The Birthday Bash Bible
Whom to call when you don't want to entertain 20 six-year-olds (and clean up afterwards).
Keeping Up with the Kimberlys and Kyles
Small Guests, Big Party
It’s never too early to suffer social envy. And while your little one may not be able to even blow out his own candles yet, he somehow can measure the relative success of every kid’s soirée. And—don’t you know it?—his best friend Sammy’s bash was bigger and better than the one you threw for him.
To avoid hefty psychotherapy bills down the road, call in the party pros the next time Sammy and the gang are invited to celebrate. Here, we supply the info you’ll need to make Sammy and friends green with envy (and, perhaps more important, the parents of Sammy and the gang green, too)…
By H.M. Epstein
Throwing a birthday party for your child can be as easy as choosing a piñata and as difficult as making a trip to the emergency room when the piñata stick hits a three-year-old guest in the eye. It can be as inexpensive as a sleepover for five with pizza and borrowed DVDs or as costly as bringing in a multi-act show from the Big Apple Circus. You can spend months planning a full-featured party on your own or hire an expert who will handle all the details from invitations to thank-you notes. The good news is that a slew of people and places in the county is dedicated to making your little one’s birthday celebration a memorable occasion; all you’ve got to do is sign your name on a check.
If the sky’s the limit, hire a full-service party planner.
For one lucky 11-year-old girl in Purchase, and approximately 50 of her friends, Hollywood Pop Kids, the children’s division of a prominent party-planning company in Manhattan and Greenwich, created a Wild West extravaganza last year, including a Buffalo Bill-style show featuring live horse tricks, rope and whip tricks, and dart throwing. There were stagecoach and horse rides, a country band with fiddlers, authentic line dancing with cowboy and cowgirl dancers, a petting zoo, even a cow-milking contest. Walkabouts included Native Americans in traditional garb, cowboy jugglers, and stilt walkers. Finally, there were carnival rides and games such as an inflatable bull and a dunk tank with a Western prisoner inside. “Some other unique theme parties we do for children,” says Christine Gavin, the company’s director of children’s events, “are Candyland with the board-game characters, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and a Safari adventure featuring live exotic animals.”
Hollywood Pop Gallery
Cost: The Western Extravaganza would start at $50,000,
but not all its parties require such a large budget. The company can create a “single-character” party (one clown, one magician) for a lot less.
What’s included: Each party is custom-planned and -priced.
It is, of course, possible to throw a catered, themed birthday event for four figures instead of five. Life of the Party Productions is an Armonk-based party-planning company for children and adults run by two former TV broadcast producers who met while working at VH1. Lisa Ehrlich Rapkin, who had worked on “Late Night with David Letterman,” and Emily Schmalholz, who had worked for CBS, wanted to use their entertainment-industry backgrounds and still get to see their growing children. “The elements of a great party and a great TV show are the same,” says Rapkin. “But,” Schmalholz adds, “the flow is more important in a children’s party. You have to keep it moving in an organized way.”
The company recently completed a ’70s disco-theme birthday party for a nine-year-old girl and 30 of her friends at the Bedford Historical Society Hall. It transformed the all-white-and-light-wood 19th-century landmark into a pink-and-silver nightclub, with disco ball-beaded curtains lining each column and pink and silver balloons filling the ceiling with story-long shimmering silver streamers flowing down. There was even a pink “metallic” cake covered with silver buttons to resemble a mirrored disco ball.
Life of the Party Productions, LLC.
40 Bedford Rd., Armonk
Cost: The Disco, complete with DJ, dancer, and food, came in at under $5,000.
What’s included: Each party is custom-planned and -priced.
Full-Service Party Spaces
If your budget is more in the three-figure range, these party spaces will create a 90-minute birthday experience for your child with staff equipped to entertain, handle most of the details, and all of the cleanup.
Kiddie Parties owner Millie Bass runs a 2,000-square-foot magical storefront operation that is one part fairyland, one part heaven-sent, and one part marine-level efficient. At the front entrance, behind a white-picket fence, there is a child-scale Victorian-cottage playhouse. In the center are wall murals of circus animals and fields with a Mary Poppins-style café for parents to relax and watch the show, and a faux-painted circus tent leads to the craft and dining area in the back. Street-vendor-style popcorn and cotton-candy makers are available, as are a bear- or buddy-stuffing machine (with a wide array of whimsical costumes to dress the bears and buddies in), a stack of hula-hoops, and a karaoke setup complete with a large flat-screen monitor.
If your child chooses a garden-tea-party or Victorian-princess theme, you’ll find tables set with real Wedgwood china. Choose pirate adventures or knights, and your son will wear an eye patch or knight’s helmet with swashbuckling flair. According to Bass, in the two years since Kiddie Parties opened, over one-third of its clients have
hosted a second party there. No wonder it was chosen Best of Westchester this year.
174 Harris Rd., Bedford Hills
Cost: Starts at $349 (weekdays) or $399 (weekends) for 12 children, $18 for each additional child. (The highest-priced party so far cost $1,500 for 23 kids and 30 adults, including food for all.)
What’s included: An age-appropriate craft activity, all paper goods, pizza and cupcakes, blank invitations, and thank-you notes. For a fee, they will even address and mail the invitations.
Monique’s, the Place to Jump, Jam, and Party in Mount Kisco, is famous for its vault of props that instantly transform the 1,400-square-foot space into your theme of choice. Whether Monique Banks is creating a beach, a sports arena, a disco, or a slumber party, her philosophy remains the same: “Every child is made to feel very special.” Like Millie Bass of Kiddie Parties, Banks believes in creating a non-competitive atmosphere and in using pacing to keep guests happy and involved.
Monique’s, The Place To Jump, Jam, and Party
145 Kisco Ave., Mount Kisco
Cost: $595 for 18 children, $25 for each additional child.
What’s included: Goody bags, invitations, paper goods, snacks, a cookie cake, and drinks.
Started more than 30 years ago, Tumble Bugs is a family-owned gymnastics center that offers birthday parties catered primarily to younger children, ages 1 to 8. Its large, Crayola-colored and brightly carpeted space is cheerful and open for lots of fun tumbling play.
826 Scarsdale Ave., Scarsdale
55 Westchester Ave., Pound Ridge
(additional locations in
Cost: Tumble Bugs parties start at $399 for 20 kids, $20 for each additional child.
What’s included: Age-appropriate gymnastics instruction, music, pizza, juice, paper goods, and a balloon for each child. Parents are responsible for goody bags and cake. If desired, parents may also bring in additional entertainers of their choice.
In Mamaroneck, Dance Cavise is a 10,000-square-foot dance studio with two walls of mirrors, run by manager Jamie Himpel. Dance Cavise hosts only one 90-minute party at a time. After a warm-up and dance instruction, the children create a show starring the birthday child.
273 Halstead Ave., Mamaroneck
Cost: $350 for up to 15 children; $10 for each additional child.
What’s included: The space, a dance teacher, decorations, and music. Parents are responsible for food, paper goods, and invitations.
Kids Rock! Parties does not have its own party space, but no matter—it brings dance instruction to the party location. Ardsley-based owner and head dance instructor Barbara Angeline is a former instructor at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and a former Radio City Music Hall dance captain who performed in the Music Hall’s Easter and Christmas shows. According to Scarsdale resident Leslie Hendel, who also has a background in dance, Angeline is “the real McCoy.” She recently hired Kids Rock! to run a music video party for her daughter’s eighth birthday. It began with a warm-up, then Angeline custom-choreographed the birthday child’s choice of up-tempo pop and taught the guests the dance moves. The children were also treated to hair extensions, make-up, temporary tattoos, and nail polish for the girls (Angeline offers bandannas and temporary tattoos for boys). “My daughter loved it,” Hendel reports. “They all had a great time.” Every child had a small solo, which Hendel said was a brilliant solution to the small-space problem.
KIDS ROCK! Parties
Ardsley (917) 400-7252.
Cost: Each party is custom planned and priced.
What’s included: 90 minutes of entertainment and all props. Food, paper goods, and invitations are the parents’ responsibility.
À La Carte
There are literally hundreds of companies and individuals offering to send clowns, costumed characters, live or recorded music, science projects, petting zoos, arts and crafts activities, pony rides, carnival rides, and games to your home. The best way to judge if a company or entertainer is reliable and fun is to ask friends with children for recommendations, to call the company and ask how many years they’ve been in business, to check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if any recent complaints have been received, and to ask for proof of current liability insurance. Some of the best à la carte offerings:
Dave’s Cast of Characters specializes in great look-alikes and dependable costumed characters. According to owner Dave Zucker, who started his business in 1988, “More than 40 professional actors and actresses work for us to make the characters come to life.” He notes that the company owns all the costumes because “rental costumes can start to look very shabby.” Understudies are on call in case of emergencies and there’s a manager in the office all weekend to handle any issue that may crop up. The company provides look-alikes of most of the most popular children’s characters from TV and film. Dave’s also does full carnival birthday parties with inflatable rides, carnival games, waterslides, popcorn, cotton candy, etc.
Dave’s Cast of Characters
(914) 235-7100. www.davescast.com
Cost: Pricing depends on the number of characters and the length of the party. Call for more information.
The best characters may be real-life celebrities. According to Don Epstein, president of Greater Talent Network, a firm that specializes in representing celebrities in the worlds of sports, entertainment, music, business, and politics, it is possible to get almost any public personality to attend your child’s birthday party for the right fee, which is usually steep. Life of the Party’s Rapkin offers a lower-cost solution if you just have to get a birthday greeting from your child’s favorite athlete, singer, or actor: get them on video as part of a broadcast-quality birthday production that includes interviews with friends and family members, as well as music and photo montages. Epstein agrees that a videotaped greeting would be significantly less expensive and last a lifetime.
Greater Talent Network
(800) 326-4211 or (212) 645-4200
Cost: Depending on the celebrity’s popularity and availability, fees can range from $5,000 to more $200,000 for a brief appearance.
H.M. Epstein now has all the information she needs to plan her son’s next birthday bash.