Aubrey About Town: My Elysian Dream Birthday Luncheon

There may be a kernel of truth in the old wives’ tale that those married in June are blessed with a lifetime of prosperity and happiness. Even the word “June” is derived from Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage, and the word “honeymoon” refers to the first full moon in June following the summer solstice. With so many friends born in March, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the birthday festivities. From lunches, dinners, and get-togethers, March was busy. I mean, I’m no reproductive expert, but I can count to nine from June!

This spring welcomed some fabulous celebrations, and it all began with the planning of my annual bash. Boy, it was the event of the season!

An Elysian Dream: Neiman Marcus’ Fifth Floor Transformed Into Greece

For the last couple decades, I have hosted my annual birthday bash at my home away from home, San Francisco’s luxury retailer Neiman Marcus. Somehow driven to top the previous year, this latest soiree was no exception. This year’s theme, “Aubrey’s Elysian Dream Birthday Luncheon,” was notably inspired by ancient Greek poet Homer’s writings of the Elysian Fields, a heavenly place of the gods in his epic poem The Odyssey. Delivering a spectacular Greek-themed event worthy of the 12 Olympian gods of ancient Greek mythology and most worthy of guests’ collective imagination entailed transforming Neiman Marcus’ exclusively posh ‘Penthouse on 5’ into an enchanting and magical Grecian paradise and fictional land of pure escapism.
In true Grecian elegance, guests made their fashionable entrance into the “Poseidon Lounge & Caviar Bar” for an hour-long pre-lunch cocktail reception where they were greeted to scrumptious lamb lollipops, mini spanakopita, and zucchini cakes.

Aubrey Brewster

And to add to the afternoon’s opulence, a generous caviar bar tantalized guests, featuring exquisite osetra from my friend, the cowgirl of caviar, Texas-born Petra Higby (CEO and co-founder of The Caviar Co.), and served from a giant seashell flanked with golden seahorses (adorned with flowers) and octopus statuary and with a grand silver fan coral honoring the god of the sea as a backdrop.

Neiman Marcus SF: Aubrey Brewster’s Elysian Dream Birthday Luncheon

When lunch was announced, guests made their way through one of two dramatic 10-foot, white marble-like, 4-pillar colonnade arches with a capstone whimsically decorated with a grotesque (face) of the Greek god of wine, Bacchus, overlooking the fête and cascading fruit-bearing grapevines spiraling from the columns and two grand, 8-foot-tall weeping wisteria trees. A backdrop of a 16-foot Greek amphitheater, a 6-foot working flowering water fountain, and a 6-foot pomegranate tree with a statue of the goddess Persephone honored springtime.

Sonya Molodetskaya, Pernella Sommerville, Aubrey Brewster, Jennifer Walske, Sanam Baiani

Guests sat down to lavishly adorned tables under an abundant canopy of delphinium and viburnum, white ranunculus, garden roses, and lisianthus (to match the ornate floral-patterned, imported linen tablecloths) designed by SF’s renowned Bella Fiora Floral Design. Set on the tables awaiting guests to start the feast were elegant gold vine and silver dip caddies filled with hummus, tzatziki, and melitzanosalata. Mezze platters of stuffed grape leaves (dolma I had flown in from Greece for the occasion), soutzoukakia (spiced meatballs with green olives),
and aginares (artichokes with roasted red pepper sauce) were served on gold Greek key patterned, Versace-style porcelain china platters. The same porcelain was used throughout the meal, from salad to cake, creamers and sugar pots, teapots, cups and saucers, and other service ware, purchased for the fanciful afternoon.

Aubrey Brewster, Dr. Edward Winger, San Francisco Mayor London Breed

Neiman Marcus’ Rotunda Restaurant General Manager Katrina Parlato oversaw the event’s catering operations, and executive chef Erik Harrelson curated the delicious, 4-course meal, starting with horiatiki salad (cucumber, tomato, kalamata olives, feta, caper berries, and lemon-oregano vinaigrette). Six kilos of the finest HORECA by Iliada Kalamata olives were flown in from Greece for the chef to create his take on this classic Greek salad. Comforting avgolemeno (egg-lemon soup with chicken and rice) followed, and chicken souvlaki with lemon potatoes ended the scrumptious meal.

Shabnam performs at Aubrey Brewster’s Elysian Dream Birthday Luncheon

During the first and last courses, guests were surprised and enchanted by a beautifully exotic sword dance performance by acclaimed belly dancer, Shabnam (of Shabnam Dance Company) who completely mesmerized everyone.
San Francisco’s iconic North Beach pâtisserie, Victoria Pastry Company (established in 1914 and a childhood favorite of mine), created this year’s cake: three layers of citron génoise, lemon curd, and raspberry mascarpone cream iced with vanilla Italian meringue buttercream and enrobed in marzipan—a custom flavor that I had originally developed with Victoria’s Pastry for my partner and the afternoon’s host, Dr. Edward Winger, on his birthday. (It’s become Ed’s annual favorite and a favorite among friends, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed,
since I served it at her birthday party, which Ed and I had hosted back in August 2022, also hosted in Neiman’s Penthouse on 5.)

Party revelers continued late through the afternoon, sipping on French Henriot Champagne, a full bar, and specially tailored Greek-inspired libations, including themed cocktails such as “Ambrosia,” an alluring and intoxicating concoction of rum, Pama pomegranate liqueur, orange and pineapple juices, and strawberry and banana purées—the “nectar of the gods” served from Greco-Roman style rock-cut crystal urns; the “Persephone”—a delightful blend of vodka, Pama pomegranate liqueur, Cointreau®, pomegranate juice, sour, club soda, and orange bitters—named for the goddess of the underworld and bringer of spring, served in a whimsical pomegranate-shaped cocktail glass I had imported just for this cocktail. And an ever-so-clever Greek take on the espresso martini, the “Kafé Greco” (vanilla vodka,
Kahlúa coffee liquor, ouzo, and Greek coffee, shaken ice cold to a creamy froth) was served up. To amuse guests, attendants made Greek coffee sweetened to taste and brewed over hot sand on a genuine hovoli from Greece, a copper and brass heating vessel that cooks the coffee (or kafé) in a copper ibrik pot. The idea was inspired by Kokkari Estiatorio’s (another home away from home of ours) grand hovoli displayed near the kitchen. And if that wasn’t enough, to add to the afternoon’s decadence, a self-service soft serve frozen Greek yogurt machine station with an assortment of toppings to play on guests’ childhood nostalgia was offered in the lounge.

“This magical afternoon is about you—a moment to escape and spread the love around. I love each of you more than I can express,” I said in my address to our guests. That love reverberated throughout the afternoon. Longtime friend and partygoer, former Mayor Willie Brown Jr. said of these events, “I don’t know how many of you are repeat invitees, but it is something to look forward to because you know every year Aubrey is going to do something incredibly unique, unbelievable, as is the occasion.” Guests couldn’t have agreed more.

What am I planning for 2025 to top this, you ask? The hint … space and Planet X. But that’s just between you and me!

Among the afternoon’s 60 notable guests were Brewster’s partner and co-host, Dr. Edward Winger; San Francisco Mayor London Breed; former SF mayor Willie L. Brown Jr.; former mayor of Walnut Creek Bill Armstrong (partner, DeHay & Elliston, LLP); socialite, fashion icon, and Brown’s longtime partner, Sonya Molodetskaya; reporter Betty Yu (KTVU/FOX 2); ABC7’s Carolyn Tyler (retired) and her partner Gary Love; couture designer Vasily Vein; author, philanthropist, and socialite Jennifer Walske; socialites Daru Kawalkowski, Heide Betz, Mary Beth Shimmon, and David Shimmon; socialite and longtime friend Farah Makras and husband real estate mogul Victor Makras; society columnist Catherine Bigelow (SF Chronical/Nob Hill Gazette); comedian Stephanie Block; Union Square Alliance President Marisa Rodriguez; interior designers Gioi Tran and husband Vernon Applegate (Poliform, SF); luxury real estate agent (and Bravo’s “A-List San Francisco”); Joel Goodrich.
“The level of production value is incredible, the party of the year!” stated Goodrich about the attention to detail that Brewster put into the 5-hour soiree.