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Happy Birthday, Sweet 16 : * Celebration is making a comeback, either with traditional girls-only lunches or more elaborate nighttime parties with boys, music and dancing.

March 25, 1994|ROBERTA G. WAX ROBERTA WAX..BD: SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Roberta G. Wax is a frequent contributor to The Times

Every birthday is special, but some seem more significant than others--a first birthday, a Jewish child's 13th, a Mexican girl's 15th--and are celebrated with much fanfare. Somewhere in between is the Sweet 16, making a comeback in popularity locally.

When it comes to Sweet 16s, there are two camps: the traditional girls-only luncheons and the more elaborate nighttime parties with boys, music and dancing. The celebrations can be as diverse as your pocketbook allows.

Parties that are strictly female are "a bit calmer, a bit more relaxing," noted Beth Joseph, a Granada Hills High School junior who celebrated her 16th birthday with girlfriends at Cafe Bellissimo in Woodland Hills. Singing waiters and a woman who analyzed handwriting provided entertainment before the girls returned to the Joseph home to open gifts.

"When it's just girls, you can talk," Beth added. "You don't have to worry about boys being there. With boys there, it's fun, too, but it's different."

Michelle Nachman, who turned 16 in February, had a choice--either a big birthday bash or a special gift. She opted for the gift--a sporty black Probe--and a small, intimate party with a handful of best buddies and relatives, including grandparents from Florida.

"She chose to keep it very low-key," said her mom, Rosanne. Michelle, a 10th-grader at Agoura Hills High School, chose dinner at Cafe Bellissimo because the singing waiters provide a festive atmosphere.

Woodland Hills mom Lorine Dempster wanted daughter Nicole's Sweet 16 to be fun while not breaking the bank.

Nicole, who wanted an intimate party, chose seven close friends--all girls--for a night on the town, which began at a Westlake craft store, where the girls painted ceramic boxes. A limousine then whisked them off to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in West Los Angeles. After a scenic drive back to the San Fernando Valley, they had a slumber party at a local hotel, with Mom and Dad chaperoning from an adjoining room.

At the Braemar Country Club, where weddings and Bar Mitzvahs are the usual affairs, Sweet 16s are still "pretty low-key," said Lynne LaFond-DeLuca, catering director for the Tarzana facility, which had 15 to 20 Sweet 16s last year.

"Luncheons, either poolside or in a private room, are popular, maybe with a fun theme, like south of the border or the '50s," said LaFond-DeLuca, adding that lunches average 20 to 30 people and cost around $400 to $500, not counting centerpieces, party favors or entertainment.

Party coordinator Karen Freshman, owner of Karen's Kreations in Northridge, says Sweet 16s can run anywhere from $250 for a simple luncheon to several thousand dollars for more elaborate affairs. If a girl is Jewish and has not had a Bat Mitzvah, her Sweet 16 may be a bigger deal.

Inviting boys "changes the complexion of a party," Freshman noted. "It becomes more of a party atmosphere than a girls' social. Girls seem happy to just mingle. Many kids would be happy to have a party at home with a deejay."

Parents will often hire her because they want "something different, something out of the ordinary that hasn't been done before."

For a mystery party, for example, a bus took about 40 boys and girls to dinner at a Mexican restaurant, then to a comedy club and finally to a midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

For nighttime gigs, Freshman says, dinner at restaurants is popular because the restaurant provides music and the kids can dance.

Co-ed parties are usually at night and often include dancing, says Stephanie Smooke, a senior at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, who had an English high tea at a restaurant with about 30 girlfriends and 10 female relatives. Entertainment was provided by the restaurant's palm readers.

While entertainment is fun, it's not really necessary to have a good time, Smooke says.

"What makes (a party) fun," she said, "is when you're with a good group of people."

Sometimes, a theme makes the event. For example, several Valley ranches and stables offer horseback riding, hayrides and barbecues for a down-home cowgirl look. One swashbuckling North Hollywood teen-ager made aged-looking "treasure maps" to invite guests to a pirate feast aboard the Buccaneer Queen at Ports O' Call in San Pedro.

Sarah Grace, senior charter sales representative for Hornblower dining yachts in Marina del Rey, says cruises range from about $20 per person for lunch aboard a Hornblower yacht to $159 per person for a dinner-dance cruise.

Whatever the mode, party favors do seem important. Personalized gifts, including key chains, mugs and picture frames, are popular, Freshman says. Sometimes the favor is also the entertainment, such as caricatures or photo souvenirs.

When pricing restaurants, Freshman warns, be aware of hidden costs, such as a cake-cutting charge or room fee. Local high school students just starting out in garage bands may be a low-cost alternative to a more experienced deejay.

Freshman also advises that invitations be mailed rather than flyers that are freely distributed.

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