When the ties come off, the drinks go down

Everyone at this show needs to get a little more drunk.

We need an IT manager who’s willing to put on the lampshade, a VAR who will play a little air guitar, some vendors to pass around the stogies. Here in the heart of Sin City, we usually see the best example of the dichotomy that exists in the IT industry. There are the brilliant, innovative driven minds that produce some of the world’s most important technologies walking and talking on the show floor of Comdex Fall 2001 by day. At night, these same people traditionally shake off their corporate professionalism as the real show begins: the one where you make the right connections, check off all the important people on your mental list, or simply enjoy a few nights in one of the trippiest towns on Earth.

There are two kinds of Comdex parties: those that feature product demonstrations along with the wine and cheese, and full-on boozefests featuring oddball entertainment. I probably don’t need to explain which are better attended. You can tell a lot about who the important players are in this business by which companies choose to throw a party and which don’t. Sometimes a Comdex party can put a struggling firm back on the map. In other cases, it’s a good opportunity to assert some clout. Make no mistake, this is just as competitive as the other whose-is-bigger contest (I’m talking about marketshare).

Last year EDS threw the best party of the show. If you were lucky enough to score an invitation, you met at the Mandalay Bay hotel, where you were whisked off by bus to an old airport hanger that had been painted snow-white inside, with white furniture and giant snowflakes to boot. Macy Gray performed, followed by our very own Barenaked Ladies. Although Compaq is scheduled to introduce Better Than Ezra Wednesday night, there hasn’t been anything of that caliber at this year’s show. Of course, that doesn’t mean no one is having fun. With that in mind, here’s a purely subjective run-down of the social scene thus far as experienced my myself and Computer Dealer News’ Patricia Zyska:

Showstoppers (Monday night, The Venetian, 6:00-10:00): Typically the best food of all the parties, featuring something for everyone: great roast beef, pasta, risotto and more. Has a product showcase, but it typically features some interesting stuff from Intel’s concept lab (see today’s top story) and some up-and-comers. Nice venue but no music or extra entertainment to speak of. This is a pre-party party.

Sony After Hours (Monday night, House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, 8:00 – midnight): It was the worst. Supposedly invitation-only, but it was laughably easy to get in. After the woman at reception jokingly agreed to let me in if I “promised” to dance, I could see why: they were playing “YMCA,” followed by Madonna’s “Vogue.” Middle-aged men were slumped along the walls and steps. Girls on the dance floor were vogueing badly (even Madonna didn’t do it that well). Left quickly.

Primera Technology Cocktail Party (Tuesday night, Aladdin Hotel, 6:00 — 10:00): Poorly organized. The invitation said a representative would be at the “guest elevator” to take people up but there was no one to be found. Ended up walking around the casino for half an hour before the front desk finally told us what floor they were on. Once we got up there and slowly neared the suite, the eerie quiet told us there was NO ONE there, other than a few Primera people. We didn’t even go in. Sometimes you just know.

Tandberg Data reception (Tuesday night, Belagio Hotel, 6:00 — 10:00): Very nice, civilized cocktail reception at the classiest hotel in the city. A top-floor suite with great spring rolls, spinach-filled crepes, chicken wings and sweet-n’-sour sauce. Super-friendly vendors who were content to let people mingle as they choose. Just the right size of a crowd for a cocktail party; enough that you could do your own thing but not so full that you were lost in a sea of people and unable to make yourself heard. Great view of Vegas.

CDW party (Tuesday night, Caesar’s Palace, 7:00 — 10:00): Perfect venue for a big blast in the Caesar’s Pavillion. Not unlike the fab Tech Data Canada party at Comdex Canada this summer, though more of an 80s theme. Mostly meat and potatoes at the food table, but a fantastic dessert: mango sorbet topped with liqueur and fresh berries! Entertainment included a Tina Turner impersonator (circa Private Dancer) who was pretty good. Less good was the 80s cover band, Splash, but their medley of Prince hits (Let’s Go Crazy, Kiss, Baby I’m a Star) got me on the dance floor for a while. Could have used a bit more people. It was a big room, and there were too many empty spots and people sitting placidly at the tables.

Gates-Arrow Distributing Party (Tuesday night, Harley-Davidson Café, 8:00 – 11:00): Most crowded party — it was hard to get around at times. The entertainment included a bad Cher impersonator who actually moved around the room talking to people as she sang “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Wishing she could, Patricia and I ran upstairs before she got us in on the act. There we found temporary tattoo artists who would draw anything you wanted “wherever you want it.” I had him draw a Palm on the back of my hand (get it?) before we headed back down to the dance floor. Cher had left, and the music was pretty decent. Best-looking women of any Comdex party; if you were out looking for exciting male companionship of any kind, this is probably not the trade show to do it.

Netware 6 Celebration (Tuesday Night, House of Blues Music Hall, Mandalay Bay Hotel, 8:30 — 11:00): There seems to be an inverse relationship where the most boring companies sometimes throw the best parties. This was our last stop, and the musical guest (whoever it was) had already finished, but everything here gelled. The D.J.’s music was kind of Boomer (“Louie Louie,” etc.) but the crowd was already in a great mood. Fantastic chocolate brownies on the dessert table, and delicious fruity drinks that may or may not have contained a lot of alcohol (at this point, who can tell?). Nice touch when the Novell people got up on stage and started pitching surprisingly nice Netware 6 T-shirts (the regular kind and the kind that are sealed up in little blocks of cellophane. Patricia grabbed one of the giant “6” balloons that were strung up here and there, and on your way out everyone was given a Novell ballcap. Directory services have never been this much fun.

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