Overbooked calendars, unprecedented credit-card debt, egg-nog dry-cleaning bills – for the urban professional, the holiday season is fraught with perils. But perhaps none is so fearsome as that abyss of temptation and vice, the annual office holiday party. Whether the setting is a dusty corporate ballroom or a meatpacking-district nightclub, the combination of free booze, overworked nerves, and unexplored flirtations guarantees an evening worthy of sexual-harassment proceedings, an Al-Anon intervention, or at least a mortifying recap at the water cooler.
“There was one party, years ago, when the editor-in-chief ended up in the bathroom with a young staffer,” recalls a men’s-magazine editor. Precautions were taken against a similar occurrence when an advertising agency known for its automobile accounts held court at a Latin dance club. “They had to guard the CEO from making an ass out of himself,” says a media planner. “At an earlier party, he had sex with a secretary.”
It’s not always management stirring up trouble. “At Coco Opera,” remembers another ad executive, “a friend of mine dirty-danced with the CEO but didn’t even remember. They hadn’t been introduced before, and he was all over her.” “We lit up a joint,” confesses a media writer of a recent holiday soirée. “The security guard threw ten of us out of our own Christmas party.” A prominent gym chain’s event devolved into a debauched scene of trainers drinking and taking bong hits. “The elevator was broken,” recalls a reveler, “and everyone was bitching about having to climb the stairs.”
A former Balthazar bartender says he heard thatpunches were thrown after a few too many vodka shots at a Yuletide fête Keith McNally held for his staff at Pravda. Even a goodwill game of Secret Santa can get dicey: At Time Out New York, a fight almost broke out when one gentleman presented a male colleague with a chocolate penis. And after a Condé Nast magazine’s party at the SoHo Grand, “one guy peed on the red carpet,” recalls a co-worker. “Right out in front of everybody.” At a film company, says one employee, “someone always vomits and has to get carried out.”
Some parties, of course, are as G-rated as you’d expect. “We just stood around eating cheese,” recalls a former editor at the New York Times. “Then a ripple went through the crowd. Everyone was like, ’Ooooh. Max Frankel’s here!’ “
Instead of letting guests get peacefully pickled, some companies turn the attendees into the entertainment. At Corcoran’s bash last year at Chelsea Piers, black-tie guests were treated to a musical in which brokers masqueraded as desperate families going in front of a co-op board. At the Manhattan district attorney’s office, rookie assistant D.A.’s must perform sketches based on recent cases. Last year, “one guy was dressed up in a blonde wig and falsies,” recalls a colleague.
At Martha Stewart’s company, cross-dressing isn’t on the to-do list. Last year, after being greeted with a wall of pine trees, employees were plied with salmon from Russ & Daughters and tarts from City Bakery. Corporate beneficence, however, can backfire. When Rupert Murdoch threw an extravaganza on the Intrepid, employees focused on the price tag instead. “That marching band earned more than my salary!” grouses one former staff member. “I was walking around hoarding lady apples and hunks of cheese in my pockets,” remembers another. “But I ended up puking it all up on my bed.”