BY CYRENE RENEE
Once upon a time I had an event planning business. Since then, I use my skills to create special moments for myself and my family. I spent the weekend taking a little time to celebrate myself. I don’t do it often, but when I do… I do my best to do it right. July 4th is my birthday. A while ago I made the decision to not hold parties on my actual birthday. Most people are traveling or spending time with family on the 4th. So, this year’s shindig fell on July 3rd. I decided that I would host a Covid-19 free get together for myself and nine of my dearest friends. I have received some questions as to how I was able to pull off a covid free gathering, so I figured I would share some of my ideas.
I have read reports of parties going tragically wrong because of the lack of proper safety precautions. I collectively took those “what not to do” points and amped up my safety measures. New York has come a long way since the onset of the Coronavirus. New York State has had 402,000 confirmed cases with 31,895 unfortunate deaths to date. With other states now entering their “second wave” of cases, it was important to me to make sure that I provided a safe and clean space for myself and my guests. Was it a lot? Yes! Was it worth it? Absolutely! Things that I never had to think of before were at the forefront of my mind. Would I be serving food? Yes. Buffet? Absolutely not! Would we be wearing masks? Yes. At the time of the party NYC was in the end of Phase 2 which meant I could only have 10 friends at the gathering. I needed to make sure the space provided enough for social distancing and hand cleansing stations. How on earth was I going to be able to get all of this done? Once I made a list of the needs and a list of the wants, it all worked together. I wanted friends, food, beverages, cake, and activities. I needed safety, space, and cleanliness.
The theme of the party set the tone of what I intended to capture for the mood. It was going to be a relaxed yet sophisticated vibe. A place for my friends to enjoy themselves and be comfortable. We all have little covid anxiety these days. Being a history lover, I wanted to bring a classic concept to a modern-day era. Cy’s Speakeasy Birthday was then created based off my love for the Harlem Renaissance. Speakeasies were private clubs and events during the 1920s prohibition era. My speakeasy would have a complete wine theme. I sent private invitations to individual guests that I designed. I did not post any information about the party on social media during the planning process. The initial invite did not contain the address of the party, only the date and time. Once friends submitted the RSVP, they received the location and other pertinent information. I followed up with reminders and a thank you.
With the theme in place, I needed a space. The 10-person maximum with the addition of social distancing requirements by New York City was the most important requirement. I went to the Splacer directory to search different locations suitable for my needs. I came across a few that would have been decent options. However, some were not taking any reservations. Luckily, I found the perfect space that fit my budget called the Barber Lounge, a photo studio in Midtown Manhattan. The rustic chic décor with brick wall and wood floors was what I was searching for. James, the space owner was very timely with his responses and answered all my questions. Upon arrival, the studio was clean, and the tables and chairs requested were available. Since my event was private, I did not utilize the event page option for the party provided, but it was available if I needed it which would have made RSVP organized and simple.
VIRTUAL WINE TASTING!
As for activities, I thought it would be no better way than to share an experience. Of course, just being in each other’s presence after not seeing each other for nearly four months due to quaretine could have been enough, but no. So, I decided on a virtual wine tasting. The WineShop at Home options were perfect. Yes, there would only be 10 people in the room, but I would have the wine consultant on an iPad. It worked out great. The wine was shipped to me a week before the party. Jaclyn my consultant, zoomed in from the comfort of her home in Virginia and graced my party with her expertise of the selected wines. From there, we were able to taste, ask questions, and converse about the different flavors, history, likes and dislikes and choose our favorite bottles to order. For the party I opted for the Renegade package which includes the following wines:
Each bottle of wine was sent with a card stating the wine’s facts, summary, tidbits, and food pairing with recipes. It also allows for opportunities for guest to host their own tastings as well as becoming a consultant themselves.
FOOD & SNACKS
Along with the wine tasting, I knew I needed to have food pairings. I am also aware that a buffet would be out of the question. Studies have demonstrated how quickly Covid-19 can spread from person to person from the simple act of reaching for a snack. I opted to make individual appetizer boxes filled with the recommended essentials. There was a vegan and nonvegan option that was differentiated with a pink dot. The vegan boxes consisted of fresh fruit (strawberries and grapes), olives, plantain chips, ginger peach jam and mixed nuts. The nonvegan boxes included salami, crackers, cheese, nuts or olives, fresh fruit (strawberries and grapes), and ginger peach jam. Also, a gourmet popcorn bar featuring rosemary, garlic and parmesan, caramel and a vegan rosemary and garlic option. I found the snack boxes and snack bags on Amazon. I used customized theme stickers that I made to personalize them. There was also individual bottles of water, ginger ale, and sprite for nondrinkers paired with paper covered straws.
More Wine Please! McBride Sisters Collection
In addition to the wine tasting wines, I featured wines from the McBride Sisters Collection. The McBride Sisters is the largest African American owned wine company in the United States. It was important to have a strong presence promoting a Black Owned Business. The wines were shipped directly to me. I will add, my friends also loved the different kinds of wines.
I chose the…
CAKE CAKE CAKE!
I have had a love of baking for many years and always make my birthday cakes. I decided that I did not want to have individual cakes which would have been easier to contain, but I wanted a whole cake. That also meant a unique way to display it while maintaining safety precautions. I used a display case large enough to showcase the cake until it was time to cut. The cake was an alternate vanilla and chocolate four-layer cake with slices of fresh strawberries and strawberry filling. The “naked cake” was then wrapped in dark chocolate swirls and topped with a white chocolate flower.
Safety was at the top of the list. Masks are still mandatory which I used that as my advantage. I opted to make customized face shields. It would be easier to eat and drink with the face shield instead of a mouth covering. Even though I had cloth masks as an option. Thanks to Etsy, I found the customized face shields. Assembling was easy. Even with the provided elastic, I opted to use ribbon on some masks in case the elastic was not long enough for the guests. Along with the masks, I provided hand sanitizer stations at the entrance as well as near the food and beverages. For the corked bottles of wine, I used wine condoms to ensure the bottles were not left open and securely covered between uses. Another great alternative to using bottles would have been individual wine cans. There are multiple options with various companies to choose from. Another added layer to safety was the quick and easy clean up. I found disposable party trash boxes which allowed a neat decretive way to toss away items such as used cups, forks, bottles, plates, bags etc. without much contact.
There were other simple special touches which made the party memorable. Photo areas are always a fun way to engage with guests and create keepsakes. I opted to make large printed wine theme signs. I also used the designs as coaster favors for guest take homes. I used Best Value Copy to print the signs that I created and added a foam backing. For the coasters I used 4×4 tiles and cork backing. I printed the images on cardstock and glued them onto the tiles.
All in all, it was a lot of work, but it was so worth it. My friends had a great time and I had an incredibly Happy Birthday. Would I do it all again? Absolutely. Making sure everyone was secure was the biggest priority. Can you have your own Covid-19 free party? Yes! It just takes a little time, creativity, planning and patience. Happy planning and be safe!
List of Resources, Sites & Mentions
Bags: Snack Bags
Boxes: Snack Boxes
Event Space: Splacer
Printing: Best Value Copy
Recipe: Caramel Popcorn
Recipe: Rosemary, Garlic and Parmesan
Trash Can: Disposable Trash Can
Wine: McBride Sisters
Virtual Wine Tasting: WineShop at Home