An Evening at the Liar’s Ball: Raucous Behavior! Bottles of Colgin at the 21 Club! Talking Over the Cardinal?

The evening does start with some decorum, at least. Just before the gala commences, the REBNY Foundation holds its annual

The evening does start with some decorum, at least. Just before the gala commences, the REBNY Foundation holds its annual cocktail party inside the hotel’s Mercury Room, where the biggest builders and brokers in the real estate game convene for a civilized, invitation-only gathering. “That really has the top dogs in the industry, so it becomes a very clubby room,” said Mr. Hauspurg.

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But then the action moves to the Grand Ballroom, where the male-dominated scene—“Like a bookie room with booze,” quipped real estate maven Barbara Corcoran—turns to the tried-and-true act of handing business cards. “It’s an active time, and a million cards are given out that night,” said Larry Silverstein, chief executive of Silverstein Properties. “Everyone walks in with stacks of cards to give out. Halfway through the evening the cards are all gone, and you say, ‘Holy shit, what happened?!’”

Armed with their stacks of cards, brokers use the gala’s program to see where in the sea of formalwear their intended prey can be found. “There’s 1,100 people and everybody has their book where everyone is seated, and people just kind of take that book and start going and visiting [people],” said Mr. Hauspurg.

The evening also has its share of overeager, albeit univited brokers desparate to break in and who, price be damned, try to sneak into the party without paying the hefty fee.

“It’s all vendors who want to crash,” said one up-and-coming broker, who has attended the gala and, in fact, snuck a few of his friends in on several occasions. “I would say the worst vendors are the ones who sell office furniture.” Crashing the parties has become less of an issue, assured some REBNY members. “There’s always guys waiting outside to sneak in and all kinds of stuff,” added Mr. Silverstein, who was chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York from 1983 to 1985. “But I think today that is rare, I assume.”

And when they’re not hunting down business, gala attendees are on the lookout for free wine, a surefire commodity in an event that features a cash bar and plenty of thirsty guests. “Wine is sort of entering the consciousness to the industry as a whole,” said Mary Ann Tighe, REBNY chairwoman and a tristate chief executive at CBRE (CBRE). “In the early years of my career, the word passing [was], “Go to the Port Authority table, they have the wine.’”

An Evening at the Liar’s Ball: Raucous Behavior! Bottles of Colgin at the 21 Club! Talking Over the Cardinal?