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2014's best parties begin with Pittsburgh Public Theater's 'British Invasion'

| Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

1. Pittsburgh Public Theater Gala: A British Invasion

May 16

For some, it was the sight of Pittsburgh Public Theater artistic director Ted Pappas leading a conga line of the Queen's Guard through the ballroom of the Westin Convention Center hotel and a dance floor that stayed full for most of the night thanks to Cityscape. For others, it was a tall, dark and handsome bloke portraying James Bond that sealed the deal. “I'll fight you for him,” said Gerri Weiss.

After a mouth-watering dinner of sesame soy-glazed Arctic char, KDKA's Ken Rice led the charge for what was promised to be “the quickest live auction known to man.” Without missing a beat, he and Pappas remained true to their word as they dished out the unofficial entertainment. “I'll come naked, and Ken will do the news without a shirt ... if you go to $5K, I'll keep my clothes on,” said Pappas as they auctioned off an in-home dining experience with executive chef Douglass Dick.

2. Warhol Museum: 20th Anniversary Gala

May 17

The taunting began about a week in advance, ushered in by the presence of an enormous white tent that occupied the parking lot of the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side.

As to what kind of debauchery would be unfolding within those pristine confines, that was up to the 600-plus who had snatched up every last ticket months in advance.

“It sold out before the invites went out,” Peggy McKnight said. “We had a huge wait list.” The festivities kicked off at a respectable hour, peaked at midnight, were still going strong into the wee hours of the morning, and raised a whopping $1 million. “I know how to throw a party!” said museum director Eric Shiner.

3. Pittsburgh Cultural Trust: Jazz Tapestry Gala

Sept. 6

Once guests finally settled into the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown, French jazz artist Cyrille Aimee effortlessly charmed the house with a ridiculously delightful performance that garnered a resounding standing O.

From there, the masses were led to tents set up on the corner of Penn and Seventh avenues. Between the enchanting atmosphere created by Nancy Byrnes, impeccable service from the Duquesne Club and after-hours entertainment by Etta Cox, the only thing people were in a rush to do was stick around a little longer.

4. Save the Carrie Deer: Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp.

Aug. 16

Following a winding, long-forgotten dirt road to a relic of Pittsburgh history seemed an unlikely route to follow for a Saturday-night cocktail party. But on this night, the mainstream and underground converged at the abandoned Carrie Blast Furnaces in Rankin for a fundraising campaign that had generated rock-star buzz for months.

It was there that a 40-foot-tall, 17-year-old sculpture created by artists George Davis, Liz Hammond, Tim Kaulen, John Latell, Mike McFadden, Joe Small, Tim Yohman and Bob Ziller was being celebrated — the focus of a monumental restoration effort spearheaded by the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp.

Under the night sky, in the shadow of the partially illuminated furnaces, it was hard to find anyone who hadn't fallen in love. “This is just a wonderful treasure that the city has — it's incredible,” said Emmett Brown.

5. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre: Pointe in Time Ball

Nov. 1

Anticipation had been running high for 500-plus guests who had their hopes set on a fairy tale evening, a promise that came delivered via a flawlessly executed event that ushered the record-setting crowd out of reality and into a decadent fantasy land.

Inside the ballroom of the Westin, event producer Martin Potoczny of Luxe Lighting + Atmospheres had created a hauntingly romantic scene using moody reds and lush blooms from Mt. Lebanon Floral to embrace the “Beauty and the Beast” theme.

As the champagne began to flow, four courses of mouth-watering delectables were served by a staff who seemed intent on catering to every whim while Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company dancers owned the spotlight with passionate teasers that had everyone swooning.

With City Heat Band successfully warming up the dance floor, the evening had just kicked into high gear when the reviews began pouring in. “This is one of the best parties of the year,” said Jim Taylor.

6. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: For Your Eyes Only Gala

Sept. 13

When tongues are still wagging three months after the fact, suffice to say you lived up to your theme.

On this night, Pittsburgh Symphony Maestro Manfred Honeck officially kicked off the season by nixing a warm-up in favor of going full tilt, effervescently welcoming a full house to Heinz Hall with an impassioned performance of “Finlandia,” by Jean Sibelius. Then, world-renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was showered with a standing ovation that called for her return to the stage four times.

But it was the after-party soiree at the Fairmont Pittsburgh with a stage full of burlesque dancers from Red City Live Entertainment that unveiled itself — literally and figuratively — with a stripped-down performance that left jaws on the floor. “It's not your grandmother's symphony!” laughed Tim McVay.

7. Pittsburgh Botanic Garden: From Garden to Table Dinner

Sept. 21

The only problem the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden faced after hosting its inaugural From Garden to Table Dinner was figuring out how they could possibly make people wait an entire year for the next one.

The evening began in the painstakingly restored 19th-century barn known as the “front door” to the 460-acre property in Oakdale, which for decades had been plagued with pollution from an abandoned strip mine. “This is the greatest possible reward for years and years of hard work,” prez Greg Nace said.

When the dinner bell rang, chefs Justin Severino, Stephen Felder, Derek Stevens, Brian Pekarcik and Keith Fuller escorted everyone out of reality and into a food utopia that began with a sweet potato soup and ended with a rose panna cotta.

8. Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix: Tune Up

July 16

The summer staple underwent a brilliant transformation this year thanks to a decision to move the festivities from its former location Downtown to the area in front of Atria's at PNC Park on the North Side. There, the streets had been closed off, including the Sixth Street Bridge, much to the delight of a crowd that swelled by the minute.

But the highlight came well after the crowd had officially cleared when Grand Prix executive director Dan DelBianco was spied catching some air as he floored the highly coveted, 2015 Jaguar F-Type with the Union Jack paint job across the bridge.

Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media and can be reached at kbenz@tribweb.com, 412-380-8515 or via Twitter @KateBenzTRIB.

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