksen. This year: the staid White House Black Market, aesthetically-off Glam Noir accessories, and some truly awful Whiting and Davis mesh bags. No contest.

Best food: There are plenty of candidates for this category, such as the Myspace Café’s filling breakfasts and lunches, and the T-Mobile G1 Diner at the Village at the Yard (menu by Alan Jackson of Jackson Somerset Catering in Los Angeles). The winner, though, would have to be the House of Hype’s Sunday Island Def Jam 25/50 Brunch. The buffet-style, multiple-course menu created by Michael LeClerc, executive chef of one of Park City’s top restaurants (350 Main), included phyllo cups with almond mascarpone and a delicious shrimp pesto pasta.

Worst event setup for press: The Creative Coalition’s first event at the inaugural Barclay Butera Lounge was its 2nd Annual Spotlight Initiative Dinner. According to the tip sheet, it sounded like a nice event, as The Coalition, along with Screen Media Films, planned to “celebrate The Spotlight Initiative, a joint venture that supports movies with messages that impact [sic] social welfare.” The two-hour event started at 7 p.m., but upon arrival, there was no smell of food nor were there any guests seated at the dinner tables. It got even more absurd when a public relations representative from Westin Reinhart told us to “stand outside” in order to wait for potential interview subjects to enter. Oh, let us count the error of thy ways: There was no red carpet. There were no other reporters. And the tip sheet didn’t even list names of attendees for the dinner, so who were we supposed to interview?

Worst event invitation rescindment: We understand that sending in an RSVP for events doesn’t always end up in a confirmation. However, when that confirmation is rescinded, it had better be backed up with a solid reason. In this case, we refer to a certain alumni group of Ivy Leaguers who posted an Evite asking for RSVPs, school affiliations and +1s for an event at a new club called The Downstairs. In full, here is the message, titled “NON-RSVP for IVY Entertainment at Sundance,” that was sent:


We regret to inform you that our IVY Entertainment event at Sundance on Saturday is completely oversubscribed on the evite [sic] due to our limited capacity. We are unable to add your name to the guest list due to
– lack of indicating school/company on the evite [sic] or
– ensuring a balanced equal distribution of school representation

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, and hope you enjoy your time at the many other events at Sundance, or at our other IVY Entertainment events in LA where we don’t have the strict capacty [sic] issues during Sundance.

IVY Entertainment”

Since I had identified my schools, I guess I wasn’t part of the “balanced equal distribution.” But Ivy Leaguers unable to keep a tally on an Evite, unable to spell and boasting a looser RSVP procedure in Los Angelenos versus Utah? Something doesn’t compute.

Most improved lounge: The House of Hype moved north on Main Street to a better space, added one extra day to its hospitality lounge and, most importantly, amped up its sponsorship. The result was a fun inviting venue buzzing with activity on days when other lounges were not. The top floor was converted into a Nivea Lounge spilling over with products; the middle floor had a bar, a coat check (a rarity in most lounges) and plenty of food; and the bottom floor housed Wii Music stations where celebrities like Anne Heche tried their hand at the game. While fashion and accessories were rather scant in 2008 – Frye boots, Havaianas sandals and Puma were the sole offerings – this year the House of Hype featured a number of edgy up-and-comers. These included new make-up line Le Metier de Beaute, Contraband hats, local headphone designers Skull Candy, woven boot specialists LIVS, Krew and punk rock jewelry line Nicolina Royale. During a week when the word “economy” became an overused reason for scaling down, we salute the House of Hype for being ahead of the pack.