When you are new to the world of children's birthday parties, you start off thinking, "This won't cost much. After all, I don't have to buy liquor."
But what you do have to buy is paper goods. A trip to the party store easily can set you back $50 to $100. Then there's the post-party depression brought on by the sight of $50 to $100 worth of cutesy-pie paper plates in a big green garbage bag in the middle of your living room. Suddenly you understand the popularity of going out for birthday parties.
One call does it all. It's often cheaper. It's controlled and you don't have to do the clean up. Here is a rundown of birthday-party packages in the Valley. Be sure to book well in advance.
Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour, 10141 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, 818-349-1611. Farrell's offers three birthday packages: the Clown Party, at $4.95 per person, and the Hot Fudge Volcano Party and Zoo Party, both at $5.50. They vary only in the type of sundae offered.
What's the same for all three is the soft drink, hot dog or grilled-cheese sandwich, french fries, balloon, hat and Frisbee for each person. And, of course, the rousing happy birthday song--drums and all--from the staff, who surround the birthday child and draw the entire restaurant's attention to the celebration. On a busy Saturday afternoon, the drums are beating every few minutes.
Parents may bring a cake for the group. Parties last up to 1 1/2 hours. Small groups sit at tables in the main room; larger parties of 20 to 30 may get the party room--if no one else has claimed it first. Parties may be scheduled anytime Farrell's is open: Monday through Friday from noon to 10 p.m., weekends from noon to midnight.
Gymboree, 14252 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-905-6225. This is the only Gymboree in the Valley that offers birthday parties, which are geared, like the gym classes themselves, to children age 1 to 4. Gymboree provides an instructor, singing, music, face painting, games such as "freeze dancing" and 40 pieces of gymnastic equipment.
The gym is specially decorated for the party, which lasts two hours. Owner Adrian Becker invites parents to treat the gym "like their living room"--they may bring in whatever food they wish. "Some people do a big catered affair, some just do cake. I think the cake is enough because the kids are too busy playing to really eat. The food is more for the parents."
The cost is $185 for up to 16 kids ($165 for members) plus $6 for each additional child. Parties must be scheduled around gym classes and are available for Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning and afternoon and weekdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater, 8425 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, 818-993-3446; 8357 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Sun Valley, 818-768-2104; 16269 San Fernando Mission Road, Granada Hills, 818-366-6022.
There has never been a place where the concept of time passing varies so widely from kids to parents. A 1 1/2-hour party here seems like 10 minutes to a kid and 10 hours to an adult. Birthday parties are set up on long tables facing the animated puppet stage, which turns on every few minutes to entertain those assembled.
For $4.95 per person, Cheese provides a large pizza and pitcher of soft drinks for every six guests, a cake for every 10 guests, 10 arcade tokens for the birthday child and five for each guest, hats, balloons and party plates. Parties may be scheduled anytime.
Malibu Castle, 4989 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-8100. The thought of having a party at this miniature-golf-course-cum-arcade and of, say, a dozen 7-year-old boys cavalierly wielding golf clubs is unnerving--and aging.
This party site is not appropriate for preschoolers, and even older kids require a great deal of parental concentration to get several foursomes through the course without bottlenecking at every turn. Extra parents come in handy, not only for golf but for the huge, dark, noisy arcade where keeping track of kids is tricky.
The $4.95-a-person package includes one round of golf, two slices of pizza, soft drink, sundae, popcorn, paper goods and five arcade tokens. You may bring your own cake (they can provide knife and plates). Tables are booked for one hour (available on the hour) but there is no time limit for golf or the arcade.
L. A. Cabaret Comedy Club, 17271 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-233-5157. Birthday parties are booked as part of the audience at regular 1:30 p.m. Sunday performances. There are usually eight to 10 parties each week for this two-hour variety show put on by professional kids. There is singing, dancing and magic.
The seating is cabaret style, and at the 25-minute intermission, soft drinks and ice cream are served at the tables. Parents may bring cakes. The birthday children are invited on stage for a chorus of "Happy Birthday." The cost is $6 per person and is appropriate for ages 3 to 13. Book at least six weeks in advance.
La Petit Repertory Company, Sanucci-Taylor Piano Game, 19562 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, 818-344-7715.