Take a town that's already an international nightlife hotspot, add in tens of thousands of people looking to have a good time, weather that is still optimal for short dresses and bikinis even in December, and perhaps the world's heftiest amount of sponsorship money at party planners' disposal, and you'll get something like the party circuit surrounding Art Basel Miami Beach. Intended originally as the North American offshoot of the far more paired-down original Art Basel fair in Switzerland, the week-long event has turned into something of an Open Bar Olympics.
There is no excuse too flimsy to throw an event. Over the years, there's literally been DJs playing in Walgreens drug stores. We're surprised that no one has thrown some sort of artsy meta-party for an actual opening of a letter, to be honest. Of course, no two parties are the same, and there's quite a bit of a variety to chose from. Here's a brief rundown of all the different types of parties one might attend during the week.
The Intimate Cocktail Party
Guest List: A European fashion editor, a former model married to a Brazilian billionaire, a spare artist or two, Martha Stewart.
At these events, usually held at the beginning of the night, the champagne-serving waiters on hand will outnumber party photographers, but only by about three. The idea here is you drink a little champagne, pose for a few pictures, network with the other VIPs who made the guest list, talk about what other parties you're going to later on in the night, and repeat ad infinitum.
The Intimate Dinner
Guest List: A fashion designer, a smattering of 'It Kids', a few art collectors, whoever the guest of honor is, Martha Stewart.
Held usually around 8 o'clock, this is sort of like the intimate cocktail, but they actually provide you the type of food that doesn't fit onto a cocktail platter. Which is nice, because, frankly even if people had time to make dinner reservations this week, they'd likely end up missing them anyway. You'll enjoy something like seared Florida snapper or mojo rum pork with roughly 50 to 100 of your now closest friends (as chosen by whichever PR person put the guest-list together).
The Over-the-Top Sensory Overload
Guest List: A Chinese acrobatic troop, a half-dozen avant-garde performing artists, a marching band, a newborn baby zebra flown in directly from Africa, Martha Stewart.
At Art Basel, there are events that seem to come directly from Saturday Night Live's Stefon sketches. Event organizers seemingly throw everything and anything on the agenda, even if it doesn't really make sense. An exclusive performance by some European modern dance troupe followed up by six-piece mariachi band performing in the midst of some lights sculpture installation? Sure, why not? Food choices that include everything from sushi flown in directly from Japan to a do-it-yourself sunday bar? Absolutely. A literal champagne fountain? Darling, it's a must. Selfie booths, Swedish DJs, a live tiger, and complimentary astrology readings? Duh. A duet between Pharell Williams and a holographic Barry White? Not yet, but probably next year. It's almost all too much to actually process, but just enough to make your Instagram stories pop to the point they're the envy of all your friends. The only thing these parties lack is complimentary sensory deprivation tanks to wind down the mind afterwards.
The Beach Tent After Party
Guest List: A Hilton, a Brant, Leonardo DiCaprio, gallerists, schmoozers, an early appearance Martha Stewart.
By about 11 p.m. or 12 a.m., the people who are actually here for the art have mostly gone to bed, which means the people who are here to party can actually kick it up into overdrive. Yes, it's after party time. They're held everywhere from clubs to pop-up locations, but a popular choice is to hold them directly on the beach in a tent. Meaning guests can literally and figuratively kick off their shoes, and really unwind.
The Mini-Music Festival Scene
Guest List: Depends on the concert, but probably Martha Stewart.
You might not know it from the coverage of more exclusive party recaps, but over the years Art Basel Miami Beach week has become perhaps one of America's best under the radar mini-music festivals. The music ranges from A-List pop stars (Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys have performed) to burgeoning acts playing late-night sets at mainland clubs (Crystal Castles once played Little Haiti's divey Churchill's Pub before they became festival headliners). This year everyone from Madonna and Kendrick Lamar to Young Thug and James Blake are on hand to perform. If you wanted to you could spend the entire week ignoring the art in favor of the music and still come away fulfilled.
The Mainland Warehouse Rager
Guest List: Local Ravers, Dance Music Aficionados, Decidedly not Martha Stewart.
If you prefer your music less live, and more prerecorded and curated by a DJ, Miami, of course, has you covered. The city is a dance music mecca the rest of the year, and it certainly goes out of it's way to prove that fact during Basel. The best dance parties, the ones that are more concerned with enthusiastic feet on the floor than names on the guest list, are now held in Little Haiti, where you'll be free from worrying about getting too sweaty to have your photo snapped by some society photographer because there aren't any.
The After-hours Retreat to a Miami Dive Bar Institution
Guest List: You'd be Surprised, Actually
There is only one time when it's acceptable to actually pay for your own drinks (or at least put them on the company credit card) during the week, and that's, ironically, when you probably shouldn't be drinking anymore. Still, some of Miami's most notorious bars find themselves packed full of Basel-types during the late-night hours of the week. There's Mac's Club Deuce, Miami Beach's oldest and diviest bar, for the men who just want to enjoy a whiskey on the rocks free of branded step-and-repeats. For the homosexually-inclined there's Twist, the South Beach touristy gay bar that comically turns into something of a hotspot for the international gay elite during the week. In Little Haiti, there's Churchill's, a punk rock bar so authentic that it's best not to use the bathrooms. In Wynwood, your choices are Gramp's or Wood, both of which always have DJs and their spacious outdoor patio spaces at the ready.
The Disappointing Soiree
Guest List: You, Your Angry Friend, a Freaking-Out PR Girl, and No One Else.
Picking which parties to attend is sort of a gamble. This is not a week for those who experience debilitating bouts of FOMO. Along with the parties you attended that may be – in your champagne haze – the spiritual sequels to Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, you may find yourself showing up at a few clunkers. It's not that there's not even a B-List celebrity in sight, it may be that there's hardly anyone else in sight besides the PR squad and the DJ's girlfriend. The free liquor isn't even top-shelf. Whatever "art" is supposed to be celebrated is bad. The friend you dragged along is giving you serious side-eye at the moment. The only good news is that there's lots of other parties worth heading towards the exit for.
The "Wait, Who's Hotel Suite Am I In?" Moment
Guest List: People whose accents you can't quite decipher, a moody weird girl, someone your swore was the love of your life three hours earlier.
Those who really take their Art Basel'ing to extremes have likely found themselves past the crack of down, surrounded by a group of friends they just met (or maybe just one special friend they just met) in some nearly-trashed hotel suite littered with beer bottles and the still-lingering scent resulting from when that weird girl tried to smoke inside, and asking themselves "Wait, where I am? Whose hotel suite is this? What time is it? Do I even have enough time to sleep before I'm supposed to be at the next round of parties later tonight?" No, they don't, but that won't stop them from repeating it all over again anyway.
The Two Hours You Get To Relax By Yourself
Guest List: You, Some Ice Cream, Maybe a Masseuse, Hopefully not Martha Stewart.
In addition to all the partying, there's work to be done, business lunches to have, and maybe, if you have time, art to see. The week is jam-packed, so perhaps the biggest luxury to be had at Art Basel Miami Beach is a few hours to just chill in your hotel room or Airbnb by yourself, catch up on some trash television, turns your mind of for an hour, and maybe call for a massage. It may not exactly be a party, but in that moment you'll swear it's the best thing you've done all week.