The 10 Most Amazing Parties of All Time

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus
woman crowd surfing
Ever attended a party where spontaneous crowd surfing occurred? Or one where the bartender was sitting in a canoe ladling out drinks from a fountain? Then you, dear reader, have been to an amazing party.
Brand New Images/Stone/Getty Images

Back in 1694, Admiral Edward Russell had a solid career in the Royal Navy, and was well-respected -- at least until the day he threw a bash for his fleet. The party centered around a cocktail Russell, the 1st Earl of Oxford, concocted in an enormous fountain using 250 gallons of brandy, 125 gallons of Málaga wine, 1,400 pounds of sugar, 2,500 lemons, 20 gallons of lime juice and 5 pounds of nutmeg. Bartenders sat in canoes in the fountain, ladling out the drink. The bartenders rotated out every 15 minutes so they wouldn't pass out from the fumes or become intoxicated. Although about 5,000 people attended the party, it took them eight days to finish the cocktail, resulting in a long, drawn-out, probably quite drunken, celebration [source: Motilo].

Amazing parties have been thrown throughout the ages, typically by those like Russell, who have the wealth or notoriety to pull them off. Not all of them are the same flavor of outrageous as Russell's, though. The following 10 fêtes run the gamut of soirée styles, from sumptuous, but relatively staid, affairs filled with formal attire, decadent eats and over-the-top décor to creative events with unusual attire or themes.


10: Sultan of Brunei's 50th Birthday Party

Sultan of Brunei
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, and his second wife, Hajah Mariam, look slightly solemn during the sultan's 50th birthday celebrations in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Francis Silvan/AFP/Getty Images

It's not every day that you turn 50. And some people, unfortunately, never reach this milestone. Which may explain why Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei decided to celebrate the conclusion of his first five decades on Earth in style. To say the least.

The sultan began his blow-out celebration with a military march, followed by a polo match with Great Britain's Prince Charles [source: Michael Jackson to warble some tunes for his guests, although he didn't attend this portion of his birthday bash for some reason. Total cost: $27 million ($16 million of which went toward the concert) [source: Motilo].


The sultan turned 50 back in 1996. In 2012 dollars, his $27 million extravaganza would have cost $40 million [source: richest people in the world.

9: Truman Capote's Black and White Ball

Truman Capote and Katherine Graham at Black and White Ball
Author Truman Capote, host of the celebrated Black and White Ball, arrives at the Hotel Plaza holding hands with Katherine Graham, the guest of honor. Graham, of course, was the president of the Washington Post and Newsweek magazine.
© Bettmann/CORBIS

In 1966, author Truman Capote released his true-crime book "In Cold Blood." The book tells the story of the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family, a Kansas farming clan. Capote had worked on the book for six years, and it was an instant success, quickly selling out and becoming a classic. To give himself a pat on the back for his extensive efforts, Capote decided to throw himself a huge party: the Black and White Ball [source: PBS].

Dubbed the "Party of the Century," everybody who was anybody vied for an invitation to this elite event. In the end, 540 people snagged invites, all celebrities in some manner: actors, politicians, journalists, literary figures, royalty. A few of the lucky attendees: Tallulah Bankhead, Irving Berlin, Henry and Shirlee Fonda, Joan Fontaine, Greta Garbo, James Michener, Arthur Miller, Frank Sinatra, Steve Sondheim and Gloria Steinem [source: The Independent].


Attendees were asked to come attired in black and white, plus wear a mask and carry a fan. The ball was held at the Plaza Hotel, one of the finest venues in New York City, and began with dancing, followed by a midnight supper featuring the Plaza Hotel's famous chicken hash. It also drew enormous media attention, angering those who didn't make the guest list [sources: The Independent, PBS].

8: Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin's Party

Debutante ball at the Waldorf-Astoria
The guest lists for the 48th Annual International Debutante Ball (pictured here) and the Martin party were quite different, but the posh venue was the same: the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
© Mark Peterson/Corbis

Toward the end of the 19th century, the world was in the grip of the Long Depression. From 1873 to 1896, high unemployment, low prices and low economic output reigned [source: Lynn]. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin of New York. The wealthy socialites supposedly were trying to help New York's flagging economy by throwing a lavish ball on Feb. 10, 1897 [source: Just Luxe].

Seven hundred of America's richest folks were invited to the grand affair, held at the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The hotel was transformed into a glittering space reminiscent of France's Palace of Versailles; the most popular costume for female guests was Marie Antoinette. Guests were invited to nosh on whatever they liked from the hotel's pricey menu [sources: Just Luxe, Ellis]. Attendees likely thought little of such extravagance; the New York World reported a dozen guests were worth more than $10 million each, while another 24 had $5 million fortunes. Only a fraction of the 700 guests weren't millionaires. The cost of this lavish soirée? A cool $369,200, or about $9 million when adjusted for inflation [source: Galante and Lubin].


Not surprisingly, the country was outraged at such extravagance coming on the heels of a 20-year depression. The backlash was so severe, the Martins fled to Great Britain. Today, their ball is considered the final hurrah of America's Gilded Age [source: Galante and Lubin].

7: Paul Poiret's Thousand and Second Night Party

Paul Poiret posing before airplane
Whether he was planning a wild and chic party or heading off for a quick airplane trip to London from Paris, Poiret was up for anything.
© Bettmann/CORBIS

Ever wonder when harem pants and lampshade dresses, two iconic garments of the 20th century, first made their appearance? It was June 24, 1911, at Paul Poiret's Thousand and Second Night Party. Poiret, a French couturier and rather crafty fellow, planned his private party for two reasons. First, simply to throw a party. Second -- and perhaps most importantly -- to stage a fashion show of his cutting-edge garments, with guests serving as models [source: Basye].

The 300 people Poiret invited had no idea this was his intent when their invitations specified they must dress in Persian-styled costumes, and that if they refused and appeared in other attire, they'd have to immediately leave or change into clothes he'd designed. They simply thought it was a fun idea. Poiret filled his guest closet with the new lampshade dresses and harem trousers he'd recently designed, which were considered rather scandalous attire at the time. Lampshade dresses were knee-length, triangular shifts wired at the hem and edged with fringe. Harem pants were blousy pantaloons. The two were often paired together [source: Basye].


The party was a hit. Guests loved the dress-wear dictum, and the party décor was similarly festive, featuring brightly lit trees with parrots sitting on their branches, pink ibis, multicolored cushions and a golden cage, in which lounged Poiret's wife, Denise. For his part, Poiret wore a fur-bordered caftan and jeweled turban, and greeted his guests from a green-and-gold throne. Even today, that would make for quite the entrance [source: Basye].

6: Mrs. Astor's Fifth Avenue Balls

Astor estate
The Astor estate at 840 Fifth Ave. It was built between 1891 and 1896.

Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor presided over America's high society in the latter half of the 19th century. Wealthy in her own right (her father was a prosperous merchant, and both parents came from colonial Dutch aristocracy), she became even richer in 1853, when she wed William Astor, grandson of John Jacob Astor [source: Brittanica].

The Astors built a multistory townhouse on New York City's tony Fifth Avenue, which became the site of numerous elaborate parties, including an annual ball. The couple limited their annual-ball guest list to 400, and members of New York's high society fought to be on that list [source: Just Luxe]. If you made the cut, you were always in for a treat.


Consider the Astors' annual ball of 1900, held Jan. 29. Guests began arriving for the affair at 10:30 p.m., decked out in their finest: velvet, satin, chiffon, diamond tiaras, strings of pearls. The evening began with dancing, followed by a dinner that included terrapin, pâté de foie gras en crouet, bonbons and champagne. Afterward, a cotillion was held in the home's ballroom, considered one of the most beautiful private ballrooms in America. The music was provided by Lander's Orchestra and the Hungarian Band [source: The History Box].

5: Victor Pinchuk's 50th Birthday Party

Victor Pinchuk and Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Party man Pinchuk (R) tends to business, not pleasure, as he and former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn (L) pose in the city of Kiev.
© Frolova Maria/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

You may never have heard of Victor Pinchuk, but the Ukrainian is a steel magnate, media mogul and billionaire who was named one of the world's most influential people by Time magazine in 2010 [source: Victor Pinchuk Foundation]. He's also infamous for throwing himself a $6.6 million birthday party when he turned the big 5-0 in December 2010 [source: Bost].

The party was held at Courchevel, a French Cirque du Soleil, flown in from Canada. Topping off the evening was a major fireworks display [source: Willsher].


Hopefully, Pinchuk and his guests had a good time. News of the pricey bash was splashed all over the media, outraging many French residents, who thought it was in poor taste given the dire economic conditions in the country at the time [source: Bost].

4: Czar Nicholas and Alexandra's 1903 Ball

Czar Nicholas II and his family
Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1917, right around the time of his abdication
© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Despite signs of a pending revolution, Russia's Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, threw a spectacular party in 1903 known as the Fancy Dress Ball. Held at their Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, it consisted of two events. First was a party on Feb. 11, featuring dinner and dancing, plus a concert in the Hermitage Theater. The second, and marquee, event was the actual Fancy Dress Ball, held Feb. 13 [source: Hermitage Museum].

Guests came adorned in opulent, bejeweled, 17th-century dress. At 10 p.m., everyone moved to the Concert Room for a warm-up dance of sorts, while the dinner was set up. Once dinner was ready, the guests ate, then returned to the Concert Hall. First, they were treated to three special dance performances. Next, the guests took to the dance floor to take part in waltzes, quadrilles and mazurkas. No wallflowers were allowed; young officers in the Russian Guards Regiments -- Horse-Guardsmen, Life-Guardsmen and Lancers -- were made available as male dance partners. To commemorate the event and to raise money for charity, Empress Alexandra commissioned St. Petersburg's finest photographers to take individual and group photos of participants, which were made available for purchase to guests [source: Hermitage Museum].


Later, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich proclaimed the Fancy Dress Ball the Romanov Empire's last spectacular ball. Today, it's considered a historically significant event in Russian history [sources: Just Luxe, Hermitage Museum].

3: Opening Night of 'Les Noces'

performance of Les Noces
A 2012 London staging of "Les Noces," the ballet that inspired perhaps one of the best parties of all time
© Robbie Jack/Robbie Jack/Corbis

Sara and Gerald Murphy were two wealthy American ex-pats living in Paris in the early 20th century. Art aficionados as well, they were friends with folks like Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Igor Stravinsky. In June 1923, they wanted to celebrate the premiere of Stravinsky's composition, "Les Noces," at the Ballets Russes and honor those involved. So they threw an all-nighter on a barge puttering along the Seine [sources: Schjeldahl, Richardson].

The party soon became one of the most famous of its time, perhaps because of its uniqueness and playfulness. Stravinsky switched the guests' place cards. One person read attendees' palms. Marcelle Meyer, a famed pianist, sat down at the piano and played Scarlatti. Sara Murphy had created pyramids of toys -- clowns, animals, cars, dolls -- as centerpieces for the tables. Picasso comically rearranged them into a traffic pile-up, placing a cow on a fireman's ladder on the very top. At dawn, two guests held out an enormous laurel wreath for Stravinsky to jump through. And everyone drank lots of champagne all evening. Afterward, Stravinsky proclaimed the party one of the best nights of his life. And it confirmed the Murphys as one of Paris' chicest couples [source: Richardson].


2: Woodstock

Woodstock music festival
Aug. 27, 1969: Folks head out from the epic party that was the Woodstock Music Festival (except for those two sleeping on the car).
© Bettmann/CORBIS

Any gathering of 500,000 equals one heck of a party, and that's what went down on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, NY, in 1969. Back then, four young men teamed up to put on the four-day Woodstock Music & Art Fair. Scheduled to begin August 15, the event was planned to showcase the music of 32 leading and emerging performers of the day -- people like Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and the Who [source: Woodstock].

The music festival looked like it would be a success beforehand; more than 100,000 tickets were sold in advance. But it exploded beyond everyone's expectations as the numbers of attendees quintupled, despite the fact that it poured rain much of the time, turning the farm into an enormous mud pit. Woodstock was a mostly peaceful party. But many of the attendees used recreational drugs, ran around naked and had sex out in the open, which helped propel the festival to its status as one of the iconic events of the turbulent, time-changing 1960s. It's also considered possibly the most pivotal moment in the history of music [sources: Motilo, Woodstock].


1: Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party wasn't a typical party by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure did shake things up.
© PoodlesRock/Corbis

If you thought all tea parties were formal affairs involving dainty porcelain cups, lace napkins and fancy cakes, think again. The most famous tea party of all -- the Boston Tea Party -- involved nothing of the sort. It was 1773 in Colonial America. Following several years of increasingly rotten treatment by the British, American colonists had had enough. They were especially worked up over tea. On May 10, 1773, the British reduced the tax its East India Company paid for importing tea into Britain and allowed the company to export directly to the colonies for the first time, enabling the company to sell tea at a lower price than smugglers from other nations. At the same, the British government upheld a tax colonists had to pay on imported tea. Then, in September, the East India Company shipped 500,000 pounds of their tea to the colonists [sources: Boston Tea Party Historical Society, History].

With the tea en route, colonists clamored for it to be sent back without any tax payment. As it began arriving, some American ports refused to accept the shipments. But the shipment was accepted in Boston, and the royal governor insisted the taxes be paid. So on the night of Dec. 16, 116 men -- including Sam Adams and Paul Revere -- dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded the three East India ships and chucked all 90,000 pounds of tea into the harbor. Then they fled [sources: Boston Tea Party Historical Society, History].

The three-hour raid destroyed an estimated £10,000 of tea, or about $1 million in today's money. While nothing changed for the colonists overnight, the Boston Tea Party was an important protest, and one of many events that led to the ultimate creation of the independent United States of America [sources: Boston Tea Party Historical Society, History].

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Author's Note: The 10 Most Amazing Parties of All Time

The most impressive party I've ever attended was President Ronald Reagan's inaugural ball in 1984. Or, more accurately, the most important party, as the event wasn't that impressive -- certainly nothing like the ones in this article. I was eligible to attend the Youth Ball, one of several parties held after the inauguration ceremony. The decorations and food were minimal, and President and Mrs. Reagan stopped in for just a dance or two, quickly departing to spend the bulk of their time at the more important balls attended by the nation's movers and shakers. But hey, at least I can brag that I attended a presidential inaugural ball.

Related Articles

  • Basye, Ali. "It Was the Most Lavish Party of the 20th Century." On This Day In Fashion. June 24, 2010. (Dec. 27, 2012)
  • Bost, Callie. "14 Of The Most Extravagant Birthday Parties." Business Insider. July 29, 2012. (Dec. 16, 2012)
  • Boston Tea Party Historical Society. "What was the Boston Tea Party?" (Dec. 27, 2012).
  • Britannica. "Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor." Dec. 26, 2012.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "CPI Inflation Calculator." Dec. 23, 2012.
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