Alison Price Becker's Jazz-Inspired Party
by JESSICA MEZZACAPPA
What makes a party truly memorable? Fantastic food, excellent cocktails, and a beautiful setting to be sure, but in the Hamptons these qualities are often par for the course. What truly sets an event apart is a host’s ability to create a fun yet relaxed energy that lets guests unwind and be themselves. It’s an almost magical skill that my friend Alison Price Becker has perfected, particularly at her Manhattan restaurant, Alison Eighteen. “At Alison Eighteen, I am at the front, greeting, and in the dining room making sure everyone’s happy and well fed,” says the restaurateur. “A dinner party is not that different; the base of entertaining is hospitality, and that is at the core of any restaurant as well.”
Recently Alison hosted a fascinating group of East Enders for a Jazz Age-inspired event at her rambling home in Southampton. Early in the evening guests dot the lawn; the period-appropriate Boardwalk Empire soundtrack plays in the background (Alison’s mother, Pat Birch, is the show’s choreographer). The Becker family has a great many accomplished friends in the arts, which makes for interesting, colorful conversation, particularly as the cocktails created by mixologist Yusef Austin start to flow.
As dusk settles we meander to the dinner buffet to fill our plates with roast lamb, roasted vegetables, Waldorf salad, and potatoes à la hollandaise sauce; the ingredients—zucchini, eggplant, spring onions, garlic, scallions, red and yellow cherry tomatoes—are sourced mostly from Alison’s favorite farm stand, Halsey’s Green Thumb Organic Farm. “Cooking for a crowd is simply more food and larger pots,” says Alison. “Stay away from dishes that require too many steps. I like roasting almost everything—into the pan, toss with olive oil, perhaps some citrus and herbs, and it all goes into the oven and comes out done. For dessert, simplicity rules, too. Your guests are there to have a good time, and if you’re fretting with furrowed brow, that’s not going to happen. And keep your sense of humor—there’s always pasta if all else fails.”
Seating is always a wild card, and at Alison’s, this is often where the real fun begins. There was an altercation with a gent who took issue with a woman’s self-description of “mostly vegetarian” that was very amusing for the rest of us. Later a famous artist and a young Texan had a delightfully spirited discussion when they discovered their differences in political views. And a young man tried to cajole a phone number out of a happily married lady 20 years his senior.
As the dinner seating arrangements gave way to table hopping and mingling, a group formed out on the vast lawn; couples gazed up at the sky and then rejoined the clusters chatting on the porch. “My parents have had this house since 1965,” says Alison. “Hands-down the back porch is one of my favorite places in the world. To sit and listen to the ocean, feel the breeze, especially late at night when the sky is filled with stars and the night is silent—it’s a special place. Every dinner I have had on the porch has been a success; there’s a magic about it.”
Much later, as we nibbled on cookies and other chocolatey goodness, the party quieted a bit and narrowed to one fairly boisterous crowd hanging out on the porch. A dog unobtrusively grabbed a little something from the edge of the low table. Alison brought around a tray of deviled eggs, which were devoured immediately (had it been that long since dinner?). One dapperly dressed guy napped on a sofa, waiting for his wife to have had enough of the conversation. “The way I do my parties—they are informal,” says Alison. “Who comes, comes; others flow in and out. I get to see friends I haven’t seen in a while, and I get to meet new friends, as houseguests are always welcome.”
A barrel-chested fellow slowly paddled across the well-lit pool in his birthday suit and no one seemed to mind. Someone asked the time. 3:30?! We had no idea it was so late...early.
photography by eric striffler