Looking for a different setting for a holiday party? Someplace elegant? Or perhaps romantic, offbeat or even magical?
In Southern California you're in luck. You can pick and choose from among private yachts, a fleet of gondolas, a magic club, mansions, vintage railroad cars and other exotic sites. Cheap, not often; memorable, almost always.
Some of the sites or facilities below may also be booked through agencies other than the one that lists them here. For names of other businesses that may be able to provide information on party sites, see "Party Planning & Services" in your telephone book Yellow Pages.
Here's a sampler of suggestions from Southland party planners, caterers and tour operators.
Railway revelry. Slotsy Tours and Travel, 1821 W. Commonwealth Ave., Suite H, Fullerton, (714) 870-8641. This business can set up a rolling dinner or office party aboard a private rail car that will carry you and your group on a one-day round trip to San Diego or on a weekend journey to San Francisco and back.
Most of the cars, which have been restored, were originally used on the Union Pacific streamliners. One of these is Columbia River, which the company calls the only operational Union Pacific dome dining car in the country.
Car rentals begin at $2,500, for up to 35 people; a hosted bar costs $15 per person; hors d'oeuvres, $7 per person. Full meal service, including black-tie dinners, is also available. Contact Randy Schlotthauer, Slotsy Tours vice president.
Gondola gatherings. Gondola Getaway, 5437 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (213) 433-9595). Michael O'Toole and David Black, owners of Gondola Getaway, will rent you a gondola for two to six people ($45 for two, $10 for each additional person) or a whole fleet of Venetian vessels (starting at $12 per person).
The romantic ride through the canals of the Southland's Naples includes a basket of French bread, cheese and salami, a bucket of ice and glasses. (Bring your own beverages.)
The boats leave daily, from early afternoon to midnight, year-round. Reservations a must.
Magnificent mansions. Marilyn Jenett Locations, 2049 Century Park East, Suite 1200, Los Angeles, (213) 551-1488. This company can arrange for you to throw your party at a variety of showpiece locales--for example, the mansion used as Pam Ewing's home in the television show "Dallas"; an Italian Renaissance-style villa; a spectacular castle on the cliffs in Malibu; a futuristic-looking entertainment complex, or an ornate Art Deco theater where the lobby can accommodate up to 400 people.
"I drew my inspiration several years back from film-location companies that find places for television and motion pictures filming," said Jenett, who added that her company also has operations in Chicago, New York, Boston, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, New Orleans, Honolulu and the island of Maui.
Party Productions, 14000 Tahiti Way, No. 32, Marina del Rey, (213) 301-9531. This business also has estate homes available for parties; these include the Bel-Air mansion formerly owned by singer Shirley Bassey and a number of Beverly Hills estates.
Most of the properties are available year-round, with rental rates ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 an evening. Catering, decorations and other services are extra.
The yachting life. Owner Lydia Gach says Party Productions (phone number in the previous item) has listings of more than 100 yachts available year-round for party charters off Marina del Rey, Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Diego. She will arrange the rental of the yacht and decorate it to suit your party theme.
Rentals run from $500 to $3,000, depending on craft size. "These range from small sailboats for four people up to the larger motor yachts that will accommodate 200," Gach said.
Hornblower Yachts, 3366 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (714) 549-8866; P. O. Box 86140, San Diego 92138, (619) 435-2211; Pier 33, San Francisco, (415) 788-8866.
Hornblower Yachts offers brunch, lunch and dinner-dance cruises to the public from all three of its sites (call for details) and will also rent out vessels for private parties. Rates begin at $275 an hour for the smallest yachts and range up to $1,000 an hour for a 105-foot vessel.
Food prices vary according to menu selected. Special packages, including both the yacht and food, begin at $40 per person.
Addition details are in a free booklet, "Guide to Planning for Parties and Meetings Afloat."
Magic motifs. Magic Island, 3505 Via Oporto, Newport Beach, (714) 675-0900. This club provides an evening featuring dinner and several kinds of professional magic shows, including close-up, comedic and classical magic.
Although Magic Island is a membership club, non-member groups ranging from 20 to 240 people may book part or all of the facilities.