Mandarin Madness!

The AOL Time Warner Center—oops, make that the Time Warner Center—has been derided as a last-gasp symbol of late-nineties synergistic excess (albeit one with great views and some promising-sounding restaurants). But excess may just have the last laugh.

Starting October 29, the center’s Mandarin Oriental hotel will be host to some of Manhattan’s most lavish events. Renting the ballroom alone costs $100,000, then you must add on anything from $200 to $500 a head. But such prices aren’t deterring future brides or bar mitzvah moms, much to the chagrin of competing venues like the Metropolitan Club.

Antiques dealer Marla Helene was so excited about having her son’s December bar mitzvah at the Mandarin that she was willing to whisper sayonara to part of a “five-figure” deposit at the Metropolitan Club, which she’d booked three years ago. “I was dead set on it,” she says, “but this is the new hot commodity!”

The bar mitzvah for 350—with an elaborate Asian theme inspired by her son Jared’s second-degree black belt in karate—will definitely cost more. “We’re going to have geisha girls as greeters and a twelve-foot dragon,” says Helene. (It “was too big for us,” says a Metropolitan Club mouthpiece.)

The Mandarin’s event coordinator, Arthur Backal, who spent more than a decade at the St. Regis and the Pierre, says he’s already booked 44 weddings and 16 bar mitzvahs.

Tara Ford, a directors’ agent whose December wedding to hedge-funder Greg Spiegel will be the Mandarin’s first, always imagined getting married at the Metropolitan Club—“walking down the stairs, the whole thing”— but was lured to the Mandarin by Backal. Her fingers are crossed. When she and Spiegel checked out the site last July, they had to wear hard hats. Then they had to walk down from the 36th floor. “We’re really hoping it’s going to be ready,” she says nervously.

Marla Helene had that very fear, which her friends, in a case of premature Schadenfreude, loved to perpetuate. “Every day, someone would drive by and give me a report on the construction site,” she says, still confident enough to send out save-the-date notes hidden in chopsticks. “I hope they don’t think I’m crazy anymore!”

Mandarin Madness!