Sitting at the long table just off their restaurant's dining room, Mark and Brian Canlis attempt a most delicate balance: Describe the sweeping scope of this year’s New Year’s Eve party—without giving away the surprises inherent to a good time.
“There will be waterfalls,” Brian offers.
His brother emphasizes. “Waterfalls. Plural."
“There will be live animals,” Brian muses.
The elder Canlis gestures to the two walls of angular glass panes that overlook Lake Union. “The biggest disagreement Brian and I have had at this party is whether we can take all these windows out.”
Tickets are officially on sale for this painstakingly orchestrated, mystery-clad bacchanalia. Last year, the Brothers Canlis jettisoned the classic fine dining approach to New Year’s Eve—truffle-topped tasting menu, jazz trio, guaranteed profits—and turned the entire property into a dance party rife with retro discoveries. Guests received an actual map when they pulled up to the restaurant, then could navigate at will from the Dick's Drive-In popup to the basement bar, where a guy in a hot tub might point you toward a six-seat faux PanAm airliner, where the captain served up sips of Pappy Van Winkle.
Last year's party, Midnight 1950, drew inspiration from the year Canlis opened. The 2018 followup, Midnight Hawaii, nods to the restaurant's longstanding connection to the balmy islands where Peter Canlis drew so much inspiration and even for a time, owned a second restaurant. The format is the same: Arrive at 9pm and you get a map; revelry extends across most of the restaurant, from the basement to parts of the kitchen, even the roof. The centerpiece of last year's bash, the eight-piece Chris Norton Band flown in from New York, will return to fuel the dance floor.
Tickets are $525 apiece, a sum that includes an entire evening's worth of food and drinks, presented in cool interactive settings around the restaurant, rather than the traditional sit-down dinner situation. Canlis even partnered with Tommy Bahama, another Seattle institution with Hawaiian ties, and a portion of the night's proceeds benefit the very worthy local mentoring program MUST.
Given the Hawaiian theme (and "aloha formal" dress code), reasonable expectations include whole-roasted pig and tiki drinks and, yes, plenty of champagne. Weekly planning sessions began early in 2018; pastry chef Baruch Ellsworth has been testing one recipe for months, says Mark, just for New Year’s Eve. “One bite and it goes away.”
Had the Brothers Canlis not chosen to take over the family restaurant, they might've had an epic career as event planners, as evidenced by their 2010 citywide scavenger hunt, and a recent trilogy of gonzo-themed holiday fetes that featured everything from a nacho cheese fountain to Skee-Ball to hot tubs and actual snow. They view these feats of festivity not merely as rad parties, but almost as a civic duty—Seattle needs a party scene worthy of "our airplane-software-coffee jam," says Mark—and a sort of thought exercise in hospitality. All the efforts poured into these sweeping parties, he says, is not unlike a Formula One racing car, where a company like Mercedes might develop new technology for, say, its brakes, then apply it to the cars it sells to the public. "If we can do this, it really gives us a lot of R&D for what happens at the table."
Tickets and a scant amount of details are available at canlis.com/midnight. Last year's affair sold out in less than a week—and the restaurant didn't even promote the thing for the first few days. Which is to say, if you're interested, get after those tickets, then ruminate on what an "aloha formal" black tie outfit might look like...and whether there's any world in which a coconut bra passes as formal attire.