Guest Lists, Six-Figure Tables, Long Lines for the Bathroom: Welcome to the Super Bowl Party
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — They called the party “Homecoming,” and for a certain kind of guest — most at home in V.I.P. areas at fizzy nightspots — it was exactly that.
On the Friday night of Super Bowl LVII weekend, h.wood, a Los Angeles hospitality group popular with celebrities, transformed a hangar at a private airport in Scottsdale into an elite Hollywood club.
It had all of the touches — an invite-only guest list, six-figure tables, famous people in the bathroom line, tasteful “brand activations,” and the masses who weren’t on the list pleading for hours to get in — that would make veterans of the Hollywood party circuit feel right at home as they touched down into Arizona for the game.
The weekend is about football, kind of, and the halftime show and the ads, of course. But it has also become one of those tentpole festivals of vodka, contractual obligations and directed schmoozing, where the professional partyers of America do their job, which is to party.
And in the age of Instagram tags and co-brandings, an event like this one is not just profitable on its own terms but is effectively a Super Bowl ad in its own right.
Other events of this class for the weekend included a Michelob Ultra and Netflix party, co-hosted by, among others, Serena Williams and Brian Cox. (Asked what his “Succession” character, Logan Roy, would say about such a branding exercise, Mr. Cox smiled and said, gnomically, “It does what does you good.”) There were also the long-running, no-media, invite-only party hosted by the sportswear retailer Fanatics, with a guest list that included Jay-Z and Tiffany Haddish, and the mostly whispered about Commissioners Party, largely reserved for the league’s power elite.
At Homecoming the crowd overflowed with the kind of celebrities who don’t exactly mind being seen.
Cher and the producer Alexander Edwards, whom she is reportedly dating, took a seat near the stage. Alex Rodriguez and Jaleel White (yes, that’s Steve Urkel) hung out in an upstairs V.I.P. area. The rapper Machine Gun Kelly and the actress Megan Fox retreated to a booth, as did the rapper Meek Mill. Keegan-Michael Key (one half of Key and Peele) obliged fan after fan with a selfie. Brittany Mahomes, wife of Kansas City’s starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, danced nearby. N.F.L. stars — Derrick Henry, whose forearms are the size of steel bollards — and former ones — Johnny Manziel, once the sport-conquering “Mr. Football but famous now mostly for his partying — stood shoulder-to-shoulder with excited engineers from CashApp, the payments company co-sponsoring the event.
Though the collection of the rich and famous at Homecoming was impressive, it could not claim the biggest name of the evening, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, who showed up at a party thrown by GQ and Gucci on the other side of town.
“We wanted a big box to create our own world,” said John Terzian, co-founder of h.wood, who counts Drake, Katy Perry and the music executive Scooter Braun as friends. (Drake, who was the headlining musical act for the evening, shouted out one of Mr. Terzian’s restaurants, Delilah, in a 2019 song.)
Homecoming was a world filled with private tables, bars, more bars and neon. Guests could wander from the hanger out into several courtyards — one with Skee-Ball and Pop-A-Shot, and another with massage chairs and poker tables, giving the sense of a bar mitzvah for the 45-year-old who has everything.
Mr. Terzian’s original idea for the party had been for h.wood clients (a term of art reserved for people who spend a lot of money at h.wood clubs and restaurants) to fly their private jets — many of them from L.A., of course — directly into the hanger, disembark and then party. That idea turned out to be logistically complicated, Mr. Terzian said. Still, he has come a long way since the early 2000s when he was a walk-on for the U.S.C. football team, honing his skills throwing massive frat parties.
The room had its share of well-preserved white men with pushed-back white hair and Italian blazers. But the crowd was dominated by under-40s, who wore skintight dresses or hoodies by Aimé Leon Dore, Jacquemus and Rhude.
There were exceptions. Jeff Hamilton, the founder of Guess Jeans and the designer of sports-championship jackets for the likes of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal, wore a glossy leather bomber and a black turtleneck and flashed a set of blinding white teeth. He was there with Hughie Johnson, a former boxing champion who is now a conservative influencer and representative, he said, of the British boxing champion Tyson Fury. Mr. Johnston and Mr. Hamilton were busy comparing Mr. Johnston’s business card, made up to look like an American Express Black card, to Mr. Hamilton’s actual black card.
“It’s very good,” Mr. Hamilton acknowledged. He was excited to see Drake, who wore one of Mr. Hamilton’s jackets at a recent show at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
A Brooklyn businessman, James Morrissey, posed with his wife, Aideen, in front of a neon-lit cactus. They had flown to the party because Mr. Morrissey owed some of his good luck in business — he launches liquors with celebrity partnerships — to the h.wood group. Shortly before the 2019 Grammys, Mr. Morrissey was dining at the Nice Guy, h.wood’s “Goodfellas”-themed restaurant in West Hollywood, when he was introduced to the rapper Post Malone.
“Six days later we were in a winery in France,” Mr. Morrissey said. And so, Mr. Malone’s rosé, Maison No. 9, was born.
There was a thin cloud trailing many of the guests, no matter how much Grey Goose they drank: work. It was perhaps most obvious among the influencers, who are technically always at work, and especially when they are out having fun.
In what was branded the Taco Bell Live Más area of the party, Tabitha Swatosh, a star on TikTok, was trying to figure out which photo of herself at Homecoming she should post to Instagram with a shout out to CashApp, per the terms of her agreement with the payments company.
“It’s fun. No stress,” she said. “All my childhood dreams are coming true.”
Around 12:30 a.m., emissaries from Taco Bell spread out throughout the hanger, distributing the restaurant’s new “Big A** Mexican Pizza,” boxes of which flipped open to reveal damp discs of cheese and tomato.
“This is aggressive for a party where people are trying to look cute,” one guest said.
Soon the lights began to flicker, and the bass rose to flesh-quivering levels: signs that aCanadian-Jewish rap superstar was soon to appear.
A few minutes after 1 a.m., Drake bounded up to the ring-shaped stage like a prizefighter, launching into an energetic medley of old hits, including “Started from the Bottom,” “Best I Ever Had” and “HYFR.”
As seemingly all of the 1,500 people inside the hangar raised their iPhones to tape the most famous man in the room, a three-deep crowd of hopefuls outside the front gate, spurred on by the music, redoubled their efforts to enter — mostly to no avail.
Earlier that evening, in the same place, a 23-year-old ticket reseller who called himself “Elo” prowled the crowd of hopefuls. He said that he had scored four passes to the event by pretending to be the comedian Chris Tucker’s agent. But now he was off to the next event — the Travis Scott show thrown by Rolling Stone at another venue in Scottsdale.
Finn McCarthy, 22, a college student who was in town to watch the Phoenix Open golf tournament, had heard about the party from a friend of a friend and had waited for two hours, “doing my thing,” before a bouncer gave him the bad news.
“Shut me down,” said Mr. McCarthy, who added that he was going home to get a few hours sleep before getting his partying started in earnest at the Phoenix Open the next day.