Smugly squatted in New York’s meatpacking district, Marquee is usually known for its impossible line and its bridge and tunnel crowd. But Tuesday night, the club was the sole province of New York’s web elite. The second annual Webutante Ball amassed a crowd of geeks and gurus dedicated to the New York tech scene.
“The highlight [of Internet Week] has been seeing all of my friends coming out for such a great cause,” said Richard Blakeley, editor in chief of Gawker.TV and the prom’s honcho. “We’ve raised somewhere between $20,000-$30,000 for City Harvest.”
View Our Gallery of the 2nd Annual Webutante Ball
With help from Dentyne, Groupon, SVEDKA, Brooklyn Brewery, Pepsi, and Marquee, among others, the event was fully paid for via sponsors before proceeds from ticket sales ($25/head) started to roll in. The sold-out event encompassed two floors; the base level was centered on a sporadically sparse dance floor and a back room filled with Groupon swag. A double staircase led to the second floor, where everyone was happy to step aside to make way for bar-seekers—an unusual departure from Manhattan club manners.
“Last year it was free and it looked better on the Internet than it did in real life. This year I wanted to change that,” said Blakeley, “Not only look good on the Internet, but have every one leave having had a really good time.”
The crowd in attendance was keeping up appearances. For startup stars and seasoned vets of the tech scene, cocktail attire and jaded excitement were de rigueur. “Internet Week is just starting,” said Nick McGlynn, photographer and founder of RandomNightOut. “Anybody who’s anybody is at this party right this second… including me.”
Lockhart Steele, the founder of Curbed and the man The New York Times called “The Optimist’s Blogger,” held his space on one side of the second floor party space. Steele said, “This is the first event that I’ve been to at Internet Week and it might be the only event I go to.”
While the Webutante Ball seemed worth the work of attendance (Steele didn’t don a tie for the occasion, but did say of Blakeley, “I feel like I love him the same way I love the human race, there’s so much possibility,”) he was not as excited for the rest of the week’s festivities. “I’d rather be working. It’s more fun to be working on the Internet than hearing about the Internet,” Steele said. “I’ve been in the tech scene in New York for over a decade. I think the desire of New York tech scene to brand itself as Silicon Valley tech scene part 2 is a little bit overblown and goofy.”
But business and branding aside, the event seemed to be a familiar gathering, cocktail dresses not withstanding. (“The tech scene is notorious for everyone not wanting to dress up,” admitted Blakeley.)
“I started covering tech four years ago and there was no way the community could’ve come together in this way. It’s cool that people have banded together like this,” said Caroline McCarthy, a reporter for CNET News. “I don’t think it has very much business relevance but it’s an excuse to have a good time.”
Meanwhile, Brian Stelter, a television and digital media reporter for The New York Times, went as far as to describe the event as “pure lemonade: a highly concentrated group of people in the Internet space. I think probably between 500 to 700 people here are influential and important and are great to know.”
Julia Allison, one of the event’s prom committee members and a Gawker.TV Fameball Hall of Fame honoree, was excited for her upcoming Internet Week interview with What Would Google Do? author Jeff Jarvis. Pinned atop the staircase between interviews, she noted that this year’s event was markedly better than last’s, saying, “The last one was a bit sweaty, very overcrowded and I was late for a blind date at the time and the blind date was horrible.”
But once the drinks were no longer free and the dance floor was nearly empty, the ever-honest Foster Kamer, writer for Village Voice’s Runnin Scared blog, summed up this year’s night in the most succinct terms: “It’s nothing a few hours of therapy can’t fix.”
Lauren Streib is a reporter for The Daily Beast. She was previously a reporter for Forbes.