Part IV of IV

© Melissa Nowakowski April 2008

THEME: Sporting It

While watching a football game on television surrounded by chips, pretzels and beer certainly comes to mind, this theme is anything but. 'Sporting It' is a full day affair of sports and grub. Fun, interactive and yet oh so stylish, this theme will wow any sports enthusiast who is expecting the generic sports-pub crawl.

The Day is split into two parts: Round up the guests for an action-packed early afternoon game of your guy's favourite sport -- whether it be street hockey, football, soccer, basketball, etc. then have the guests re-group later in the evening for a formal dinner party at a classy sports bar (yes they DO exist!)

THE VENUE(S) Be sure to mention both venues on your invitations and include maps if necessary.

For your sport-du-jour, book a community field or parking lot that is central to most of your guests. Some fields and lots may have no costs involved but be prepared to have to pay a small fee to use most. Be sure to book the field or lot well in advance to avoid conflicts with community leagues.

For your post-game nibbles, avoid the cliche sports pub if you can and choose a sports bar and restaurant that has class appeal. Our favourite tres-chic pre/post game venue inToronto? BOTTOM LINE RESTAURANT & BAR. This bar boasts elegant dark wood and suave surroundings mixed with classic-yet-oh-so-sophisticated television screens, acting as the perfect spot for a formal dinner party of sports enthusiasts. A close second is THE BIER MARKET on the Esplanade.

Of course, having the dinner party in the comfort of your own dining room is always a great, cost-efficient option too!


Part 1 - The Game: Having a large group of friends participate in any physical sport is not only the perfect form of entertainment, but is a great way to get guests interacting with one another, even if a few of the guests have never before played the sport. In fact, some of the most humorous moments often come about courtesy of those who have never before played that specific sport. And don't worry about guests getting down and dirty -- in spacing out the two events your guests will have plenty of time to clean up prior to the dinner portion.

Part 2 - The Dinner: Having the racket of a sports game on the walls behind you is a natural fit, but carefully choosing music such as classic theme songs belonging to sports teams, shows and movies adds a whole new twist. Think Stronger (Raptors theme song), the Rocky theme song and Hit 'Em High from Space Jam.

If your guests still have energy left over from the earlier that day, additional entertainment can be included by way of portable sports games. Rent a basketball hoop set and place in the furthest corner of the room (if space permits of course) or a golf putting strip. Challenge guests to games of 21 or a "hole in one" championship. Sporty prizes such as caps, t-shirts, magazines, etc. can be given out to the winners.

THE STYLE: Who says sporty can't be chic? In choosing the right venue and decor you can have the sporty look and the class too.

Have all the guests seated at rectangular tables fitted together in a U-shape rather than at small or round tables. They will feel more connected.

Want to add some cache to your tables? Have colourful table runners across the length of the tables and place bowls filled with specific types of balls along their length. For example, one bowl can be filled with tennis balls, another bowl with golf balls and other with baseballs, etc.

A more hands-on centerpiece is a straight ledge of balls. Place long, dark wood ledges running across the length of the tables. Have nails sticking out of the top of the wood and rest large sports balls in between them, using the nails to hold the balls in place. Alternate the type of ball -- soccer, volleyballs and basketballs work best. Cover the nails with pockets of fake grass.

THE FOOD: Nothing says sports like meat. But that doesn't mean your meat has to be boring. Spice up the traditional with some exciting additions such as Hamburger dips, spicy chili popcorn and spicy stuffed potatoes.

THE GIVEAWAYS: Send your guests off with... what else? Sports paraphernalia! Key chains, stress balls or mini toss able sports balls are items that everyone could use and with which they can have loads of fun long after the party.


Part III of IV

© Melissa Nowakowski April 2008

THEME: Back to Basics

For the "Mr. Fix-it" or the guy who just loves to work with his hands, this party theme is easy to do, creative and a whole lot of fun.

THE VENUE: Choose a venue that incorporates wood or metal beams and fixtures. Our favourite Toronto venues that suit this style are The Brant House (with its wooden beams) and the The Gladstone (with its exposed brick), but you can just as easily do this theme in your backyard or party room as well.

THE STYLE: Choose natural colours and elements for this theme whether it's relying on the nature in your backyard for colour inspiration (greens and browns) or combining black, red and grey for maximum impact.

Getting back to the basics is all about using everyday materials to create fun and interesting accents for the party. Instead of ordinary table linens, use layered pieces of wood as a table topper or graphing paper in place of linen. Use old hub caps as charger plates, metal bolts or triangular rulers as napkin rings. Use decorative molding, tin cans (with holes poked through the tin) and old lighting fixtures to act as containers for pillar candles, votives or tapers. Or fill large tin cans with moss and willow branches or leafy branches from a tree (remember keep it natural!).

THE ENTERTAINMENT: Any background music will work with this theme whether it's by a DJ, stereo or otherwise.

If you truly want to incorporate games into the mix, try a "Mr. Fix It Relay". Devide your guests into teams of three. Have three tables set up: one with paper mache materials and loose balloons, one with plastercine or clay and one with a vast number of materials (cardboard, construction paper, glue, nuts and bolts, scissors, pieces of wood and pipe, etc). The first person on the team runs to the paper mache table and has to blow up a balloon and then cover it with paper mache. When finished they tap the next teammate who runs to the plastercine table. That member has to create an object of your choice out of the clay, then run back to the front and tap the next teammate. That teammate then has to run to the third table and build a trophy or "cool looking structure" using ALL of the materials on the table as a gift to the guest of honour, then run back to the start of the line. Of course, the team will be timed. The team with the best time wins.

Prizes can be anything from tools to Mike Holmes books. It's a fun game but be sure to stock up each of the tables in between teams to be fair.

THE FOOD: Stick to the basics when selecting meal, appetizer and beverages -- chicken, steak, ribs, grilled vegetable paninis and overall grilled veggies like sautéed mushrooms and potatoes can be creatively prepared and served. Why not serve a Panini with a beer in a metal lunchbox to the guests or brown bag them with the guests name scrawled across? Or balanace wooden beams across cement blocks to act as platter tables. If hosting this party in your backyard, there's nothing that pleases men more than a BBQ and nothing more simple. Keep drinks fun and easy such as coolers, beer, wine, etc.

THE GIVEAWAYS: Personalized tape measures or mini screwdriver kits go a long way in pleasing Mr. Fix-Its. For added flair, use work gloves to store the giveaways instead of gift bags.


Part II of IV

© Melissa Nowakowski April 2008

THE THEME: Classic Gentleman's Club or Cigar Lounge

Regardless if your guest-of-honour actually smokes cigars, there's nothing more suave than an evening in a Cigar Lounge or Gentleman's Club (the non-stripper type). Have your guests dress "business casual".

THE VENUE: Choose a venue that encompasses dark oak furnishings and an open-air space, whether it be a patio, an accessible rooftop or just an outdoor area. A venue that has pool tables works well for entertainment value (even thought they aren't typically found in Cigar Lounges). Our fave venue here in Toronto for this type of theme is THE ACADEMY OF SPHERICAL ARTS -- dark furnishings, pool tables galore and all around class...not to mention fantastic food. Our second choice is THE ROSEHILL which is as classic as you can get with its leather couches, chic ambiance and classic dark styling.

THE STYLE: Rely on the furnishings and ambiance to set the style. If your gut instinct is to add florals, compromise and use arrangements of moss and willow branches instead. Other classic centerpieces can include large martini vases with a floating candle or filled with dark coloured ball ornaments.

THE ENTERTAINMENT: Utilize classic old-school or new wave jazz for your background music. If games are your thing, host a snooker/pool tournament using teams of 2 while guests are mingling. The winners of the tournament can win a bottle of Scotch. No pool tables? Have three large round tables decked out in dark linen and have a 4-person-per-table poker tournament (with half hour breaks) for those who aren't into the mingling scene.

THE FOOD: Provide a spread of lamb burgers, stuffed potatoes, grilled portabellos, beef saté skewers, veal tortières, etc. If the party is for a birthday, design the birthday cake to be an open humidor with chocolate cigars inside, or as a fedora.

THE GIVEAWAYS: Serve cigars as favours to the men (this is where the patio or outdoor space comes in). No smokers? Serve chocolate cigars instead. For the ladies, give away a cute beaded necklace or bracelet or, as a more cost efficient option, serve them with a cream or red rose.


Like the overall look but want a more laid back feel? Try having ONE NIGHT IN HAVANA.
The venue remains the same but with the right accents you will have a completely different -- and more casual -- feel to the party.

Have your guests attend in Cuban Inspired Dress -- linen shirts, guayaberas, summer dresses, wide-brimmed summer hats, etc.

Skip the centerpieces and place areca palms or large, palm-tree-like plants in corners and around the room. Use banana leaves as place mats for platters or as chargers for a sit-down dinner.

Play salsa-inspired music in the background or -- for the more extravagant minded -- have steel pan drummers perform for an hour or two then switch to a Latin DJ. For added entertainment, have your guests participate in a few rounds of "Mentirosa" (a dice game that involves dice and a whole lot of bluffing!) or, for a more mixed, adventurous crowd, hire a salsa instructor to teach some salsa moves.

Serve Mojitos and Sangria's and delicious Cuban-inspired food - tostones, palomilla steak, empanadas, tasajo (beef jerky), plantain chips, papas rellenas (fried stuffed potatoes), etc.

Keep your cigars as your favour-of-choice for the mean. For the women, give away beautiful paper fans or vibrant-coloured maracas.


Part I of IV

© Melissa Nowakowski April 2008

Today I sat down for a consultation with Gwen, a young woman whose husband was turning 35 years old and for whom she wanted to throw a birthday party. But not just any party -- a "guy party". A simple gathering in their home consisting of nibbles and beer simply wouldn't do. She wanted big. But not beautiful.

"The trouble is he doesn't trust me to throw a party" she said, "He's worried that I'd throw a 'girly' party and so he'd prefer to not have a party at all. I've been trying to come up with 'manly' party ideas but I'm stuck as to exactly what that is".

Throwing bashes for men can be somewhat difficult -- especially when planned by a member of the opposite sex. There's a fine line between luxurious and, as Gwen calls it, "girly". And let's face it -- men desire to keep up their "I'm a man" persona, are very visual and aren't into the social aspect of parties like women are. Think of the last time you dragged your guy to a cocktail party. Remember that spaced-out look he had and the number of times he checked his watch?

You can still throw a fabulous party with a theme. Just because the guest of honor is male, it doesn't mean that themes have to go out the window. The trick to throwing a grand-scale party for men is to play to the key male senses: sight, sound, touch and of course, taste.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning that bash for the man in your life -- whether he's a pal, a husband or a family member:

COLOURS: When choosing colour combinations for your fete, stick with naturals or dark shades. Black with white/grey and red always work well together. Other colours like maroon, navy, varying shades of brown (from tan to chocolate) and darker shades of green like forest and sage work nicely too.

GUESLIST: Track down his group of pals -- including family, relatives, friends and co-workers. Be sure to invite any friends or family that live out-of-town or whom he hasn't spoken to in quite a while. Even if they can't attend, they should be invited. And you never know, they might just want to be part of the surprise! Don't necessarily limit your guestlist to men -- most men have female colleagues too and what party is complete without us women to keep the men engaged?

THE FOOD: Men don't nibble. They eat. So be sure to have an abundance of food on hand whether it's via buffet or platters. If you prefer the cocktail party style and have your food passed, be sure to estimate for at least 4 to 5 pieces per person and choose hors d'oeuvres that are filling and boast with flavour.

THE DRINK: Ensure that you have standard liquor and wine on hand for any females that may be attending your soiree but men-targeted beverages are must-have's. Beer, scotch, rum and whiskey are always great choices. Our favourite choice of beverage for men? Drambuie. Versatile and flavourful, Drambuie can be mixed and served in a number of ways: neat on the rocks, mixed with club soda, mixed with Ginger Ale, or our all time fave: Drambuie mixed with orange juice and topped with Ginger Ale. Serve with lime wedges and you're all set.

Stuck for a theme? Stay tuned for Parts 2 through 4 in which I give tips for four separate themes -- from the upscale to the ultra-casual -- that work well for male-dominated parties.




© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

When one thinks of a Bridal Shower, images of a bunch of women sitting around someone's living room unwrapping gifts and playing games that follow the theme of weddings come to mind.

My how things have changed.

Bridal Showers have come a long way since those days. While most Bridal Attendants still lean towards the living room-scenario as the most cost efficient Bridal Shower, many Bridal Attendants have begun to think outside the living room or incorporate details that cater more to the Bride's style and personality.

But first things first. There is often confusion over many of the details pertaining to Bridal Showers. I am going to clear up that confusion and give a peek at some truly unique Bridal Shower ideas.

Is it Mandatory to Throw a Bridal Shower?

The answer, which surprises most gals, is no.

The history of the Bridal Shower (the short short short version) is that once upon a time a Dutch girl was denied marriage to the love of her life because he was poor. If the girl chose to marry the poor boy, her father would deny her a dowery and any emotional or financial support. The girl , as saddened as she was, chose to marry the poor boy anyhow. The village, learning of the girl's plight and touched by her story, gathered together and each brought an item with which the couple could start their lives together. This gathering turned into a party, the father relented when he saw how many from his community supported his daughter's decision and all ended happily ever after.

See where this is going? The point to having a Bridal Shower is to provide the Bride with support that will aid her in her new life with her husband. Is it mandatory? Absolutely not. It's TRADITION. Some Brides truly want a shower, others are on the fence about them but some Brides are uncomfortable with being in the limelight and would prefer to not have one at all. The best thing to do is to have a discussion with your Bride to find out if she would like one or not before planning a tradition that she may not want. In fact, nowadays some brides are even expressing their wishes as to what kind of Bridal shower they want to have!

Who Throws the Bridal Shower?

This can get tricky as culture can get in the way of etiquette. In some cultures the mothers of the Bride and/or Groom feel that it is their duty to throw their darling daughter or daughter-in-law a good, old-fashioned shower. But in fact, in the general wedding-world it is improper to have either of the mothers host the shower. This is because if the mothers host the shower it might be viewed by some as them simply trying to get as many gifts for their daughter as they can or simply a bragging-session about their daughter getting married.

This doesn't mean that the mothers shouldn't be involved. The involvement of the mothers is always encouraged, but it is actually the Maid of Honour who is responsible for hosting the Bridal Shower. Bridesmaids, of course, can offer emmense support for the MOH -- especially when many costs are involved -- and often very much want to be involved.

When should the Shower take place?

Most gals opt to have the shower within a month or two prior to the wedding day. Etiquette states that Bridal Showers should be held 3 - 4 weeks after the wedding invitations have been sent, but showers have been held anywhere from six months prior to the wedding to the actual week of the wedding day (this is a great and most convenient option if the bulk of wedding guests are from out-of-town as they will already be in the area -- it will save them from double trips).

Who should be invited?

Do not -- I repeat -- do NOT invite anyone who has not been invited to the wedding. Regardless of how close that particular person is to the Bride, if she hasn't been invited to the wedding, she should not be invited to the shower. It's just plain bad taste. Why would you invite someone (not to mention expect them to contribute or purchase a gift) when they weren't given the courtesy of being invited to the wedding itself?

Not sure who should or shouldn't be invited? Ask the Bride's mother, sister, aunt or anyone close to her for a guestlist or even better, ask the Bride herself.


There's no rule that states that a Bridal Shower has to take place in the MOH's home, that it has to take place in an afternoon or that the events have to involve games, food and the unwrapping of gifts. Let's face it, given the wide age range of women that will be at the party, some women are just not that into games and the like. Below are some examples of unique shower themes that go beyond the norm.


Host a late afternoon shower in someone's party room or a room at a community centre (or heck, if you have the cash host it at an actual salsa club). Serve Tapas in combination with sangrias and mojitos. Have a long table brimming with craft materials such as cardstock, linen paper, popsycle sticks, beautiful beads, feathers, etc. As the guests arrive have them sit at the table and create decorative paper fans. These will serve as the guests' takeaways. Then, serve your tapas and once everyone has eaten, host the gift opening. Afterwords, hire a salsa or belly dance instructor for an hour to teach the women the sultry art of salsa or belly dancing. The women will have a blast as they partner up with each other to learn some swankylatin grooves or will bust a gut (literally) learning sexy belly dance routines.


If the Bride is a 'foodie', rent out a room at a cooking school or college. Draft up a "menu" of easy but tasty appetizers and desserts, purchase the necessary ingredients and print each recipe. Once everyone has arrived, devide the guests in groups of four (bridal party and Bride included) and have them create one of the dishes/desserts from the menu using the ingredients provided. Determine which group makes which dish/dessert by having them draw the dish names from a hat. When all dishes have been created, place them on a table and let everyone enjoy their culinary experience. Because each member of the group will have a task to make the dish, the preparation time will be less than usual and the guests will not only have fun cooking but will learn a new recipe! For the takeaways or 'favours', create little booklets with each recipe that was made.


Let's be honest, what woman doesn't like to be pampered? There are some spa companies that provide 'demonstration' type parties wherein they provide spa services for groups and then provide the opportunity for the women to purchase the products used afterwords. There's no sales pitch -- these companies simply provide the demonstrations for word-0f-mouth marketing. There are a few makeup companies (similar to Avon or Mary Kay) that do this as well or there are esthetician/makeup students that would jump at the chance to do the same to gain experience. That being said, create a "serenity shower" by inviting your guests over for an afternoon of pampering. This type of shower is best for groups of 20 or less. Have one room dedicated to the spa services, one room dedicated to makeup and another room dedicated to tasty treats and beverages that the guests can enjoy while awaiting their turn. Purchase a number of the spa and makeup products, create two prize baskets and have a draw for each.


Is the Bride a fashion diva? If so, take the traditional bridal shower and accessorize! Ask your guests to wear their most stylish-DAY outfit to the party. Host the gathering at a unique yet fashionable venue such as the Bata Shoe Museum or the Design Exchange and arrange for a tour for your guests.

Or hire an image consultant and once all guests have arrived, have the consultant give a mini-seminar on looking your best or the up and coming fashion trends.

To liven things up afterwords, host a project-runway game: have a pile of different fabrics, clothing items and accessories (such as hats, scarves, bracelets, purses, etc) on a few tables throughout the room. Divide your guests into groups of three (2 being the designer and one being the model) and giving the groups a very short time limit, instruct them to put together a complete and fashionable outfit. Watching the guests run amok trying to put together a fashionable outfit with mismatched items is tons of fun for the Bride. Once the time is up, host a fashion show wherein the "model" parades down a "catwalk' and the Bride chooses the most fashionable outfit. That group wins a prize that is fashion related -- whether it's a pile of fashion magazines, a basket of coordinated accessories, etc.


Perhaps the simplest and most low-key of showers, the Hollywood Shower mixes the glam of Hollywood with ultimate comfort. Deck out the living room or family room with comfy seating, big fluffy pillows, movie posters and scattered "trash mags" like Star, US Weekly and In Touch Weekly. Line the foyer with a red carpet. As guests arrive, hand out a self-made crossword puzzle with Hollywood and celebrity trivia. The first three people to complete the crossword successfully win a DVD. Another game option is to divide the guests into two groups and play a game of Hollywood pictionary or Hollywood Charades. Then, treat your guests to bowls of buttery popcorn, M&Ms and other movie theatre-type goodies and curl up for a good old fashioned movie (or two) and trashy celebrity magazines. Think slumber-party-by-day.


Everything about this shower is chic -- from the cocktail party style to the food to the metropolitan atmosphere. This shower works best in the evening. Ask your guests to dress in their most stylish outfits and come to the shower which is held in a private room at a trendy and chic restaurant with dark wood and tons of candles. As guests arrive, pass out a "martini menu". Pass hors d'oeuvres and have a martini-tasting with a seasoned pro. Or, if martinis aren't your thing -- a wine tasting with a professional. Takeaways can be martini glasses filled with flavourful Jelly-Belly jellybeans in your choice of colour with a gumdrop on a toothpick (in place of an olive) and wrapped in cellophane. To add some excitement afterwords, have the young at heart change venues by heading off to a dance club.


For this choose a restaurant or room that is bright and airy or a patio that is exposed to the sun or garden and hold the shower mid-morning. Have your guests come to the shower in their prettiest wide-brimmed hat and 'Sunday-best'. Upon arrival serve each guest a mimosa and once all have arrived, toast the Bride. Then host a classy brunch buffet of eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes, fruit, danishes, crepes, etc. and a range of beverages such as juice, coffee, tea and mimosas. If games are desired, have a table with a wide variety of different potted plants and flowers. The guest who can name the most of the plants/flowers gets to take them home. Or host a grand-scale poker or similar card game. Takeaways can be miniature bud vases.

Additional Resources:

There's no reason for a Bridal Shower to feel like a tupperware party. Get creative -- after all there are no specific rules (other than etiquette of course) -- and most importantly have fun!