Tom and Diane Schoenith wow Detroit with memories of parties past

To lighten up your blog experience, dear reader, this week we admire inspiration of a different tone—parties.

Tom and Diane Schoenith are Detroit’s king and queen of party hosts. This irrepressible couple have entertained thousands at parties themed Great Gatsby, A Small World, Zodiac, Pirates of the Caribbean and more.

Guests have included Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, Donald Trump and Bette Midler. Venues: their own Detroit nightclub, the Roostertail; the downtown Renaissance Center; Manoogian mayoral mansion; their own homes on Dwight (now owned by Kid Rock), Lakeland and Lakeshore in Grosse Pointe.

Many parties supported charities. Many more were just because. Once Burton and I attended a Swine Flu party where a doctor administered injections. At another, attended by Deputy Police Chief Jim Bannon, favors were pretend joints of marijuana.

Tom’s philosophy: “Play with guests’ minds. Get a drink in their hands, and don’t make ‘em beg for it.”

Diane’s role: “Devil’s advocate. Tom’s always got some fresh, new idea. I’ll say, ‘Do we have to?” Inevitably, she acquiesces.

Tom managed to surprise Diane for her birthday 10 years in a row. She managed it once, for him. Burton and I attended a raucous Polish celebration in Hamtramck, MI, where guests drank shots of Polish vodka dropped into glasses of beer, called Boombas. (Some ended up smashed against a wall).

Tom’s a more-the-merrier guy. “It’s as much work for 300 as it is for 25. You still have to dust the table tops and polish the silver.” Burton and I enjoyed several Christmas celebrations at their homes, decorated with at least 6 dazzling trees in various rooms.

In 2002, Tom wanted to reprise their Christmas extravaganzas. He gave Diane a choice: decorate for the holiday or he’d spend the money on a tour of the first season of American Idol. Diane knew the work Christmas involved. She chose the latter. Tom was in the American Idol audience in some 30 cities. He met contestant A.J. Gil at a Hollywood hotel and discovered he and his sister hadn’t eaten for a day. Tom took them out for dinner and accompanied A.J. on the rest of the tour. The youngest finalist (17), A.J. finished 8th. (Kelly Clarkson won.)

“American Idol became the biggest thing in American pop TV culture in history,” Tom says. “I learned what ego was and how people took advantage of the Idols.”

Joe and Millie Schoenith, Tom’s parents, opened The Roostertail Nightclub in 1958 on the banks of the Detroit River. The club’s name comes from the spray created by a fast-moving boat. The club has overlooked many spectacular boat races. It also hosted performers from Tony Bennett and Eric Clapton to Bobby Darin and the Rolling Stones. Burton and I joined Tom and Diane and Buhl and Bobbie Ford one night at a front row table for an unforgettable concert by Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Tom and his identical twin brother Jerry took over the nightclub in 1964. The Roostertail operated as a restaurant for a while in the 70s. When the Ren Cen office/hotel complex opened in the late 70s, Tom transformed the club into the award-winning catering facility it is today. It’s booked for proms and corporate affairs most nights.

Fun personal aside about Tom’s attention to detail: His parents ran a successful electrical business. Tom inherited an appreciation for lighting. He and Diane dined at our house in Huntington Woods, MI, one night ages ago. Over our dining table was a fixture with about 20 small lightbulbs. One was burned out. Tom noticed. Having a couple of spares, after dinner I replaced the errant bulb. I climbed down from the table, brushing my hands, pleased at my preparedness. Tom said, “You have to replace all of them. Can’t you see? The new one’s brighter than the rest.”

I attended Tom’s and Diane’s recent extravaganza, 50 Years of Parties: An Evening of Memories, at the downtown Detroit Marriott. The invitation listed well over a hundred parties they’d hosted. At the party, kiosks were set up by years. Tacked to them were thousands of photos, invitations, thank you notes. Videos played. Assembling and curating so much material had to consume months. The kiosk for 1970 even contained a gossip column I wrote for The Detroit News. On stage, slender young women modeled dozens of Diane’s old designer gowns, with era-appropriate hairstyles. “At least the gowns are good for something,” Diane said. “They don’t fit me anymore.”

The next day, Tom and Diane invited the public to admire the remarkable history displayed on those kiosks. After, the material went into storage. The Schoeniths have 3 grown children. Tom said, “When we’re not around any longer, they won’t want all this stuff. They’d just throw it away.”

Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. Thanks, Tom and Diane, for the memories. And the inspiration.

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