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Parties We Wish We’d Gate-Crashed

The balls, binges and bacchanalias that have gone down in hotel history

  • Mr Frank and Ms Gloria Schiff at Mr Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel, New York, 1966. Photograph © Condé Nast Archive/Corbis

A good hotel, so the well-worn saying goes, is a home away from home. And for many rock gods, tycoons, models and movie stars, the home-away-from-home comforts have included extra-marital assignations, drug-induced balcony-dangling, elevator fisticuffs, full-blown orgies and plummeting TVs. The “do not disturb” sign has covered a multitude of sins for those bent on excess – discretion, glamour for hire, services on tap, and a wink from the manager that any amount of despoliation could be overlooked, provided the clean-up bill could be covered. Thus, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Rodeo Drive could list, among its amenities, a “bachelor pad” penthouse for the sole use of Mr Warren Beatty, while those who patronised the Chateau Marmont or Continental Hyatt House Hotel, both on Sunset Boulevard, might awaken to the roar of Led Zeppelin’s Mr John Bonham powering his Harley-Davidson through the lobby and down the corridors, rather than the gentle lilt of the room service cart.

Even in an age when intemperance is a little de trop, hotels remain places where inhibitions are lowered – just look at Ms Solange Knowles, laying into her brother-in-law Jay Z as they descended in the lift at New York’s Standard Hotel – and the occasional champagne bath is luxuriated in. We’ve rounded up some of the most notorious hotel happenings down the decades, where the “extras” bill is likely to have encompassed a little more than a half-sized bottle of sauvignon blanc from the mini-bar.

The Public Seduction

17 June 1959: The Dorchester Hotel, London

  • Mr Aristotle Onassis and Ms Maria Callas at The Dorchester hotel, London, 1959. Photograph by Eyevine

When Mr Aristotle Onassis wished to express his admiration for a married woman, he didn’t bother with whispered messages and discreet notes. The libidinous shipping tycoon booked a hotel and invited the world to watch him at work. He had met the 35-year-old Ms Maria Callas at a party in Venice in 1957, when she was married to her manager Mr Giovanni Battista Meneghini. She refused his invitations to come cruising on his yacht, Christina, with its bar stools covered in whale foreskin. But in London, after a performance of Medea at Covent Garden in 1959, she agreed to go to The Dorchester hotel, the first step in what would become one of the most chronicled and disastrous love affairs of the 20th century. Mr Onassis had taken over the Park Lane hotel and filled it with thousands of roses and the apex of international society, including Sir Winston Churchill and Messrs Gary Cooper and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Ms Callas was reluctant to go, as she was exhausted after her show and suffering from a cold. But Mr Onassis was hell-bent on seduction. When Ms Callas mentioned that she liked tangos, Mr Onassis gave the band leader £50 to drop every other dance from their set. As Ms Arianna Huffington wrote in her biography of Ms Callas: “It was the abundance, the energy, the vigour, almost the grandeur that this short, thick-set, frog-like man radiated that was communicated to everyone around him, from the hotel manager to the most junior waiter.” When Ms Callas and her husband left, Mr Onassis embraced them both. Ms Callas and her husband did finally go sailing with Mr Onassis. Within a few days, Mr Meneghini was sleeping alone.

The Social Climb

28 November 1966: The Plaza Hotel, New York

  • Ms Mia Farrow and Mr Frank Sinatra attend Mr Truman Capote's Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel, New York, 1966. Photograph © Condé Nast Archive/Corbis

Perhaps the most celebrated and photographed hotel party of all, the Black and White Ball was hosted by Mr Truman Capote in honour of Ms Katharine Graham, the then publisher of The Washington Post. Mr Capote had just published In Cold Blood and was in the mood to blow some of his new money on one hell of a shindig. He decided to organise a masked ball and spent weeks drafting his guest list, adding and deleting names as if editing one of his books. It was social pressure rather than the promise of a rollicking good time that made the event. The dress code was black and white, inspired by the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady. The party started at 10.00pm and masks were removed at midnight, when artfully plain food was served: spaghetti bolognese, chicken hash, coffee and pastries. Four hundred and eighty guests were invited, and many of those who weren’t tried to bribe Mr Capote for an invitation. The list grew to 540 by the day of the party. Four hundred and fifty bottles of Taittinger champagne were served to guests as diverse as the President’s daughter, Ms Lynda Bird Johnson, European royalty, New York society and Mr Frank Sinatra. Mr Sinatra, accompanied by his wife Ms Mia Farrow, seated his group at the best table in the room. When he decided it was time to leave at 2.45am and head out for drinks elsewhere, the party wound down. The author Mr George Plimpton grew so tired of the formality he ended up playing touch football with a top hat belonging to the economist Mr John Kenneth Galbraith. Mr Capote’s career never reached such a peak again. His social machinations eventually wearied his famous friends and when instalments of his novel Answered Prayers, published 10 years later, exposed his circle, many abandoned him.

A Decade of Debauchery

The 1970s: The Continental Hyatt House, West Hollywood

  • Mr Robert Plant at the Continental Hyatt House hotel, Los Angeles, 1975. Photograph by Mr Peter Simon/Retna

Dissolute rock stars doing dissolute things earned the Continental Hyatt House in West Hollywood the nickname the Riot House. Name your rock-star vice, and chances are it was first, and most energetically pursued, here. Mr Jim Morrison lived here from 1970 to 1971 and had to be rescued when he was found hanging by his fingertips from a balcony – drug-induced curiosity is suspected to have led him there. Messrs Keith Richards and Keith Moon dropped televisions out of the windows, partly because they disliked television and partly to see what happened when the televisions landed. The epically depraved Led Zeppelin would book six floors at a time and host orgies with groupies. It was here that Mr Robert Plant, wearing nothing but whipped cream, was wheeled into a room of girls and, on a separate occasion, leaned from the balcony over Sunset Strip, shouting “I am a golden god”, a scene recreated in Mr Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous. It was during this era the aforementioned Mr John Bonham rode his motorcycle down the hotel’s corridors for kicks. The hotel has since been taken over by the Andaz group and the balconies have been enclosed.

Caligula in Manhattan

26 July 1972: The St Regis, New York

  • Messrs Keith Richards (left) and Bob Dylan (right) photographed at Sir Mick Jagger’s (centre) 29th birthday party at the St Regis hotel, New York, 1972. Photograph by Mr Ken Regan/Camera 5

Mr Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, made his name crossing cultural boundaries. In 2007, Rolling Stone magazine said he resembled “a suave, wealthy and titled combination of Oriental pasha and the Wizard of Oz”. The son of a Turkish ambassador to Washington DC, he brought black music to white audiences. He dressed like a Swiss banker, but loved nothing more than a night in a low-down juke joint. To mark the end of The Rolling Stones’ 1972 US tour and Sir Mick Jagger’s 29th birthday, he brought those worlds together on the roof of the St Regis in Manhattan. The sybaritic Stones, who had signed with Mr Ertegun, celebrated alongside guests as varied as Messrs Tennessee Williams and Bob Dylan and, from the fashion world, Ms Diana Vreeland and Messrs Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass. Count Basie and his orchestra and Mr Muddy Waters played. At 2.00am, Sir Mick jammed with Messrs Stevie Wonder and Waters. Mr Andy Warhol took Polaroids. A young woman in rhinestones “exploded” from the birthday cake. Mr Dylan later said the party was “encompassing – the beginning of cosmic consciousness”. The syndicated columnist Ms Harriet Van Horne said it was the kind of bacchanal at which Nero, Caligula and the Marquis de Sade would have felt at home.

The Wild Bunch Hit the Croisette

23 May 1994: The Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes

  • From left: Ms Kelly Preston, Mr John Travolta, Mr Bruce Willis, Ms Uma Thurman and Mr Quentin Tarantino at the Cannes Film Festival, 1994. Photograph by Cardinale-Robert/Sygma/Corbis

The summer of 1923 marked the start of a long love affair between the rich, idle and famous and what would become the most iconic hotel on the French Riviera. It was that summer that wealthy American expats Ms Sara and Mr Gerald Murphy requested that the hotel stay open for their entertainment, and in subsequent years they would be joined by their influential friends, Messrs F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway included. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor drove home the point in 1936, when they retreated to the hotel following his abdication. But it was the Cannes Film Festival that transformed it into a Hollywood-sur-mer, and never more so than in 1994 when Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or. The then 31-year-old director Mr Quentin Tarantino and his stars, Mr Bruce Willis, Mr John Travolta, Ms Uma Thurman and Mr Samuel L Jackson tore a neon streak through the art-house cinema crowd. Mr Lawrence Bender, one of the film’s producers, said: “It was like The Wild Bunch hit the Croisette.” The cast and crew repaired afterwards to the sedate Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc along the coast and celebrated until dawn. While staying there, Mr Travolta developed the peculiar habit of ordering two vegetable quiches, one at 8.00am and one at 2.00am. Mr Willis brought his boom box and CD collection down to the lobby and generously covered the refreshments and damage to the tune of $100,000.

The Beautiful and Damned

16 January 2004: The Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park and Claridge’s

  • Ms Kate Moss arriving at Claridge’s, London, January 2004. Photograph by Press Association Images

When Ms Kate Moss arrived at her 30th birthday party, reporters asked her how she felt. More damned than beautiful, she said, according to Vogue, a portent of the night to come. The idea was to recreate the scene of Mr F Scott Fitzgerald’s gorgeous, doomed characters of 1920s New York, except with Londoners of the early 2000s, from the worlds of fashion (Mses Naomi Campbell and Stella McCartney), art (Mses Sam Taylor-Wood and Tracey Emin) and film (Ms Gwyneth Paltrow). The Daily Mail newspaper recreated the event from the accounts of guests. It began with a relatively orderly lunch at the Mandarin Oriental, then moved to a couple of townhouses owned respectively by Mses Taylor-Wood and Serena Rees, the co-founder of Agent Provocateur. Strippers had been hired to liven up the party. A pregnant Ms Paltrow and her then husband, Mr Chris Martin, left early, sensing things were getting out of hand. Fifty of the guests decamped to Ms Moss’ seventh-floor suite at Claridge’s. By 2.00am, Ms Stella McCartney and her sister Mary were in a screaming fight, many of the guests were trying to outdo each other’s Sir Mick Jagger impersonations, and an orgy had reportedly broken out in one of the bedrooms.