How can you make your holiday soiree the most enviable invite in town? Andrea Goto gets three noted hosts to dish on exactly what you need to get that party started. Photography by JASON B. JAMES.
Steeped in Southern charm and unrivaled hospitality, it’s no surprise that Savannah holds the title as “Hostess City of the South.” But let’s not forget whom we have to thank for this designation—the people who graciously open their homes, polish their silver, and devil their eggs, all in the name of fellowship.
We brought together three first-rate hosts to an intimate balcony seat at Savannah’s most notable “house”—The Olde Pink House—warmed them up with spicy jalapeno margaritas, tart greyhounds and decadent oysters on the half shell; and got them to spill their secrets to throwing a party even the late Jim Williams would rearrange his schedule to attend. Turns out, it’s easier than you may think.
Andy Shearer, a native New Yorker, has quickly adapted to the Southern scene by hosting lively, intimate dinners with friends. A veteran of promotions for the likes of Rolling Stone and Us Weekly magazines, he’s also the co-owner of Orange Public Relations and Marketing.
Kim Smith is a Southern girl with 13-year-old twins and a passion for volunteering in the community. She’s well-known in Savannah for tackling large-scale parties most people would hire a professional to organize.
Beth Vantosh has a penchant for social experiments. When she moved here from Atlanta, she invited every interesting person she met to a party at her place. The owner of Beth Vantosh Realty Group has been hosting hip happenings ever since.
Savannah Magazine: If I scored an invite to one of your parties (hint, hint), what could I expect?
Andy: Our parties are generally dinner parties of 10-12 people. I like an intimate group just sitting around a table and talking. We do that about once every three weeks.
Beth: We’ve had a party almost every weekend. We built a pool and we have parties there. If my son’s in town, it’s one kind of party, and if he’s not in town, it’s another kind of a party. [Famed NYC publicist] Bobby Zarem is there every weekend. He thinks it’s his country club. So he’ll just sit in that pool and we’ll see who he ended up inviting. My husband grills out and people bring food—but it’s not about the food at all.
Andy: We cook. But I agree, I don’t think the food is the most important. I think the chemistry of the people will really make or break a party no matter how good or bad the food is.
Kim: I do a lot of fundraisers and parties for people who are getting married. I have an oyster roast coming up at my house for one of my husband’s business partners who’s getting married in Savannah. All of these people are coming from Chicago.
Andy: See, that’s the kind of scale that I wouldn’t even try.
Beth: I don’t know, if you get a caterer and a bartender and let them handle things, it’s actually sometimes easier.
With or without help, hosting a party is a lot of work. What do you enjoy most about it?
Andy: My favorite part is that you can get as drunk as you want and you don’t have to drive.
SM: Yes! Thank you for being honest.
Andy: I love when I’m done with the evening and I can just crawl into bed.
Kim: I get an adrenaline rush from hosting.
Beth: I like having parties at my house because I’m comfortable there. I know that everyone there is of like mind. But the worst part is at the beginning when you wonder, “Is anyone even going to come?”
Andy: It’s very personal because people are coming to your home. And if they don’t come, it’s because they don’t like you. [Laughter.]
Kim: But some people do have full schedules.
Andy: Yes. Or they don’t like you enough.
SM: Doesn’t opening up your home make you feel … exposed?
Kim: People see your home, your personality, the things you like. You really open yourself up and you’ve got to be comfortable with that, which is maybe why some people don’t chose to do it. But if you have a party here at The Pink House, for example, you aren’t opening yourself up like that. It’s easier to do.
Beth: I think Johnny Harris Restaurant would be a great place to throw a party. It has a great environment. It’s very 1920s. I’ve been dying to do that.
Kim: I wish you would. Put me on that guest list!
SM: So we can think “outside of the home,” so to speak?
Kim: Sure! I’ve had a lot of parties right here on this balcony, which is great because you’re separated from the restaurant. It feels like you’re in Europe. You’re up in the treetops and the cars are driving around below. It’s really nice for a girls’ luncheon.
SM: What makes a party memorable?
Andy: I don’t really have an answer. I think a good party is more about the people you’re around and the environment rather than anything specific.
SM: Is it something magical?
Andy: Don’t you think? Like chemistry?
Kim: Sometimes it’s the timing. Sometimes you can have a party and everybody who shows up is just “on” so the party is really good.
Andy: Any party where I can kick off my shoes is a good party. I like to feel really at home.
Kim: When we owned the Mulberry Inn, all the partners got together and we shut the hotel down for three days for a party. Everyone invited their immediate family and friends and filled the hotel. That was fabulous. It took me a year to plan it. We had activities going on everywhere. We stayed up in the bar playing drinking games. The kids played elevator tag. It’s hard to top that.
Beth: I had a New Year’s Eve party at my house and I let my friends [and former Sparetime restaurateurs] Clara and Jane Fishel be in charge of the guest list and so many people came to my house. Hundreds of people. It was a little scary.
Andy: I think I was there! That was a good party. [Laughter.]
Beth: It was a good party. There were fireworks and a DJ. But I got a little bit panicked because there were a lot of people I didn’t know.
Andy: That’s a good party—when you don’t know whose home it is. [Laughter.]
Beth: Well, unfortunately it was my home. I caught this drunk girl taking one of my kid’s toys because she thought it was cute. That was a lesson learned.
SM: Magic and cute toys aside, what are some must-haves?
Andy: I like parties to be really comfortable and casual, but I also like an element of surprise. Let’s face it, you go to parties and, generally, a lot of the people know one another. But if you have one couple that nobody knows just to sort of shake it up a little, it adds energy.
Kim: You should always invite someone new. Someone new to the neighborhood or new to the school—someone who is new and fun and different.
Andy: I also think people like when they can do something at a party even if it’s a taco party. People love putting together their own food. Or ice-cream sundaes for dessert. People become more relaxed and comfortable.
Beth: Like pool parties. They’re so easy and people have something to do. We even have races!
Andy: Right. I like parties to be somewhat interactive. Like we’ll play a game of “Celebrity” after dinner. Or, let me tell you, everybody loves a wig.
Andy: We had a party and everyone was in the dining room, and in the living room I had put a series of Styrofoam heads. On each head was a wig that I bought on Broughton Street—some cheapo wigs. Everyone grabbed a number from a hat and went into the living room and there were these other personalities waiting for them.
Kim: Now that’s fun.
Andy: I brought one with me. [Puts it on—with very little cajoling.]
SM: It looks like Spanish moss!
Kim: Or an Irish setter mixed with a poodle.
Beth: Or that girl from “Brave”—Merida!
Andy: See, you can’t go wrong if you’re wearing this. I’ve just turned a lunch into a party.
For more tips from our party animals, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Savannah magazine.