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Michael Barnes

‘Unmasked’ for Wonders and Worries at JW Marriott

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Olga Campos, Gigi Edwards Bryant and Lisa Copeland at 'Unmasked' for Wonders and Worries.

Olga Campos, Gigi Edwards Bryant and Lisa Copeland at ‘Unmasked’ for Wonders and Worries.

Always read the entire invitation. I have a bad habit of just scanning these welcome little notices. Perhaps I focused on the timing: I was delighted to discover that I could attend a benefit for Wonders and Worries, a group that provides help for kids whose grownups are seriously ill.

Since a previous W&W party stressed a Western theme, I assumed that my nightlife uniform of black jeans, boots, black top and winter jacket would suffice. Arrived at the Lone Star Ballroom on the third floor of the spangly new JW Marriott Austin to discover folks attired in formal wear and disguised in masks.

This being Austin, it didn’t matter. Nobody snubbed my more casual threads.

It’s a good thing, too, since we mingled in that lobby for a long time. It was well past 8 p.m. when a few renegades pushed open the doors to the medium-sized ballroom, where tables were manned by masked servers standing at attention. Assigning particular pairs of servers to particular tables worked well here, since the rhythms of dining varied among the lively revelers.

Attention at our table turned, not to the charity, but to the venue still under nightly scrutiny. After all, some of us will be spending a lot of time in these digs. Everyone approved the setting and the “Phantom of the Opera” decor. A few guests wished that the lobby service stations were spaced to thin out the early stampedes.

The JW is trying to accomplish something tough: Quantity through three floors of sizable conference rooms and quality through attention to detail.

One thing they definitely got right — and this is no small matter on the social circuit — the roast chicken was moist, warm and well-spiced. Hard to get that right 500 times when you’ve also got simultaneous parties on other floors and three restaurants downstairs to maintain.