To be on the outside looking in isn’t a bad place to be at the REBNY gala.
Lingering in the lobby might mean a brush with Gary Barnett, a quick chat with John Banks, a laugh with Paul Massey. To get to the main event from the cocktail hour, industry bigwigs need to pass through a long open space on the third floor of the New York Hilton Midtown. And many of them aren’t eager to retire to the more confining Grand Ballroom, where assigned seats and instructions to stop talking through the awards ceremony interfere with primo schmoozing.
It’s like the game British Bulldog, but the gala attendees aren’t trying very hard to avoid being tagged. And some savvy attendees use the opportunity to get in the ticketed guests’ paths, networking without having to actually pay for a ticket, which goes for $1,200 a pop.
“This is where all the action is,” one real estate attorney, who asked not to be named, said shortly after the banquet began.
There were heaps of not-so-subtle signs that the event’s organizers wanted to clear the area on Thursday night. A somewhat-perturbed voice rang over the loudspeaker, repeatedly urging attendees with tickets to make their way to the ballroom for dinner. Nearly an hour after the dinner’s start time, the directive was still being delivered, along with a request for attendees of another event — a gathering run by title insurance AmTrust Financial Services— to stop spilling over into REBNY’s side of the floor.
“More networking is happening out here than in there,” said one straggler, who would only say that he works for a real estate investment trust.
At one point, the lights were dimmed in part of the lobby, and vaguely menacing security guards waded through the crowd to corral holdouts. They didn’t seem to be too successful. Eventually, the crowd outside the banquet’s entrance thinned out, though a massive group migrated to coat check downstairs.
An accountant with Anchin noted that his firm used to buy a table at the gala, but for some reason — unknown to him — didn’t this year. (Representatives for Anchin didn’t immediately return a call seeking additional information.) He said it’s easier to hold a conversation outside the ballroom anyway.
“The only thing you can hear in there is ‘shhhhh!'” he said, referring to the gala organizers’ Sisyphean task of getting through the ceremony uninterrupted.
Lee Spiegelman, managing director of BlueGate Partners, said he attended the dinner a few years ago.
“I don’t have patience. I come early, and I leave early,” he said. “Everyone comes to schmooze. It’s a schmooze fest.”