Behind the scenes of Del Mar’s biggest party of the year

It’s a Del Mar evening unlike any other.

L’Auberge Del Mar’s Opening Day After Party comes along every year, but precisely when it will begin can’t be predicted. Despite a scheduled 5 p.m. start time, the pacing of some ponies down the road a mile will determine just when the celebration kicks off. Between 4 and 5 p.m., a rarified crowd finishes cheering on those excellent equines and totters toward the hotel. Within a few minutes, the grand migration of revelers donning hats and suits comes into view.

In no time the first wave of decked-out party-goers pours onto the property. Their Balmains, Balenciagas and Louboutins sink noiselessly into the red carpet that, for today, blankets the hotel’s grand driveway. Those who have pre-ordered their $200+ tickets are checked in by gracious staff members and fitted with custom wristbands that, as a security measure, may only be picked up at L’Auberge. The step-and-repeat comes next, as boldface names pause for paparazzi snaps and a selfie or seven. Arrivals satisfactorily documented, guests continue inside, and the real fun begins.

The Planning
For attendees, L’Auberge Del Mar’s Opening Day After Party unfolds effortlessly. For the team tasked with putting on this year’s 10th-anniversary fete, the planning began during last year’s event. As lovely ladies and dapper dudes dined and drank, a hive of hardworking staff members buzzed about, leaving no detail undocumented in service of continual improvement. In the middle of that mix was Marketing Manager Cathy Lacey. All year long, Lacey and crew planned and refined as ideas for the next year’s music, decor, drinks and food came to life.

The sheer scale of the event requires meticulous advance work; Lacey expects a crowd of 2,000 this year. To keep a group that size in canapes and cocktails, supplies are stocked in bulk: 624 bottles of vodka, 324 bottles each of rum and tequila, 288 bottles of wine, 1,728 bottles of beer and 5,460 bottles of water. And 6,000 pounds of ice are also on order.

The History
Ten years ago, the event had a $25 ticket price and consisted simply of post-track nibbles and sips. As the official opening day after party of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club became a staple of the social season, the staff at L’Auberge saw a need for more.

 “It went from a very small group of people coming over to the bar after the races, to thousands of people in our living room, music, food, specialty drinks,” says Lacey.

For the party’s 10th anniversary, programming will bookend the main event, starting with the Opening Day Pre-Party on Tuesday. The pre-party primes guests for opening day, and a portion of its proceeds benefit the Bill Hartack Foundation. Attendees will meet hall-of-fame jockeys Mike Smith and Gary Stevens, learn how to “Pick Your Ponies” with Michelle Yu from BetAmerica, and be styled by “Milliner to the Triple Crown” Christine A. Moore and bespoke suit designer Elevee.

Back to Wednesday
Which brings us back to that dressed-to-the-nines bunch gliding into the hotel’s living room, out onto the deck and into the pool area to start an exclusive oceanfront evening.

VIP cabanas dot the tiered decks, roped off and ready for the VIPs who reserved them. On the upper decks, large belly tables are also carefully set aside. The sun is setting, and the music is pumping. Kitchen1540 Chef Nathan Lingle has rolled out elaborate food displays with something for everyone, whether you need to veg out, carb load, protein push or indulge a sweet tooth. Guests refresh their palates with power greens, chopped and watermelon salads, then move on to cavatelli with fresh ricotta, gemelli with wild mushroom cream, assorted tacos, wagyu beef short ribs and hot smoked salmon. And tasty cocktails pair perfectly with bourbon vanilla cheesecake, black and tan cupcakes, butter rum blondies, Pina Colada pannacotta and bourbon pecan tarts. 

But don’t fret; for every calorie consumed, there’s a chance to sweat it off on the pool deck dance floor, backed by a soundtrack from DJs FishFonics and Gabe Vega.

As nine-thirty approaches, the party is well heated up. As always it’s a sell-out, with arrivals continuing through the night. At some point guests add fuel to their fete-ing by diving into the 45 or so late-night pizzas and 100 some cases of Red Bull L’Auberge has on hand. And then–because it’s a Wednesday night after all and L’Auberge has neighbors–the outdoor portion of the evening is over as the clock strikes midnight. Those guests who booked the “Come for the Party, Stay for the Sunrise” package flow back inside and mingle until retiring to deluxe accommodations.  

Re-set and Get Ready
Now, L’Auberge’s staff performs what may be their most impressive wizardry of the night.  

“We sweep everybody out and start making sure that the next morning you won’t know that we had a party,” says Lacey.  “Our overnight crew comes in and cleans, straightens, returns all the couches and chairs to their correct places. They’ll reset the whole hotel and you’ll walk in and not know that we had a crowd of 2,000.”

Thursday, Friday & Beyond
“Our living room is just absolutely fabulous and for the rest of the week we’ll have live music in there, and we’ll have pop-up food offerings from six o’clock on, in different styles,” says Lacey. If by some cruel twist of fate you’re out of town during opening week, L’Auberge will also offer pre-track music and food on Fridays throughout the season.

“We’ll start food pop-ups and music early in the afternoon on summer Fridays,” says Lacey. “People can come over from work, hang out and have drinks and snacks, before they start heading over to the track. We have a shuttle that will take them to the track, and we’ll pick them up and bring them back here after.” You’ll also find music in the L’Auberge living room on Thursdays and Saturdays all summer long. But, if you do indeed miss this year’s opening-week events, don’t let these make-up opportunities make you complacent. Now’s the moment to be sure you plan your travel schedule for next July with far more care.

Opening-day events begin Tuesday, July 17. Call 858.720.6196 or visit LAubergeDelMar.com for ticket information.