Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Top 5 Most Outrageous Parties in History

“Party on, dudes.”

Abraham Lincoln spoke those immortal words in 1989 (in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), but history is rife with outrageous parties whose organizers needed no such encouragement. From Roman emperors to American presidents, budget-busting show-offs have made an art form of throwing shindigs that would make even the most notorious, hotel room–trashing rock star blush.

Now, as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel grows brighter, the temptation to get together and let loose is powerful. But we’re not quite there yet! Good thing you’ve got games like the new Cheers! Virtual Happy Hour Game to safely gather with friends and colleagues and party hearty. For now, you can channel the celebratory spirit, if not the deeds, of these over-the-top hootenannies.

Punch-Drunk Partying

Admiral Edward Russell

One day in 1694, otherwise respected Royal Navy Admiral Edward Russell decided to throw a party in Spain—for 5,000 of his closest sailor pals. The centerpiece of this soiree was a 1,200-liter punch bowl manned by bartenders in canoes, who had to swap out every 15 minutes lest they get drunk or pass out from the fumes alone.

Russell’s punch consisted of roughly 250 gallons of brandy, 125 gallons of wine, 1,400 pounds of sugar, 20 gallons of lime juice, 2,500 lemons, and five pounds of nutmeg. Oh, and did we say one day in 1694? We meant eight days, because that’s how long it took to polish off the punch.

Fiddle Me This, Nero

Eight days? That’s nothing—try every day for four years. That’s how long the party lasted at Roman Emperor Nero’s “Golden House,” an immense pleasure palace built on the site of the great fire Rome already believed Nero himself had started. (The Nero-fiddled-while-Rome-burned thing was a myth invented centuries later, by the way.)

The house and grounds included dining rooms that could rotate to follow the sun’s course through the sky, an artificial lake, a bronze colossus in Nero’s image, and vast gardens lit by Christian prisoners being burned alive at the stake. To no one’s surprise, the whole place was torn down after Nero killed himself in the face of violent rebellion.

Party Party Andrew Jackson

not a ragged mob the inauguration of 1829

Our seventh president knew how to throw a first-rate party. He celebrated his 1829 inauguration with a big to-do at the White House—and 21,000 people showed up. The man had to sneak out a window and lure the crush of humanity outside with tubs of punch and whiskey on the lawn.

Eight years later, the dude did it again, welcoming 10,000 guests to a party punctuated by the snack of snacks: a 1,400-pound wheel of government cheese.

The Party of the Century

To celebrate the instant success of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote held “the Party of the Century” in 1966. Swathed in gowns and tuxedoes and hidden behind masks and handheld fans, 540 guests—all famous in some way, from Arthur Miller to Greta Garbo to Gloria Steinem—danced the night away and dined at midnight in the opulent Plaza Hotel. Capote’s Black and White Ball was the hottest ticket in town, and arguably the last great event of the New York City social scene.

Belshazzar’s Bogus Journey

Belshazzar's Feast by Rembrandt

There are parties, and then there are parties—the kind that get broken up not by the police, but by God himself. According to the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, this Babylonian ruler by the name of Belshazzar turned it up for 1,000 revelers.

As the barley beer flowed amid courses of mutton, pork, fish, beef, poultry, locusts (ew), watermelons, dates, almonds, and more, partygoers drank from sacred golden chalices Belshazzar had, um, “borrowed” from Jerusalem. Yeah, great idea, guy. The big G wrote an angry note on the wall (which is where we get the saying “the writing is on the wall”), and Belshazzar was killed that very night.


Credits: Lead photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash; Admiral Russell, ‘Not a Ragged Mob: The Inauguration of 1829,’ and ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ in the public domain