Chicago Party Crashers

By Ryan Smith
FOR REDEYE

When
Sean "Diddy" Combs and his new group, Dirty Money, scheduled a private
party on a recent Friday night at Excalibur, the River North nightclub
received a very important call.

"He said over the phone that he
was Beyonce's brother, Mathew Knowles, and that he wanted to get into
the VIP area for the party," said Tayal Patel, public relations
coordinator for Ala Carte Entertainment, Excalibur's promoter.

So waive the $600 fee for a table in the VIP section and let the dude in, right? Not so fast.
As any student of Sasha Fierce knows, Beyonce doesn't have any brothers--it's her father who's named Mathew.

"We
have people that pretend to be celebrities to try to get into things,
but not usually fictional celebrity siblings," Patel recently told
RedEye.

With swanky New Year's Eve bashes less than a week away,
Chicago's party security teams will be on high alert for scammers eager
to take part in the time-honored tradition of crashing--a practice
party promoters say is as robust as ever thanks to celeb obsessions,
thrill-seeking and old-fashioned greed for everything from finger food
to party swag.

While Patel isn't about to make a federal case
out of one man's failed attempt to rub elbows with Diddy and his crew
at Excalibur, the feds most certainly took notice--although a little
too late--last month when Michaele and Tareq Salahi found their way
into a White House state dinner, he in a tux, she in a fetching red
sari.

Crashing is flourishing thanks partly to the way news of
exclusive events gets out these days, said Alexandra Malloy, who heads
a public relations and marketing business in L.A.
"It used to be the
public heard about an event after it happened," Malloy said. "But now,
bloggers are invited, and they'll blog before, during and after.
They're tweeting and Facebooking on the spot. People can just show up
and try to get in."

And when celebrities are due to attend--many
of them get paid for doing so, either in cash or merchandise--it simply
adds fuel to the fire.

"We're all so interested in celebrities
now. There's probably a direct correlation between that and an increase
in party crashing," Malloy says.

That means increased pressure on event planners to keep interlopers at bay.

"You
really want to protect the integrity of an event," says Leslie Stevens,
a partner at the communications firm of LaForce+Stevens, which puts on
at least two events a week in New York City. "So you really have to
keep these people out."

For Stevens and her crew, who keep
photos of a few well-known crashers just like restaurants keep photos
of food critics, that means being vigilant even before the event takes
place. The really sneaky ones will try to get on the guest list by
calling to RSVP--even when they weren't invited in the first place.

In
Chicago, crashers most often target events in open public spaces, such
as Navy Pier or the museums, party experts told RedEye. And if Vince
Vaughn and Owen Wilson taught us anything in "Wedding Crashers," it's
that receptions are vulnerable to infiltration.

"There's more
wedding crashers than you'd think," said Susan Cordogan, owner of
Lincoln Park-based Big City Events and Big City Bride. "A lot of bands
tell their friends, 'I'm playing at this gig, you should come.' "

Uninvited
guests can "change the chemistry of an event," Cordogan said, so when
she has to show an unwanted partier the door, she does so "in a way
that's suave and doesn't disrupt the guests."

The Chicago
nightclubs that spoke to RedEye said they rarely have problems with
crashers. Guest lists, ID checks, tickets, wristbands and security
cameras all keep potential crashers at bay.

"It's hard to be a
party crasher [at a nightclub]," said Patel, who also has fended off a
wannabe crasher posing as Leonardo DiCaprio.

There's a code of
discretion to crashing, but not everyone follows the unwritten rules,
said Audarshia Townsend, who writes a Chicago food and drink blog at 312
diningdiva.com.

"Most
people are just happy to get in and get some chicken wings," Townsend
said, but one group of Chicago crashers has become so notorious on the
chic party scene that she has labeled them "The Eat and Drink Club."

"They're
obnoxious," she said. "If there are gift bags, they'll take multiple
bags. They eat and drink everything, and they rush out when the
freebies are over."
Not cool, Townsend said.

"Everyone has crashed a party before--I have," she said. "But you try to blend into the background and be discreet."

RYAN SMITH IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR. AP CONTRIBUTED.

How to spot a crasher

Michaele
and Tareq Salahi might have blended in well enough at a state dinner to
fool President Obama and the Secret Service last month, but most party
crashers stick out from regular party guests, local event planners told
RedEye.

"No one wants party crashers, but we see them all the
time," said Susan Cordogan, owner of Lincoln Park-based Big City Events
and Big City Bride.

How can you identify a potential freeloader
at your next big bash? The experts say these four warning signs can
help you sniff out a scammer. R.S.

Social extremes
Look out
for the guests who are either a little too friendly or totally
antisocial, advised Sarah Vargo, founder of Chicago-based public
relations and event planning company Maven. "[Crashers are] either
trying too hard or not at all and just looking around and not really
mingling or interacting with guests," she said.

Curious fashion choices
A
guest's outfit should match the occasion, Cordogan said. "Most parties
will state a certain kind of attire that is expected," she said, "and
since most crashers do it spur of the moment, they won't be prepared to
look like everyone else."

Early retreats
Many private parties
assign seating or dole out nameplates for each guest at dinner, which
is the party crasher's signal to jet. "They know they don't belong, so
they leave before the sit-down dinners," said Audarshia Townsend, who
blogs about Chicago's party scene at 312diningdiva.com.

Skipping the formalities
Crashers
won't sign the guest book or bring a gift for a personal event,
according to Cordogan. "Most of the time, they'll just walk in and go
straight to the bar or buffet without saying hello to anyone," she said.

Stay tuned for more from Big City Bride

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