Eggnog and Latkes With Hearst, ‘Vogue,’ and the Sunshine Flacks

Silver bells, silver bells. That's right, kids: It's Christmas time in the city. And what does that mean? Company holiday parties. Lots of 'em, booze-filled, cheesily themed, and often resulting in embarrassed avoidance at the office for a few weeks. This is the week holiday-party season kicks into high gear, and we're introducing our Office-Party Patrol, in which dedicated partygoer Julia Allison will crash company Christmas parties on your behalf (or just ask question from outside, when security is too tight) and let you know what you're missing. In today's premier installment, we take you to the Hearst party, the Vogue party, and the Ken Sunshine PR party — and we rank each one for food, drink, venue, debauchery, and exclusivity. Which was most exclusive? Vogue, of course. Drunkest? Read on to find out.

• For the last decade, Hearst Magazines has crowded its staffers into Tavern on the Green for their holiday shindig. So this year the employees seemed enthusiastic about staying "Home for the Holidays," the oh-so-clever name for last night's fête, held in the company's brand-new office tower. The three-story lobby waterfall was glowing with festive red lights as we entered, with D.J.-provided music thumping. But we couldn't go any further, because holiday cheer was apparently only for those with a Hearst I.D. and one of the small, round white snowflake pins passed out the day before. Here's what we learned from spies: The marathon four-hour celebration started at 4:30, taking over three floors of the Norman Foster–designed building — 44, the Picasso-laden executive floor; 29, the Good Housekeeping Institute; and the mezzanine, which typically houses the stark, white cafeteria but last night was in party mode, completely encircled by bars. Food was passed by hordes of waiters ("No lines," crowed one exiting employee), but some missed the buffets of yesteryear. "Hearst is a WASPy company," said an assistant we won't name. "Plenty of alcohol, not enough food." Did anything crazy happen? "I'm not going to tell you anything gossipy, but no one's going nuts," CosmoGirl news and features director Michelle Ribeiro reported. One possible exception: Several people reported spotting Helen Gurley Brown burning up the dance floor. ("She really goes at it," one Hearstie said.) Kevin Schaub, Hearst International's office manager labeled the party a 9 "for a work party." He explained: "To get a 10, there had to be a waterslide or a rollercoaster." Hearst Magazines chief Cathie Black came rushing out at 7:45 with an armload of shopping bags. "My favorite part was seeing the amazing gingerbread shaped like our new building," she told us. "It took the baker 70 hours to make it."
Verdict: Food: 4; drink: 5; venue: 4.5; debauchery: 1; exclusivity: 3.5

• Several avenues east at the Grand, Vogue's annual celebration was, in the words of one guest, "very minimalistic [sic]." Next to a tree with only white lights, Vogue, Teen Vogue, and Men's Vogue employees — and just a few very select guests, like photographer Patrick Demarchelier — crowded into the dark bar. There was no dancing, despite seventies and eighties tunes ("happy music," the D.J. said). And to add to the holiday cheer, three sign-wielding PETA protesters stationed themselves outside. (Perhaps for naught: Vogueettes leaving the party, whether for a cigarette or to jump into one of the dozen idling Town Cars, didn't even break stride.) "Everyone was dressed festively," said one guest on his way out. He was covered completely in shades of gray, the women were in ubiquitous black tights, and no one looked festive in the least. "The only way to describe it is very elegant and sober," a guest told us. "The right people. All the editors have to come." No female Vogue staffer would deign to comment — "out of respect to Vogue, we can't talk," one tersely explained — and most just brushed by without even acknowledging our presence. But we wanted to know: Were they really forced to attend? "We don't have to come, we want to come," one skittish cig-puffing editor screeched, shifting her gaze nervously and clamming up. "Tons" of champagne was served, plus "two or three open bars" and Asian-fusion food. And remarkably, according to the caterer, guests were actually eating it. But not guest Tom Munro, a fashion photographer. "They had canapés — is that how you say it? — but I didn't have any," he said. "Please, I'm in fashion!" Indeed.
Verdict: Food: 2.5; drink: 4; venue: 3; debauchery: 1; exclusivity: 4.5

• Meanwhile, downtown, the PR gurus of Ken Sunshine Consultants took over the new club Room Service on East 21st Street with a not-just-for-employees crowd of more than 350 people — and just as many Godiva chocolates. We were actually welcomed inside this one, where we spotted Richard Johnson, Jimmy Fallon, Mark Ecko, and David Dinkins. Shawn Sachs, a Sunshine VP, explained that the party was "purposely inclusive." "It's not a very traditional way to have a holiday party," he said. But who needs an employees-only event? We hang out with each other all day long." Ken Sunshine was there, greeting guests with his 12-year-old daughter in tow. Liquor abounded, distributed copiously by both a bar and wait staff, and the cuisine was comfort food: on-the-bone chicken and fried balls of macaroni and cheese. ("They don't taste bad, but they're just embarrassing to eat," one guest griped.) We found Katie Couric laughing with friends in banquette, but she wouldn't comment: "I'm not working," she said with a scary smile. (Honey, for $13 million a year, you're always working.) Actress Rose McGowan, fresh from wrapping a movie, was happy to talk. "This is the first holiday party I've been to this year," she said. "I actually wore a red shirt, not on purpose, and when I realized it matched the holiday, I kept my coat on." And tireless Queens councilman Eric Gioia, flanked by his chief of staff, beamed amiably. "I had four parties tonight," he admitted. Was this the craziest? "Well, I haven't seen anyone doing beer slides, so I'm not ready to call the police commissioner yet!" Ah, city-government humor. But one magazine editor had a complaint. "It seems like it's all hangers-on," he said. "But it's a PR party — what do you expect?"
Verdict: Food: 1.5; drink: 4; venue: 2; debauchery: 3.5; exclusivity: 3