Where to have a house party if you don't have a house
February 7, 2015 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I would like to throw a big ol' party in a few months time for up to 50-100 people (maybe?). Something casual and fun like a house party, except I do not live or have access to a house and don't need beer pong in a sketchy basement. What kind of place do I rent, and does anyone have recommendations for Philadelphia? And broader question: how do you plan a party, anyway?

For a variety of reasons I've almost hit three decades on this earth without planning any kind of party or gathering before--not even hosting a dinner with friends. I am flying blind here. I need help with all things party, but my main concern is venue. I want the event to be casual and social, so the best term I can think of is "house party". Something that satisfies the following:
  • Ready access to drinks and snack-type food, ideally provided by myself
  • Allows for many (50+?) people, but the space doesn't seem dead if only a few people are there
  • People can come in and out at will (ideally this is a Facebook-invite type thing where guests can show up at will)
  • Casual atmosphere
  • Plenty of comfortable seating
  • Place to dance
  • Loud music, noise, and drunken behavior (to a point) is a-OK
  • Easy access to public transit/taxis (so inside Philadelphia)
My home only satisfies the first requirement. A reception hall seems too stuffy and formal. Maybe a hotel penthouse might work, except I doubt any would be big enough and I don't think hotels rent rooms out for loud parties. Can you rent a bar for this kind of thing? That would be nice except they probably wouldn't let me bring in outside food and drinks, and I assume an open bar that includes liquor would be cost prohibitive (or not?).

But these are only guesses, and I could be wrong. Or overlooking something. Could someone offer input? Are there other options out there? What are the party possibilities? And how much should I expect to pay?

(and if anyone has access to Party Planning 101 that would be awesome because in terms of estimating needs for food and drinks and all of that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing)
posted by schroedinger to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any friends who live in nice, high-rise type apartments? Those places usually have community rooms you can reserve. The cheapest thing you can do is have a friend who lives in a place like this who will let you use the space.

Another idea is to rent out a dive bar. You probably won't get the entire place, but the back room or a sectioned off portion would probably do you just fine. They'll probably not let you bring your own drinks, but find a place that's bar only, no kitchen and you can arrange to bring in all the food you want. They'll work out a discounted drink price with you, too.
posted by phunniemee at 4:11 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have an Elks Lodge nearby? They will often rent out the hall when not in use. Lots of clubs that have their own spaces will do this.
posted by xingcat at 4:18 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

AirBnB? Due diligence of course.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:35 PM on February 7, 2015

How's the brewery scene in Philadelphia? In Seattle when people want to do this, they make a deal with a smallish craft brewery - they have an open bar (beer only, so it's not cost-prohibitive) and bring in food.
posted by leitmotif at 4:48 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Happy Birthday!

You can rent a ballroom or meeting room in a hotel. They may require that you use their catering, but a motel won't have any, so you can bring your own food and drinks.

The Residence Inn in city center has a HUGE space where they serve the breakfast and they might let you rent it out for your party. It's kind of dumpy, but that's good because it's not like you can trash the old chairs or tables. They also have a steam table, or serving counter. I don't know if it's up for grabs but it costs you nothing to ask. Call during the week so the Event person will be there.

nthing the Elks, Moose, Lions, or other zoo animals. Party rooms in Apartment Complexes/High Rises are good. The one in our building is fantastic! Too bad we're in Atlanta.

Don't have a full bar. Have a couple of signature drinks for the night, perhaps Madras, or Dark and Stormy, or Appletinis. Beer and wine. This keeps the costs down. And it makes it a lot easier. Beer in cans. Bottles are heavy and break and are a real hassle. Soft drinks in cans. Figure about 2.5 drinks per person. Three if you're in a heavy drinking crowd. Have water and soft drinks available, so folks can pace themselves, and for the teetotalers (like me!)

As for food, you don't want to make yourself nuts. You outsource this bitch! Costco is your friend. It's worth it to join just for the occasion.

What to get:

Big Bags of Chips (4 or 5)
Cookies and brownies and bite sized sweets. (1 per person)
Drink cups
Trash Bags (Lawn and Leaf)

What to skip:

Sheet cake. Nobody eats it. The trick is to have things that are easy to eat.
Veggie Trays. You think people want healthy choices. They don't.

What to have delivered:

Pizzas (1 for every 4 people if it's the only thing you're ordering. Halve it if you're getting chicken.)
6 Ft Sub (Should feed 8-10)
Fried Chicken/Chicken Wings (1 piece per person for fried chicken, 5 wings per person.)

If you're 30, people don't really expect catering. Frankly, party food is fun. No one was disappointed in pizza or fried chicken. Also, if you run out, you can re-order.

Have a blast!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:53 PM on February 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

Thanks RB, I just realized I never mentioned the occasion!

I'm worried about a ballroom/meeting room feeling too wide-open and conservative, though. I am vain and want Babby's First Party to be somewhat hip. And do places like lodges and hotel meeting rooms allow for drunk-people behavior and noisiness?
posted by schroedinger at 5:06 PM on February 7, 2015

VFW is another "hall" option; party room at a bowling alley (plus BOWLING!); many historic homes rent out for evening parties and let you self-cater (especially the less-fancy ones that aren't constantly used for weddings); parks and park buildings, depending on their alcohol rules; lots of smaller museums let you rent the museum for evening parties at relatively reasonable rates, like children's museums, art museums, even zoos. If it's a hands-on kids' museum, people get to PLAY.

Lions/Elk/Moose/VFW/labor type halls DEFINITELY allow for drunkenness and usually are licensed to host alcohol-having parties (i.e., they can have a cash bar, instead of just BYOB). They can probably even supply you a 60-year-old dude bartender. That is honestly kind-of the point of them, noisy parties with alcohol. They have a bit of a high-school-dance vibe about them (as opposed to a "fancy wedding" vibe), but they're casual and comfortable and typically well-arranged for hosting large parties of the sort you're after. They usually have a dance floor and can set up for a DJ and all.

Back room of a bar is good, too, although you may not have space for dancing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:15 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

One other tip - you may want to search online for small wedding venues in Philadelphia. Some will probably be crazy expensive, but others may be the perfect fit. And anyplace that has hosted weddings is comfortable with large numbers of drunk, loud people.
posted by leitmotif at 5:24 PM on February 7, 2015

I know nothing about Philly venues but FWIW I am having a birthday party this year in a hotel penthouse. You can also try corporate apartment rentals. As long as they are self-catering you can bring in your won food and drink.

But honestly if you've never done this you can save a huge amount of stress by doing it in a bar or pub. You can pay for the food, the guests can pay for the drinks. You don't need to worry about sound systems, catering, booze count, unhappy neighbours, ANY of that. Just tell the venue what you want, turn up and have a good time!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:40 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm worried about a ballroom/meeting room feeling too wide-open and conservative

I feel you on that, but they can set it up to give it a cozy feel. The breakfast rooms of a lot of these places are pretty effing great. We do Christmas in the breakfast room of the Hampton Inn in London, KY. Fireplace, tables, Santa chair covers.

Another thought is Maggianos. There's one at 12th and Filbert. They'll cater the thing and provide a bar. I've been in parties that have gotten quite raucous. Although it'll be time restricted (a four hour window) and it'll be WAY costlier.

Here's the City of Philadelphia venues page. I'll bet there's something there that would suit. Franklin Square has a carousel!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:44 PM on February 7, 2015

my mother had her 60th birthday party at a church hall. The hiring fee was pretty low and they were cool with her bringing in her own food and alcohol. There were plenty of chairs and tables and a little kitchenette.

I think it felt pretty un-hip and boring but I think that could have been fixed with decorations and better music and so on.
posted by lollusc at 5:48 PM on February 7, 2015

I went to a birthday party a few years ago at an apartment complex's community/party room and it was perfect.
posted by zsazsa at 5:57 PM on February 7, 2015

I've booked small campgrounds or conference centres for events like this. You have a variety of common spaces, sometimes fun stuff like firepits, and maybe being able to sleep over a lot of people is a plus. A surprising number of organisations own or run these sorts of venues, and they *can* be expensive, but I have no idea what your budget is.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 6:04 PM on February 7, 2015

I usually host birthday parties of about 30 ppl, over the course of a night, in NYC. Call your favorite bar. Tell them you expect 50 ish people, want x tables reserved, have y budget for food and drinks are a) going to be on folks individual tabs or b) I would like the bar to be open for my friends/table to z amount.

Your casual neighborhood bar will welcome this. It will feel warm and cozy even at the beginning and end because you're reserving a space at the bar, not the whole bar, so other random people will be there. Bonus: other random people will like the vibe of your party, say hi, and you'll meet new friends.
posted by slateyness at 6:23 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't help with venue except to say a lot of people think their place is unsuitable, is it really? You don't actually need a lot of space and you can let your neighbours know you're having a party and will keep the noise down after 10pm or whatever. People love being invited to your home. It's hospitality at its best.

Food is easy. Just call pizza including a vegetarian option. People who don't eat x/y/z know they need to eat something before they arrive.

Parties are my specialty, here are my tips:

1. Encourage early drinking. Shots, glass of bubbles or signature drink on arrival. Even if they don't drink the rest of the night, a couple of units of alcohol at the beginning helps people relax and feel sociable enough to mingle. Enlist a friend or two to go round with the champagne and top people up.

2. You need three gimmicks. You want to give people opportunities to start conversations with people they don't know. My last party:invitation was a colouring contest. People had to pin them up on the noticeboard then later in the evening we had voting and a trophy was awarded. We also had karaoke and a dress up theme (another trophy for best dressed). Karaoke is great; spectators can feel like they're participating even if they don't want to sing. Hanging around to queue up songs is another chance to mingle. Strangers did duets, audience joined in with crowd favourites.

3. Is part of 2. Put your food and drink in separate spaces to give people an excuse to move around the venue. Gives them an opportunity to leave a conversation they don't like and join a new one.

4. Whatever you do for food, make more food appear at midnight. People will be drunk and hungry and its a good way to transition from house party to hanging out in one group. By this time maybe half or two thirds of the guests have left, bring everyone together, make the music go mellow. This is when my husband usually breaks out "The Brown Wine" (scotch!) for the hardcore. We're Australian so once it was vegemite on toast (toaster on the coffee table, DIY seconds), more pizza or bacon sandwiches. If my husband is not too trashy, he'll do midnight sausage sizzle.

And lastly, a general long term tip for successful parties. People like parties where they will meet new people but don't like going where they don't know anyone except the host. They don't like to go with their partner, stand in the corner with their partner all night, then go home. Part of this is up to them to be sociable but the host can make it easier by regularly having different smaller gatherings where people can have met a bunch of your friends from different groups, several times, over time. Then they can run into these acquaintances at your parties. It's easier to approach someone you met at Stella's barbecue last summer. It feels as good as meeting new people but easier than starting from scratch in a crowded room.

Have fun!
posted by stellathon at 6:27 PM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Throwing a party by yourself for 50-100 people is a LOT OF WORK, I'd like to add, and may keep you too busy with hostessing to enjoy it. That's why a lot of people let the venue manage the food/drinks. Another option is to hire a friend's teenagers for part or all of the party, to prepare and pass appetizer trays, keep the cooler full of soda, pick up discarded plates, manage the iPod, etc., and generally help with set-up and/or clean-up. (In my experience it's best to hire your friend's kid, and tell them to bring along a friend whom you will also pay, and then when they're not needed they'll sit in a corner chatting and futzing with their phones.) They don't need to look like cater-waiters or anything, just regular clothes, and they're just there so you have minions.

You can also ask a couple good friends to come a little early to help you set up, usually your good friends are flattered they're high enough on your friend list to be asked, and happy to help. MOST people who stay around long enough to shut down the party end up helping clean up unless they're stupid drunk.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:29 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am doing the classy thing and sending out a mass Facebook invite so I have no idea what to expect in terms of attendance. In my head 50-100 people is what I think were at the last house party I went to, so that's what I'm anticipating--it is a very scientific measurement, I know. From what I've seen among friends, you go out, buy a bunch of liquor and beer, put out chips, and then people arrive and BAM party. In my head the venue was the biggest sticking point. So perhaps I'm assuming this is easier than it actually is.

Also: I would like the sort of party that doesn't start dropping off until 1:00 or 2:00am (starting after dinner). Is that a issue with most venues?

How much should I be expecting to budget for this?
posted by schroedinger at 6:51 PM on February 7, 2015

Someone I know had a party with this kind of vibe at Eusko Etxea in NYC, and it was great. That reminded me you might want to check other community center-type places, like your local LGBT community center - my (queer) softball league had an end-of-year party in a space like that. I know what you're saying about venues like that tending to feel kinda square or sterile or something, but dim, warm lighting, comfortable seating, and plentiful alcohol help a lot to take the edge off. Honestly a lot of people's living spaces don't look totally dissimilar, on a basic level.

I'm no master host or anything, but when I had a house party in this genre recently, I just made a Trader Joe's trip and got several varieties of chips, dips (hummus, salsa, guac), veggies, and cheeses. I think we had around 40-50 people in total show up (hilariously, it was kind of disjunct from the RSVP list on Facebook, so don't be too fazed by that); I spent ~$70 (?) on the food, and my friend was making fun of me for getting too much but it literally all got eaten and I could probably have stood to get around 20-30% more. People eat a lot when they're drinking! (My roommates handled alcohol and I don't remember how much we spent there, sorry.)
posted by en forme de poire at 7:05 PM on February 7, 2015

Depending on the bar, in NYC I have spent between $45 for multiple rounds of nachos and tater tots for the evening to $250 for plates of fancy sliders and risotto balls. Depends on the venue. I let my guests handle their alcohol tabs though.

When I have a house party, I tend to spend about $150 in alcohol (case of wine, some beer and a few specific liquors for a signature cocktail, as recommended above). Guests tend to bring a bottle or so as a hostess gift, so this leaves me in a position of having leftovers, which is okay with me. For food: My last house party I spent about $80 to have 120 empanadas delivered- big hit. I've done lower budget with trader joes and been cool too. Pro tip: I don't care how highbrow you are, every nonvegetarian loves pigs in a blanket.

Another pro tip: people will ask "what can I bring?" Take them up on that. "Aw I just want to see you, but if you happen to bring a [bottle of wine/chips/block of cheddar/bag of ice] that would be so helpful". Make a list. Dole out tasks. People mostly mean it when they ask "what can I bring?" At least, I know I mean it when I ask and feel helpful when I can contribute.
posted by slateyness at 7:17 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am maybe not remembering the name, but there is a place on 7th right above Spring Garden by the German Society. I think it's the Latvian Society or something like that, and I know people have done this kind of thing there. They have a bar in the basement and you do pay the bartender and of course for drinks. It's a old cozy divey club.
posted by sepviva at 8:32 PM on February 7, 2015

How about asking your friends? The couple I know who throws the best parties lives in a tiny one bedroom in San Francisco, but they have glorious parties at the homes of their more spaciously housed friends. Do you know someone who loves to host who might be willing to collaborate on your party? Or someone with a more appropriate home who would let you take over (and who you would of course buy a wonderful host gift for)?
posted by linettasky at 11:01 PM on February 7, 2015

We paid $35 a head for our wedding reception at a neighborhood Cuban Restaurant. It included a full buffet of Cuban and Mexican food and an open bar with Dulce de Leche Pina Coladas as a signature drink. That was a freaking BARGAIN. So...that's kind of the ball park for a fully catered and open bar party.

Bar food and limited bar will be about $25 per person, in a party room at bar. It seems expensive, but given that you don't have to do anything except show up and have fun, it's cheap at twice the price. Not having to clean up after is pretty great.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:03 AM on February 8, 2015

Sepviva, are you thinking of the Ruba Club?

I've been to events there and it was a lot of fun. Seems like it could be a great fit. I can't speak to price though.
posted by banwa at 8:12 AM on February 8, 2015

Our large group of friends have this problem for New Year's - bats/clubs are noisy and expensive, our places too small. A person ended up renting a frat house, some of which are quite nice. It was reasonable, let's you do whatever you want and if it's a few months time, should be summer pretty soon.
posted by artificialard at 8:37 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another possibility might be the Ukrainian Club (fondly referred to by nearly everyone in the neighborhood as the Ukie Club) in the Fairmount section of Philly. It'a a private club, has a 60's themed (actually from the 60's I believe - think red faux-leather booths and chrome barstools -lounge downstairs, where I remember beer or wine was $1.00. Or maybe 50 cents. It was like stepping back in time). You had to buy a membership for entry - $5.00, I think. It's fairly small, but there is a large room upstairs that I understand is frequently rented for events. Although the neighborhood has gentrified greatly, its history is Eastern European, and there are numerous churches (Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox) within about a square mile. For raucous, though, I'd go with a club rather than a church hall. The Latvian Society on Spring Garden Street also has a liquor licence and cheap drinks, and a large upstairs room they rent out. The German Society is also on Spring Garden, but I haven't been inside and don't know what they might offer. It is a much larger, more imposing building than the Latvian or Ukie clubs. These are the kind of places where you would be able to bring in your own food or snacks. Booze - you should ask what their club licenses permit. They definitely have more leeway than a restaurant with a regular liquor license. Often they are permitted to serve alcohol after hours, as well.

You could also ask about renting a Schuylkill River boathouse. They do it all the time, but I don't know about the hours. I once helped arrange an event at the Vespers boathouse, and we brought in our own beer. Keep in mind that at Vespers, at least, they provide cheap housing for serious rowers, so it's possible they would have a 2:00 am curfew so the guys can sleep. Just a thought.
posted by citygirl at 10:35 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Theres a spot called "The Deck" around the philly area and they usually run good promotions its a nice looking spot you should call them in reference to your party idea, they may even work with you the link below is their site.

posted by imagine_dragon at 4:30 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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