Barnes: Making the Austin rounds in style

Updated Sept 25, 2013

Makes you stop and ponder.

Last week, guests got a bigger than expected peek at the new Thinkery, the big, red home of the former children’s museum in the Mueller tract. Inclement weather forced the group’s huge Imaginarium gala indoors to the soaring spaces of the modern think rooms.

Because they had time, the guests explored every corner of the unfinished exhibits rather than just passing through. This meant the crowd was divided during the live auction, announcements and dinner, but it drove morale through the roof, as a sense of special occasion ruled every inch of the Thinkery.

Not that long ago, Austin had no really credible museums. This one looks like a first-class addition to the growing ranks of tenable cultural spaces.

Authentic Mexico

It’s a giant gala, but it’s also very much like an extended family meal.

Last week, Authentic Mexico returned to the Long Center. Patrón cocktails were poured around 6 p.m. The after-party was scheduled to end at midnight. That makes for a very long gala, but, at the same time, a perfectly enjoyable dinner party from beginning to end.

I have no idea how MexNet Alliance prophet Monica Peraza does it, but she pulls off one of the city’s most elaborate parties for a profoundly good cause: Training Mexican immigrants to become entrepreneurs. I’ll let better writers rave about the food from imported and local chefs.

I treasured the company, from big shots such as Consul General of Mexico Rosalba Ojeda, University of Texas System Chancellor Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez to the shining raconteurs at our table, including Eugene Sepulveda, Addie Broyles, Lisa O’Neill, Paul Munguia and Gary Lindner.

Munguia and Lindner’s PeopleFund, by the way, will now be offering small business loans to MexNet graduates.

Children in Nature

When only 8 percent of fifth-graders in Texas are considered physically fit, you need this.

Last week, we headed to the Four Seasons Hotel for the annual Children in Nature gala for Westcave Preserve. The Hill Country sinkhole has gone from being scorned as a semi-dump to being praised as a rescued jewel and prime spot for introducing the out-of-doors to young people.

The upbeat gala brings attention to the Children in Nature Network, which hopes to get kids off the couch, out of the house and into the natural world. Every year, the network’s winners, presented verbally and in videos, are wondrous.

This time, they included the Sustainable Food Center, City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, American YouthWorks and Austin Families in Nature. Emcee Evan Smith reminded us how many such Austin programs are then adopted nationwide.

Jewel Ball

Gracious courtesy reigns at the Jewel Ball. The Women’s Symphony League’s Jewel Ball is almost certainly the largest among the city’s surviving debutante affairs. Some view it as a charming anachronicsm, others as a potent fundraiser for the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

Your social columnist these days skips the formal presentations and just mixes with the unfailingly polite and meticulously dressed guests. These are not your usual Austin gala-goers. For many, this ball might be the only formal social event on their calendar. Which makes for fresh chat with circumspect folks like Tom and Kerrie Neville.

Tarrytown and Northwest Hills are always well represented at this party.

Business League Legacy Bash

The Young Men’s Business League of Austin is not the Jaycees, Junior League or the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce. Yet it is aimed at the same set of motivated movers and shakers. And it was founded in 1913.

Lobbyist A.J. Bingham and aptly named wind energy guy Wade Green met me at Dominican Joe to discuss the 250-member group’s Legacy Bash at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, slated for Oct. 10.

The polished pair, after braving flash floods to keep the appointment, promised to help connect me with a businessman who remembers the scene 50 or 60 years ago, before high tech and all that came with it hit our economy: the legendary sleepy college town days.

Beauty of Life

The devil is in the details. Still, I debated whether to bring this up at all.

Hospice Austin is such a profoundly respected charity, which the American-Statesman has vigorously supported for years. Its Beauty of Life luncheon is a treasured tradition that combines shopping with snacking and taking in a popular speaker, usually from the world of fashion.

Last week, it was Lauren Weisberger, who wrote “The Devil Wears Prada.” Weisberger carefully, modestly and humorously outlined her career from liberal arts major to magazine intern and author of a bestseller turned into a hit movie.

All that was fine. But the luncheon has grown too large. So attention was not paid to crucial details. Heard a lot of confirming complaints about long waits, big crowds, poor sound and dry food ex post facto.

“We were thrilled to have more than 900 people turn out in the pouring rain to support Hospice Austin at our Beauty of Life brunch on Friday,” spokeswoman Melinda Marble said in response to the complaints. “We were also thrilled with the rain, but wished it would have waited until after our event was over, as it caused traffic snarls and valet parking delays.

“Beauty of Life has grown dramatically since its inception eight years ago,” she continued. “We have been truly overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback we’ve gotten from this event. We are proud and honored that so many people support our mission to provide quality end-of-life care to anyone in our community who needs it, regardless of his or her ability to pay.”