Last year, on American television, Jon Stewart shredded the goings-on at the World Economic Forum here in Davos as “an orgy of self-congratulatory excess.“
That was a funny and fair characterization — at least the orgy part. But no one here was watching. Because we were too busy getting smashed.
You see, nighttime in Davos is when the real schmoozing begins.
First, there are the cocktail parties.
Then there are the dinner parties (with cocktails).
Then there are the after-dinner parties (with cocktails).
Then there are the after after-dinner parties (with cocktails).
Then there’s the piano bar at the Hotel Europe (with cocktails) where, a couple of years ago, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Randi got up and started singing (watch video here).
The epicentre of all this partying is the Hotel Belvedere. The following pictures and story are actually from a few years ago, but I went to a party at the Belvedere two nights ago, and it was just the same.
Across the street from the Congress Center in Davos is this big white building, the Belvedere hotel. The Belvedere is ground-zero for corporate schmoozing. Most of the winter, it looks like this.
During the conference, however, it gets a complete makeover. For starters, this sort of black space-ship thing is constructed on top of it. Why? To make room for more schmoozing and sponsorships.
Those photos were taken in the morning. In the evening, the entrance to the Belvedere looks like this. Your walk up the stairs is sponsored by KPMG.
And when you reach the top of the steps, KPMG also sponsors your walk down the porch of the black space-ship thing, which, during the day, frames a view of the mountains.
As you walk down the KPMG porch, you'll naturally glance toward the Kirchner Museum across the street. The Kirchner Museum is where another tier of parties--a much higher tier--take place. JP Morgan's in there tonight, and Jamie Dimon will be personally greeting every guest at the door. Accel's bash was once held in there. And, of course, the Kirchner has also sold a sponsorship--a huge ad for GenPact that you can't miss as you walk down KPMG hall into the Belvedere.
Welcome to the Belvedere! There's a party space in the lobby, sponsored by Audi. Those people, who look like royalty of some sort, are having a party around the Audi. They're glassed off from the rest of the lobby traffic, so they don't have to mix with the hoi polloi. And of course all of this is taking place in that temporary black spaceship addition that will be dismantled after the conference.
There's a full bar in one corner. And later, by the way, when cocktails are done, the guests will have retired to a full sit-down dinner in the back. (Where does the food come from? I haven't the faintest idea. This is a glassed-off section of the lobby.)
After the lobby, it's time to clear security. It's the standard airport routine, except for the shoe thing. Davos party planners, apparently, aren't worried about shoe-bombers.
Deloitte sponsors your walk down a temporary umbilical tube connecting the black space-ship appendage to the actual Belvedere.
And then, finally, you're inside the real Belvedere. Though you could be forgiven for failing to realise that. Because this entrance hall has been sponsored by not one, not two, but three corporations. There's the green wall directly in front of you, for example (logo obscured--branding impression missed!).
And there's the hang-out area on the left, sponsored by someone-or-other, which a few folks are hanging out in.
But you're here to party, and maybe you don't want to party at the Bank of America party, so you check out the list of parties to figure out where you're headed. There are a dozen of them tonight--in this one hotel. Last night there were another dozen. Tomorrow night there will be another dozen. So there will be no shortage of places for you to drink.
I was headed to Chelsea Clinton's reception for the Clinton Global Initiative. The reception was in the PwC 'Thought Cafe' downstairs. I had to walk down PwC hall to get there.
I had a drink in the PwC Thought Cafe, and then I headed back upstairs. Another PwC hall led to the PwC party, so I checked that out. It was in a massive room with a massive bar at the end of this hall. (Lots of dudes in suits.)
On the way back down the PwC hall, I stopped into the Google+ Hang Out. A big bar, where Google is eager to buy you a drink.
In that hall, there was also evidence of the lengths the Belvedere goes to sell space to every corporation possible. This temporary wall, which separates the Wipro Antechamber from PwC Hall, will presumably be ripped down on Monday.
On the other side of the main entrance, a whole new series of sponsorships begins. There's the Zurich room, for example.
And a long hallway filled with cases displaying the wares of a half-dozen luxury sponsors--Christ, Rolex, etc.
(And, of course, for those who don't find their way down PwC Hall or into the PwC Thought Cafe, there's a messaging case for PwC.)
And some ski clothes from Ettinger. (You mean you had forgotten that people ski in Davos? They do! Just not anyone who attends the WEF conference. There's no time to ski. There's too much schmoozing and branding and drinking to do.)
Whoops. An empty case. It probably could have been sold for a hundred grand for the week. Fire that salesperson!
At the end of that endless hall, there's a floor-to-ceiling installation for some Brazilian fashion company.
And then there's the entrance to the Deloitte party, where the band is just warming up. Or maybe it's the McKinsey party. It was the McKinsey party on this night last year. And it was so packed and deafening that it felt like a sports bar during the Super Bowl. I don't know how much it costs McKinsey to rent this party space every year. But given the number of companies that would give their left nut for it, I'll bet it's at least a quarter-million for the evening.
Of course, the Belvedere isn't the only place in town that hosts parties, so it's time to start withdrawing. (And, in fact, it's a horrible place to have your party. Who wants to be one of dozens? And the parties don't even last all evening. By now, for example that Bank of America party has been dispersed to make way for the FT-CNBC party--in the same space. It will start momentarily, when they finish replacing the cardboard logos.)
Before we leave the Belvedere, though, let's check out the rest of the black space-ship thing, upstairs from the coat check. Mostly, it's another long hall filled with corporate conference rooms. During the day, corporations have to have place to meet with the folks they're schmoozing, so they rent rooms like these.
At the end of the hall is the Wall Street Journal lounge. The writers and editors hang out there, when the room isn't hosting breakfasts, dinners, and lunches. Stop by some time. They will treat you right.
And at the OTHER end of the hall, just above the coat check, is the CNBC lounge. There was a chair free when I arrived. The U.S. market was about to close, and they had TVs showing CNBC. So I took a break. It was only 10pm, after all. I'd been to four of the six parties I would eventually make it to that night. And the next one was a much more intimate one, held in a private chalet. There, there would be no corporate logos, just people, in a vastly more attractive setting. So I needed to rest up for that.
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