Press  •  December 2012

October , 2012

Food & Wine

A Party Planner’s Best Tips

Salty-sweet snacks and a clever Bloody Mary bar are the key elements to a holiday cocktail party with A-list party planner Bronson van Wyck.

By Sa lma Abdelnour

Bronson van wyck didn’t become one of the New York City society and fashion world’s most in-demand event planners just by throwing spectacular parties and creating buzz for his clients—a blur of names like Chanel, Ferragamo, Sean Combs and Bill Clinton. He did it by dreaming up experiences that keep people talking for years: For Ferragamo, he filled a room with naked models; for a High Line park benefit, he seated donors near a giant electronic replica of a rising and setting sun. But “for the holidays, you go back to tradition,” he says. It helps that tradition, for van Wyck, is a constant source of inspiration. 

Raised on an Arkansas farm by a Southern mother and a New England–bred father, the 38-year-old, a descendant of 1800s NYC mayor Robert Anderson Van Wyck, describes his youth as “Balmoral meets the American South”—a mix of British blue blood and rural Dixie. In his world, tradition might mean draping a table in the tartan plaid of his mother’s Scottish clan and stringing up garlands of magnolia leaves.

Van Wyck has a knack for using his life experience as a source of ideas and new traditions. As a teenager, he’d watch relatives gather for dinner parties, the adults mixing Bloody Marys to their own idiosyncratic tastes. A post-college stint working for socialite and former US ambassador to France Pamela Harriman—who threw A-list bashes on a grand scale—enhanced his love of entertaining. And a little more than a decade ago, he and his mother, Mary Lynn, set up the firm Van Wyck & Van Wyck in New York City, planning big-ticket events and decorating private homes for the holidays. 

Now he’s taking his bespoke holiday-design skills public, launching a pop-up shop in Manhattan that runs until January. It sells custom-fit decorations like wreaths and magnolia garlands, monogrammed tartan tablecloths, vintage ornaments and his new line of cocktail mixes and salad dressings. 

To debut his Bloody Mary mix and Caesar dressing, van Wyck recently threw a holiday party at an old friend’s historic house in Long Island, New York. The menu had some of his favorite party snacks and drinks and a laid-back, intimate vibe—a departure from his usual attention-getting extravaganzas. For a big Caesar salad served in a Parmesan wheel—inspired by the parties a Yale classmate’s mother used to throw—he encouraged everyone to scoop it onto pieces of garlicky char-grilled toasts. “I didn’t want anyone to need a fork,” he says. Candied bacon strips and spiced nuts (recipes, p. 126) were just salty enough to lure guests to his mix-your-own Bloody Mary bar, with ice cubes made from cucumber-basil and tomato-chile purees (recipes, p. 122). Even though his guests didn’t travel far, van Wyck acted as if they had, just as his parents used to when friends would drive to their farm to spend a weekend. “Hospitality in its truest form was always about giving respite to travelers,” says van Wyck. “If people have traveled to see you, you want to make it worth theirwhile”—even if it’s just a few miles up the road.