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Oh what a night!

The 1988 party to end all parties

This story has been reproduced with permission from The Canberra Times. It was originally published in The Canberra Times on Thursday 28 July 1988.

By Michael Foster

My old grandmother, a wise and wonderful woman, was often heard to say “you can have too much of a good thing”.

The Hyatt Hotel Canberra was an exception to the adage when it gave its 846 invited guests the right-royal treatment at the black tie celebration of its official opening night on Saturday.

The result was what Hugh McKenzie described on his Sunday show as “the party to end all parties”. There would be few who attended who would disagree.

Most people were very conscious of the fact that they were at a function which many wanted to attend.

There were those who telephoned suggestion that their invitation must have been lost in the mail, those who more bluntly asked why they had not been invited, even those who suggested that the staff did not realise the enormity of their oversight.

Some asked where they could buy tickets. The director of food and beverage at the hotel, Peter Fulton, said the next day that a rough calculation of the cost per head was at least $250.

Meticulous planning over many months, and staff who seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the guests, which was immensely, ensured that the evening went along with no major hiccups.

Guests contradicted the Canberra pattern by arriving from7pm for the 7:30pm start, but it was a measure of the planning that everything was in place for the announcement and formal reception of arrivees.

Most unusually for Canberra, there were no “no-shows”.

The early arrivers helped spread the rush and ensured that the party atmosphere was immediately established. The decibel level in the foyer put me in mind of a 707 taking off.

After the official opening by Sir John Gorton and Mr Gough Whitlam, which ran almost exactly to time, the guests set about disposing of10,000 canapes in six varieties, 250kg of mixed seafood, 120 pheasants, 40kg of pork belly, 40kg of turkey breast, 75 kg of rib eye and another 35kg of ocean trout as the basis of the evening’s meals.

Image reproduced with permission, The Canberra Times

The food was accompanied by 750 bottles of Bollinger, 12 cases of Tyrrell pinot chardonnay, four case of Mt Helen cabernet, and many hundreds of cocktails, strawberry daquiris, Martinis and Manhattans and beers.

Three and a half tonnes of ice were used on the night.

Mr Fulton said, “we served cocktails because they were in keeping with the style of the hotel and the occasion. They were very popular. We mixed 400 strawberry daiquiris, which disappeared very quickly and we were making them in 10-litre lots, not quite the style but no one seemed to mind.

“People could have had anything they wanted, but most stayed with what we offered.”

There were 220 front-of-house and support staff, provided from the hotel’s own resources. This also, and understandably, pleased Mr Fulton.

Twelve styles of entertainment were provided by 107 artists and musicians, performing throughout the hotel continuously between 8:30pm and2am. All but there were Canberra bands.

The food, the equivalent of about 2000 four-course meals, was served from several stations throughout the hotel. Executive chef, Andreas Salvotelli, said that his brigade of 53 spent more than 500 hours preparing the food in an exercise which began Wednesday and finished at 2am on Sunday. Forty-five chefs were involved on the night.

The others began on Sunday to prepare the breakfast, brunch and lunch menu which was offered to guests from 7:30, and they were surprised at the numbers who turned up as the restaurant opened, especially as the last of the determined party -goers left after 5am.

The six stations in the ballroom served meals based on Chinese, Arabian, American, fishing, hunting and farming themes.

The 18 varieties of seafood served in the Promenade included90kg of prawns, marrons from Perth, Queensland barramundi, 100 dozen oysters, Tasmanian smoked ocean trout and crab.

At the end of the gala event, there were a few kilos of prawns and little else left.

Decorations included 28 ice carvings by executive chef at the Canberra International, Oliver Buecher, which was the only outside contribution to the evening.

And once it was all over the staff had to run around and clean the hotel, ready for a heavily booked Sunday. Even though there were remarkably few breakages and spillages, nearly 1000 people generate quite amess, especially when the entertainment has included glitter and confetti bombs and streamer throwing.

At the end of a mighty exercise, both Mr Fulton and Mr Salvotelli expressed their satisfaction at its success.

For Mr Salvotelli it was his third opening and it satisfied him.

For Mr Fulton, the evening had matched the hotel: “a unique property with a very special atmosphere.”

Program kindly supplied by John Tozer who was the Construction Manager on the new hotel and a guest at the opening night

Did you attend the opening night? We'd love to hear from you. Please email your story or photos to canbemarketing@hyatt.com