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The Ultimate Party Animal

Social Sunday

December 28, 1997|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oh, sure, Courteney Cox and Quentin Tarantino were there. But the life of the party was Jeffrey Best.

As one of the hottest event planners in the Southland, Best and his team are responsible if the food is cold, the speakers blow, the bagpipers get lost or the fire marshal busts the host for overcrowding.

Best, who also owns Culver City's soon-to-reopen Panini Cafe and Hollywood's new Lucky Seven, is rare among the elite handful of party planners who cater movie studio bashes and other high-profile events.

Why? He lives in Orange County.

"The night life is better in L.A.," says Best, 37, "but the day life is better in Orange County."

He lives in an apartment in Costa Mesa (where he owns a third restaurant, Habana), maintains an apartment in Hollywood and drives his big black pickup, puffing his Parliaments. Employing cell phone, walkie-talkies, pager and a team of loyal help, Best stays on top of the far-flung events he is coordinating.

One day he zips between his Cuban restaurant and the huge tent off the community of Newport Coast, where a casino night is being created for a party on behalf of Orangewood, a home in Orange for abused or neglected children. Another day, he races from the martini lounge a client had requested at an Anaheim convention to the Hollywood Colonnade, which he has transformed with "gothic drive-in" movie decor for the "Scream 2" premiere party.

"He's among the top three--but definitely in the top five--event people around right now," says Bryan Wark, a Venice designer of flowers and furniture and one of Best's regular subcontractors.

Not bad for a onetime busboy, chauffeur, club musician and bread delivery guy.

This month, Best planned the Miramax premiere parties for "Good Will Hunting," "Jackie Brown" and "Scream 2," the neon cigar lounge for Fox Cable TV's booth at the Western Cable show, and he assisted with the $100,000 Orangewood fund-raiser. Best also planned the holiday party for surf/skate/snowboard apparel maker Quiksilver, a smaller hush-hush function, and his own Christmas do. Add a few expensive weddings and a Las Vegas trip with Ward.

"Then," he says, running his hands through his hair, "I collapse."

Though his biggest-budget event was the Miramax post-Oscars party in March at the Mondrian Hotel--it celebrated wins for "The English Patient"--Best's favorite bash was the one after the movie's premiere.

To re-create the desert atmosphere of the film, Best had 2 1/2 tons of sand poured into a party tent and topped by Persian rugs. Custom-made Moroccan tents housed food stations. Servers wore dog tags, khaki shirts and military medals. Cigars were customized with wrappers named after a hotel in the movie. Best bought out a newsstand's Moroccan newspapers--an 11th-hour inspiration and a detail that is trademark Best. There was even a tent styled after an opium den with pillows on the floor. "It was a total schmooze fest," he says.

In Hollywood, that means success.

"Jeffrey is just amazing," says Lisa Taback, director of special events and publicity for Miramax.

"He sets up some little touches that are so clever. . . . The owner of our company drove by the brew-pub party after 'Good Will Hunting' and he saw the bagpipe players Jeffrey had hired. [The owner] said, 'I hope those are for our party because those guys are great.' "

*

Best grew up in Hollywood but graduated from high school in Ohio, where his mother had moved. Soon after, he returned to L.A. on his own and spent the next several years working in restaurants and bands.

Eight years ago, he decided to get serious about the restaurant business and worked his way up the food chain at top L.A. eateries, eventually managing one. He was also a sous-chef. After a stint running Warner Bros. studio's executive commissary, Best became director of operations for four restaurants and bars, including Olive and Swingers.

When Olive lost its lease, Best decided to try catering and owning a restaurant.

His first big client was the Ford modeling agency. How did he land the deal?

"When you start out, you do what you have to. You call in every favor you've ever been owed. You keep the price down. You make it the best thing imaginable. Sometimes early on you don't make money."

At the mobbed "Scream 2" premiere party in Hollywood, red lights cast creepy shadows across the walls. Henna tattoos, manicures and fortunetelling were offered on one of three levels. A giant green mechanical hand from the movie swung a dagger down over the heads of guests.

At the after-party for Tarantino's "Jackie Brown," a film about a stewardess laundering money, Best hired go-go dancers and had Arquette's husband, Jon Sidel, as DJ. Waitresses pushing airline carts mixed drinks out of miniature liquor bottles while waiters wore tuxedo shirts with colored ruffles recalling proms of 1976.

"He's managed clubs and bars and knows people in those [worlds]," says Miramax's Taback, "and he knows what's going to be the next thing to hit."

*

Best assembles a team of subcontractors for each event based on size and need, and he has the indefatigably cool event manager Sherry Abedi on staff.

Still, not everything goes aces for Best.

At the Fox martini lounge he created, the cigar girls hired by a subcontractor to pass out $7,000 worth of Dominicans failed to show. Best persuaded the waiters to circulate the primo puffers.

A great event planner, say those in the field, is like a champion boxer: He or she can take a hit and move to Plan B.

"I make 10 times more money in the party business than I do in the restaurant business," Best says, pushing the antenna down on his cell phone and preparing to issue orders into his walkie-talkie.

"It's definitely a high-wire act, though," he says with the beam of a man who loves the circus.

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