Last Sunday, January 3, the International Polo Club Opening Day for the 2016 Polo season in Wellington had a great buzzy vibe, with Supercars, artwork, people dressed to impress, new vintage vehicle lounges, a mind boggling buffet and oh yeah, a polo game.
With so much going on at the Lily Pulitzer Pavilion, the game was almost beside the point. The real game watchers were on the west side of the field in the bleachers and tail gating, while the Pavilion crowd was more interested in drinks, socializing and selfies. Not that this is a bad thing – it was a fascinating crowd, women in festive feathered and flowered hats and fascinators, colorful frocks and high heels quite unfit for divot stomping.
Men in dandy suits – pinks and blues and wildly colored Pulitzer patterned jackets for the truly daring. Even the silver catsuit clad, lampshade wearing models most recently seen at the CANVAS downtown mural project parties were there to take pictures with.
Supercar Week kicked off in high gear at the International Polo Club entrance, with Lamborghinis, McLarens, Jaguars and vintage military vehicles – a helicopter and monster truck from the 60s – on display. There were several vehicles sporting “wraps” – brightly patterned vinyl that wraps the car completely with patterns, colors, words and slogans. The cars with wings for doors looked like they would take flight any second, and some even sported price labels in the high six figures. Hmm should I buy a house for my whole family with a swimming pool…or this car?
There are some fun new vehicles the International Polo Club has brought in that serve as luxe lounges, parked outside the main entrance. Gotta love a gleaming aluminum airstream, the Veuve Clicquot Airstream Lounge is decked out in the colors of the champagne brands bottle in vibrant orange, black and white. Also, new this year, the Funky Buddha Beerstream Garden, is serving craft beer and charcuterie for guests and was filling growlers for tailgaters. The chic Coco Polo Lounge, a nicely renovated 1964 vintage, red double-decker bus had a bar on the lower level and open air seating on the top designed with British bar stools in leather. While the top floor lounge is fun, there is no view of the playing field due to the high peaked tents of the Pavilion standing in the way, but it did give a great view of the Supercars.
Strolling into the flower decked Pavilion at the International Polo Club, the brunch scene was in high gear. This is one impressive brunch spread, with mounds of some of the most beautiful looking and tasting food to be found. Serving 700 people every week in season, the inhouse catering company, headed up by Aaron Menitoff, dishes up the good stuff – a full lox and bagel bar, cold seafood bar with crab legs and seared tuna, a waffle and omelette station, carving station with roasts and sirloin, a whole roasted pig, huge buffet of hot foods like short ribs and chicken Florentine, a sorbeto bar with dozens of toppings, a donut and pasty cart, cold salads with roast veggies, and on and on.
By the numbers – every Sunday they go through 900 pounds of potatoes, 650 pounds of gelato, 72 pounds of peppers, 550 pounds of melon, and close to 9,400 bottles of champagne – four drinks are included with the meal. Is it pricey? Yes. Is it worth every penny? Yes. Oh yes.
The International Polo Club patio room is festive and lively as the game begins, though not many people are watching. The table I was at included a lady in pink with her little pug nosed service dog, who took relentless selfies of the dog. The other 4 girls primped and giggled and looked around for cute boys the whole meal. None of them were watching the game but seemed to be having a grand time.
Half time proved to be big fun on the field as the crowd rushed out to grab one of the champagne flutes in a bag dropped on the ground next to the pick up truck that was serving even more champagne off the tail gate. This crowd really loves the bubbly.
But wait! What’s that sound? A big crowd had gathered around The London Essentials, a band that just strolled out onto the field and started playing without plugging into anything. But they didn’t need to, the joyous sing along that ensued was wildly fun as this collective of five nomadic musicians brings busking to a high art. Wearing identical blue suits with red ties and all singing at the top of their lungs, the band, founded by bandleader Ben Matthews in Nice, France, requires no amplification or stage, preferring instead to mingle with the audience – serenading, flattering, surprising, and seducing their listeners as they go.
The group’s audacious repertoire ranges from Rat Pack swing through 60’s rock n’ roll and 80’s classics to current chart music, they sang Rod Stewart songs and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Bruno Mars “Happy” without missing a beat.
And they have really been getting around – performing for the Bransons on Necker Island, K.P. Singh on a floating palace in Udaipur, the British Royals in London and some of Europe’s biggest companies throughout the continent has taken the band to increasing success. A real surprising thrill.
After half time it was back to drinking and socializing all around the International Polo Club. And as for the game? The Coke Team wins in the final seconds over Villa del Lago’s fifth and final appearance in the season-opening 20-goal Herbie Pennell Cup. Since there was no game narration at the Pavilion, it was hard to hear what was going on, but the action was heart stopping when the horses thundered down the field and goals were scored. A white horse named Tinsel received Best Playing Pony honors.
As the game ended the DJ cranked up the volume in the Pavilion as the after party kicked off with dancing and more champagne drinking. The quota of over 9,000 bottles knocked back was surely met on opening day, a great start to a new season.