The most successful theme to date for Southern Hills CC’s signature event is a speakeasy, complete with a 12-piece band, burlesque dancers, and tarot card readers.
For the past six years, after Southern Hills Country Club closes down for a couple of weeks each January, the Tulsa, Okla., club has offered a signature event to kick off its reopening for the new year.
“It’s the party of the year, so we go all out on it,” says Marketing & Communications Manager Liz Stallings. “It’s an opportunity for the members to have fun and show off the club to our guests.”
To keep the event fresh and interesting, a new theme is implemented annually, with past themes including “Studio 54” and “Boots, Chaps & Cowboy Hats.” The 2017 gathering, which featured a speakeasy theme, proved to be Southern Hills’ most successful signature event yet, Stallings reports, with all 225 tickets selling out in advance.
|THE GOAL: Offer a fresh new theme for Southern Hills CC’s annual signature event that shows off what the club can do for members and their guests.
THE PLAN: Transform the ballroom and lounges into a Prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with burlesque dancers, tarot card readings, and a 12-piece band. Promotional efforts prior to the event included a series of mixology classes to educate members on classic cocktail recipes.
THE PAYOFF: An unforgettable event that sold out, with attendees wearing era-appropriate garb.
One large piece of the puzzle in generating substantial buzz about the event was a series of mixology classes held at the club prior to the main event. Southern Hills enlisted the help of bartenders from the popular Hodges Bend bar in downtown Tulsa to come to the club in November and January, where they taught members how to make classic cocktails from the 1930s and 1940s, and explained the history behind each concoction. Those same bartenders ultimately returned to the club for the speakeasy event itself, volunteering their time to serve up Manhattans, gin fizzes, sidecars, Sazeracs, and “Mexican firing squads.”
In addition to the mixology classes, the club promoted the event through hard-copy invitations in the mail and an e-mail campaign that began in September. Because Southern Hills was founded in 1936, three years after Prohibition ended, original photos of the club were used in these promotional materials. Once members had registered to attend the speakeasy, they were given the secret password to gain entry: “giggle water.”
In total, the event took nearly six months to plan, Stallings says.
On the day of the event, the club staff was pleasantly surprised to see that all attendees had dressed in era-appropriate attire. “We did not promote the event as a costume party, because that turns people away,” Stallings says. “Instead, we promoted it as cocktail attire, or flapper-inspired attire, and everyone dressed up.”
After attendees whispered the password to the “Head of Security” (played by the club’s head valet, also decked out in era-appropriate garb) to get into the transformed clubhouse, they gathered in the club’s living room, lounge, and pre-function spaces for cocktails, live music, and tarot readings (an “unexpectedly big hit,” Stallings notes). Guests also enjoyed photo booths and an outside cigar lounge. Staff brought in area rugs to help define seating areas.
At 7:45 p.m., a chime invited members into the ballroom for the Supper Club. “We wanted the big entrance into the ballroom to be timed right and to be impactful,” Stallings says. “That was one of the biggest hurdles, to coordinate all the moving parts, with performances ongoing.”
Members entered a completely transformed ballroom, featuring chandeliers with deep red bulbs, candlelight, an uplit, scalloped backdrop on the stage, and tables decorated with elaborate feather centerpieces. Recipe cards for the classic cocktails were included on each table.
Members and guests enjoyed a buffet featuring oysters, tea sandwiches with pimento cheese, prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and chicken livers wrapped in bacon—”foods that people loved back then,” Stallings says.
With drinks still flowing, including champagne with rock candy handed out at the door, members enjoyed performances by a 12-piece band as well as six acts by burlesque dancers, one of whom acted as the event’s emcee. “Our club is pretty conservative, so it was interesting to have the burlesque girls there,” Stallings says. “We had to be very specific with them about keeping it conservative.”
While the club never repeats themes for its signature events, Stallings believes next year’s focus, “Moulin Rouge,” will facilitate the same excitement among members as the Speakeasy event.
“There was no monetary goal for the signature event. In fact, we definitely didn’t make any money,” she laughs.
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