Cynthia Rowley & The Art of Parties

The Transom holds these truths to be self-evident: that wearing black with navy together is always a faux pas; that using the phrase ‘party bus’ in reference to any occasion other than the senior prom is utterly horrific; that Manhattan tourist attractions are called tourist attractions for a reason, and, therefore, should be limited to those who are actually visiting; and, finally, that having the police come to break up a fete is a bad thing.

But The Transom was willing to abandon some of these precepts when Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig gave convincing evidence otherwise at their Swell Welcome Wagon bash last week. The partners-in-style broke every rule on the books while promoting their own new hardcover and welcoming Katie O’Connell, NBC’s new head of east coast development–who, according to Swell’s PR representative, has recently optioned a sitcom from the duo’s company. Somehow, the duo ended up with a soiree that was enjoyable, even despite its echoes of collegiate Greek life.

Granted, the scene was jarring at first. Ms. Rowley, reine-de-runway turned Targé trendsetter (not to mention new mother to Gigi), greeted her guests outside of a gigantic red double-decker New York sightseeing bus on East 24th Street. Along with her white rimmed sunglasses, she was wearing navy satin shorts, which she paired with a brown belt. And a black camisole.

Completing the ensemble was a pair of skyscraping, colorful, ankle-wrapping sandals, and, put simply, Ms. Rowley looked fabulous. Party guests standing nearby probably heard the unsettling swoosh! of The Transom’s world turning upside down. Black and navy, for the first time in their historically hapless partnership, actually looked good together.

After the uprooting of one social maxim, The Transom faced the difficult task of somehow abandoning the strong, strong misgivings that have accompanied the phrase ‘party bus’ ever since… well, a bad experience. The bus was swarming with cute waiters dressed in quintessentially touristy I-Heart-NY t-shirts. They carried trays of fries procured from the nearby Madison Square Park Shake Shack—and to wash down the Shack’s snacks, there were sip-cups filled with a somewhat mysterious beverage that one partygoer referred to as “adult lemonade.”

A few adult lemonades later, Ms. Rowley made her way to the back of the upper deck.

“It’s not exactly Keanu Reeves in Speed, but you know,” the genial brunette said.

The plan was for more people to board the bus after half of the tour had passed. Most of the seats were filled, though, and the question of where these newcomers would sit arose. One guest suggested that the late shift of guests would have to sit on the laps of those already present.

“It’s a double-decker lap dance!” Ms. Rowley exclaimed, proving her hostess prowess by being able to roll with the punches.

Ms. Rowley paused when the Transom asked her if she had grown up partying, unsure of how to take the question. “I grew up in a town called Barrington, Illinois, but we called it Beerington,” she said.

Judging from what transpired next, you can take the party out of the Beerington, but you can’t take the Beer(ington) out of the party. According to Kim Yorio, who handles public relations for Swell, guests (who, by this point, numbered about 90, including Tatum O’Neal), hopped off the bus at one of its snack stops and purchased forties at a nearby bodega.

The “booze cruise,” as one Lacosted man described the event in a cell phone conversation, was going strong, but, unbeknownst to Ms. Yorio, not everyone was enjoying the festivities. All along, the bus driver and his assistant had been commanding guests to sit down, despite the party planners’ requests that they not use the loudspeaker, unsympathetic to Ms. Rosenzweig and Ms. Rowley’s need to patrol the upper deck looking for guests who wanted drink refills.

They were probably also not pleased with what seemed to a casual observer to be a blatant violation of open container laws.

“We were all, like, thwarting the authority of the bus,” Ms. Yorio said.

Finally, after numerous and increasingly angry loudspeaker requests that all passengers be seated, the driver stopped the bus and refused to move it from its makeshift parking spot in front of Stanton Social. Though Ms. Yorio pleaded with the Sightseeing Gestapo to at least take the partygoers to their last stop, they would not budge; in fact, they alerted Ms. Yorio that they had notified not only their dispatcher but also the NYPD of the tomfoolery that was taking place on board.

As the 80 ice cream cones waiting at the NoLiTa Ice Cream factory melted, the police investigated the situation. According to Ms. Yorio, the men in blue did not seem as concerned as the bus driver and his assistant.

“I was worried about them driving the bus into the river–at that point it was every man for himself,” she said.

Though the party ended somewhat in shambles, its exciting demise was an example of what Ms. Rowley and Ms. Rosenzweig advise on the very first page of their recent book:

“Hostessing is a high-wire act…You’re performing for a lot of people,” the opening of The Swell Dressed Party reads. “If an acrobat prances gaily along the wire, she’ll get a round of soft applause. But for the big bravos, you need that…misstep that makes the audience gasp with anticipation to see how–and if–she’ll recover her stride.”
—Anna Lindow