What Recession? Most hot spots are booked for New Year's Eve

December 31, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

New Year's Eve 1991 in recession-stricken Baltimore: Got no money, oh, but honey, ain't we got fun.

Sure, lots of people are staying home to celebrate quietly -- and inexpensively. But the stay-at-homes don't seem to be cutting too far into business at Baltimore clubs and restaurants. Lots of Baltimoreans are willing to spend some bucks for dancing, champagne and party favors.

The Rusty Scupper downtown, Tio Pepe, the Prime Rib, Sabatino's -- all booked solid, unless you want to eat New Year's Eve dinner at 5 p.m.

The Hyatt Regency Hotel, Hammerjack's, even smaller places like the New Haven Lounge in the Northwood Plaza -- all say bookings are a little slower than a year ago, but they still expect sell-outs.

What about the recession we've heard about incessantly since Thanksgiving, as observers of the economy monitor holiday sales?

"I think people save for special occasions," said Wayne Resnick, president of Martin's Caterers. "It's still a special night for people."

Martin's has eight locations, and not every one is sold out, Mr. Resnick said. But Martin's West, the mammoth banquet hall on the Beltway, is. For $55 a person ($52 for groups of 10), 1,500 people will have a buffet dinner featuring prime rib, a dessert buffet, an open bar for five hours and live music.

Mr. Resnick acknowledges that the slow economy has had some effect. Last year, New Year's Eve reservations at Martin's West sold out a week early. This year, they sold out on Friday.

At the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which overlooks the Inner Harbor, $40 will buy you two drinks, a champagne toast at midnight and the music of three bands.

For $224, which includes two party tickets, you can rent a hotel room to collapse in after the music stops at 2 a.m. But the only rooms left, about 50, have a view not of the harbor but the lights of the city stretching out to the west. The harbor-view rooms, for $295 each, are all booked, said Scott Dignan, the hotel's assistant manager.

"We're doing just as well as last year," Mr. Dignan said. "Party tickets are a little bit above last year." Last year, 1,500 to 1,700 people danced the new year in at the Hyatt. "We're going to do that many again," Mr. Dignan added.

At the Rusty Scupper, with its view of the harbor, reservations "are very similar to last year, if not better," said Jennifer Trentham, the function coordinator. "We're completely booked up from 5 to 11:30."

The restaurant can seat 250 people. Tonight, it will set up tables in bar areas to accommodate more.

"I can't say the economy has affected us much," Ms. Trentham said.

At Tio Pepe, where the host might be able to find you a seat at 5 p.m., the holiday menu will include such extravagances as caviar, beef Wellington and braised pheasant. "Quality food," said Miguel Sanz, the owner. Without any special advertising, the restaurant, which seats about 200, will be booked all night.

At the Prime Rib, Ted Paszula said yesterday he could find a few tables open at 5 p.m. "We've been pretty lucky," he said. "Business has been consistent."

Forget Sabatino's in Little Italy. They're "booked solid" until 11 at the earliest, said Toni Bacon, the manager.

In Northwood, Keith Covington,the owner and manager of the New Haven Lounge, said his club isn't filled up yet, "so apparently the economy is having an effect."

For $20 a person, or $35 a couple, guests can dance to the Rhumba Club, a Latin jazz band, until 3 a.m., when a disc jockey will take over to play records. The club will have a dinner buffet at midnight and a breakfast buffet later, and everyone will have a bottle of champagne.

Last year, the club sold out New Year's Eve at the door. "We've been getting a lot of phone calls asking what's going on and how do we get there, so I think we'll sell out at the door again," Mr. Covington said.

Even a Federal Hill charity event, a fund-raiser for the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter Inc. at the Museum of Industry on Key Highway, is sold out.

"I have had 80 million people call me today looking for tickets," said Peggy Stansbury, a volunteer who's helping organize the event. But all 550 tickets, at $35 each, have been bought, and yesterday Mrs. Stansbury was putting people on a waiting list in case she could find a way to open another room or rent a tent for the overflow crowd.

"I thought we'd get a good response, but I didn't think we'd sell out just because of the way things are. We'll make $10,000 for the shelter, which is great. We really need the money."

But this New Year's Eve stuff is unpredictable.

Take Volcano's on Greenmount Avenue. Thursday night, 600 people came to the disco. Friday night, 300, and Saturday about the same, said Lee Cross, the operating partner.

Last year and the year before, 500 people came to the New Year's Eve party. But as of yesterday afternoon, the number of reserva

tions stood at 12, Mr. Cross said.

"It's definitely the economy," he said. "People are hanging on to their money a little longer. I just think that people are waiting until the last minute to make a decision."

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