Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Style





In raising a toast to 2018, and to our readers, we share New Year’s Eve recollections from some of our city’s favorite people whose effervescence matches a peerless champagne.


Bill Zwecker (center) with Sofia Ahmad Jones and Julie Roth Novack.

Bill Zwecker, Sun-Times columnist, film critic, and international television personality:

The most unusual New Year’s Eve I can remember was a trip I took to New Zealand—our travel agent arranged for us to spend it with a “real” New Zealand family in Christchurch. The couple was nice but a bit weird, and they had a GIANT rabbit for a pet. We had our photos taken with it throughout the evening.


Jay Levine and Mary Ann Childers.

Mary Ann Childers, astute media consultant and former CBS anchor:

For many years we hosted a New Year’s Eve party at our home in Vail, Colorado. It began as two families sharing dinner and a quiet evening before a roaring fire, and grew to a lively gathering with home-cooked food and more than 100 guests.

The past two years we’ve welcomed the New Year in Chicago, with dinner at our favorite restaurant, La Scarola, and a brisk walk down Michigan Avenue to watch the festivities at the Chicago Rising event. This year, with Chicago in the grip of single-digit temperatures, a quiet dinner at home before a roaring fire sounds pretty good.


Gary Johnson.

Gary Johnson, Chicago History Museum President, historian, and Chicago enthusiast:

New Year’s Eve is a time to bump into Old World traditions. I come from a family with a Scandinavian heritage, and I don’t remember any particular New Year’s traditions except, of course, for the one we all share: kissing a loved one at the stroke of midnight.  

A while back, though, we were guests in another Scandinavian household, and I was shocked as midnight approached when the hostess started passing out pickled herring to one and all: “Remember, we all have to drop the herring in our mouth at midnight,” she said.  

There was some pushback, but we heard, “No, you have to do it. It’s a Scandinavian tradition, and it brings prosperity for the year to come.” So we did it. Now I like herring as much as the next Norwegian-American, but I still prefer kisses any day! By the way, I don’t remember the year as being particularly prosperous.


Julie Harron (second from right) and family. 

Julie Harron, Vice President for Sales for Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, head of the Julie Harron Real Estate Group, and sought-after volunteer:

Our favorite memories are the years we stayed home, made cheese fondue, and played board games with the kids. Even this year—with a 20- and 22- year-old—we will be home by the fire. My son Conrad’s girlfriend will be in town this year. So many years we travelled for tennis tournaments. Conrad’s national competition took us to Arizona most years, and we were asleep well before midnight.


John Fornengo (at right).

John Fornengo, President of the Eckhardt Trading Company and one of Chicago’s most cosmopolitan and courteous citizens:

Before the New Year’s Eve party, my late wife, DeeDee, and I invited a friend to our house, which was being gutted at the time. Our bedroom, which was facing State Street, was down to the bricks and there were no lights. We put two big candelabras in the windows and watched the snow falling and listened to the bells on the passing horse and carriages while eating caviar and drinking champagne at a set table with antique chairs. It was magic. Then we were off by horse and carriage to the Casino for drinks and dancing. We took a warm flask of brandy for the trip—a glorious night I remember fondly.


Rodger and Janet Owen.

Janet Owen of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Chicago’s high-end real estate top producer and elegant hostess:

Last year was a favorite New Year’s Eve with a great party at a lovely club organized by Brian White and the English Speaking Union. It had an Imperial Russia theme that appeared in the decorations, and guests were bedecked in furs and jewels. It was loads of fun—the ballroom was filled, and the orchestra was fabulous. Everyone got into the spirit of the theme, and it was a great way to ring in 2017.


Jessica Lagrange and family getting in the holiday spirit.

Jessica Lagrange, vivacious head of Jessica Lagrange Interior Design:

New Year’s Eve is the trickiest night of the year. We want it to be fun and fabulous. We want to be with the right people at the stroke of midnight. We have such high expectations! It is so much pressure!

I refuse to fill the first minutes of a new year with anxiety and impossible-to-meet expectations. Instead of hitting a hotspot or someone’s big bash, we get together with a few couples we’re close with at someone’s house. We talk, we drink, we eat, we laugh a lot, and it’s intimate, meaningful, and entertaining. Everyone there is someone I want to kiss at midnight, and sometimes we even make it up that late!


Jim Karas cutting a rug.

Jim Karas, lifestyle consultant, author, and personal trainer:

The best part of any party, let alone a New Year’s Eve party, is the dancing. A few years back I had a farewell dance party in my living room for my son Evan who was off to Choate, and less than pleased to go, but now loves it.

Flash forward to December 31st: I had no plans and neither did my kids, so around 4:00 in the afternoon I said, “How about we roll up the living room carpet, invite some friends over, and dance into 2016,” which is exactly what we did. Pizza Capri, my favorite, and bubbles for the adults—everyone loved it, with the exception of my neighbors who might not have appreciated our literal interpretation of “Let’s Get Loud,” a Karas favorite!


Shelley MacArthur.

Shelley McArthur, cabaret singer and glamorous philanthropist:

After traveling the world for many New Year’s Eves, I have found that our very favorite places to ring in the new year is our home in Chicago with a group of friends, celebrating in front of the fireplace with a bowl of homemade chili, fresh-baked bread, wine, and champagne, and playing charades—only to be topped by a similar scenario at my sister’s home in Lake Geneva (because I’m not hosting and therefore not cleaning up).


Ellen and Jim Stirling.

Ellen Stirling, elegant owner of The Lake Forest Shop and quintessential hostess:

The most memorable New Year’s Eve we had was ages ago at Diana and Freddy Prince’s house. We had bangers & mash—English for hot dogs and mashed potatoes—along with our champagne. Lots of hilarity! After all the fun, we got into the car with a few snowflakes falling. It continued as we drove north to our home, so much that cars were weaving and spinning all over, ending up on either side of the road or against other cars in the median. We were literally on the edge of our seats in a crazy, no-visibility blizzard. But we made it!


Leslie Hindman.

Leslie Hindman, founder of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, television host, and community leader:

I often go to Paris with a group of friends. We have dinner in a charming restaurant—never somewhere overly fancy on New Year’s Eve. We then take a bottle of champagne to Notre Dame and sing Auld Lang Syne—off key—at midnight with folks outside from around the world.


Whether you are singing or dancing tonight—or enjoying a cozy fire with family and friends—Classic Chicago celebrates YOU.