Why so many of Austin’s F1 social affairs ran out of gas

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Reminders of the United States Grand Prix peppered downtown Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Then there was one.

During the first United States Grand Prix in Austin, posh parties popped up all over downtown. Million-dollar transitory lounges (or rumored to cost that much), after-hours nightclubs, velvet-rope blow-outs. A big chunk of Central Austin was turned into a street party. Promoters rented out the Erwin Center and Austin Convention Center for goliath events.

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Then it all evaporated. Except one agglomerated three-day party (see social report below), plus a few promising but relatively modest affairs.

Why? I asked influencers this week.

Theory No. 1: The F1 novelty wore off. Not for core fans, mind you. But for those whose prior interest in the global sport had been faint and ambiguous at best. As almost every observer noted at the time, F1 didn’t exactly match the city’s pre-existing culture. Once the big crowds of visitors melted into the city — or skipped Austin for Mexico City — the Grand Prix became just another Austin mega-fest. A nice one when the weather is fine. Not so much when it turns nasty.

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Theory No. 2: Ostentatiously exclusive social events never really worked on a large scale in Austin. Sure, there’s always some sort of easily ignored VIP access at galas, music concerts, sporting events and such. Yet the idea of multiple lines outside a club — with entry denied to all but the privileged of fame, face or fortune — just doesn’t seem right to us. Notice, for instance, how quickly the ultra-lounge trend petered out. Some of those early over-the-top F1 parties thrived on that kind of class system. Not very Austin.

Theory No. 3: Our F1 guests ending up doing what almost all tourists do here: What we already do every week. Eat out. Roam the streets. Go to clubs and unpretentious parties. Shop. Fan out into our cool neighborhoods. They aren’t looking for a replica of an experience to be had in Abu Dhabi or Kuala Lumpur. They crave authentic Austin. That’s one reason the short-term-lease sensation took off — and seems to have crested in the face of strife and regulation — because some of our visitors prefer being housed like Austinites while they act like Austinites.

Full Tilt/Blu/My Yacht Club. Three fine F1 parties have survived — and thrived — as a blended event. At the old Antone’s at West Fifth and Lavaca streets — cleaned and brightened up — the Full Tilt Fashion show launched the festivities on Friday night. Later in the evening, Blu and My Yacht Club joined forces at that same venue. That combined social effort will repeat on Saturday, while an after-party for the racing teams is planned for Sunday.

As for the fashion show, the hosts experimented with what we in theater call “environmental staging,” scattering tiny performance platforms throughout the venue. Instead of trotting down a runway, the models filtered through the masses and then posed — almost as if caught off guard — on the assorted mini-stages. There, they were swarmed by photographers and fashion-forward followers. And oh, meantime, I engaged in conversation with some genuinely fascinating folks. Although I could have done without the velvet-rope treatment outside, I’m delighted that this amalgamated affair — and a few other F1 pop-ups — flourish.


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