Rainer Scheer launched the first Chillounge Night in 2008 in an effort to boost sagging retail sales that resulted from the economic downturn. Chillounge 2012 marked the 17th Chillounge, which is now celebrated in six Florida cities and draws more than 3,000 guests at each event. I just attended my second Chillounge since relocating to Sarasota a few years ago, and my experience this year was leaps and bounds above last year’s: At Chillounge 2011 I hardly knew anyone. I had tagged along with a few coworkers and ended up playing benchwarmer to our lounges while they caught up with teams of friends, all strangers to me.
This year I attended as a true Sarasotan; it was more family reunion than street party. Kirsten Sponseller and I headed over around 7 p.m. and Chillounge was already in full swing—seemingly twice as packed as last year. After sucking in our tummies for glamour shots on the red carpet, we headed for the VIP lounge (Rainer was kind enough to save us a spot!). This wasn’t your grandmother’s open bar: a bevy of brews peeked out from beneath the sparkling ice in giant beer bins, and Kirsten quickly grabbed a Michelob Ultra from the low-hanging fruit. I opted to wait for a mixed drink; the bartenders were cheerful and happily obliged any and all requests.
We noshed on luxurious fare from Treviso restaurant and sampled gourmet chocolates with flavors ranging from salted caramel to chai tea. The paparazzi (I mean Cliff Roles) was in full force, clicking and snapping away at Sarasotans dressed to the nines. We stopped to hug friends and family approximately once every five feet until a sudden downpour had us running for cover. The rain didn’t faze us—hundreds of us huddled together with our drinks, poking fun at the troopers who, having failed to pace themselves, braved the bar in the rain. Oddly enough, the Port-O-Potties were the subject of intense discussion; they drew rave reviews.
After the rain, we were treated to a Brazilian Samba parade. Soon after, Ana Molinari’s fashion show and parade rolled past. Kirsten, instigator and supreme flirt, encouraged hooting and hollering from the females in the crowd while the muscled-up, shirtless beefcakes carrying the princesses on daybeds lapped up the attention.
The music of Jonathan Cortez and soulRcoaster had people dancing in the streets, and our one regret is that we neglected to visit Maduro’s Cigar Lounge—we had double booked ourselves and were overdue for a black tie event later in the evening. You can bet my partner in crime and I will be back again next year, and you should too! Get dressed up, dine under the stars, and hug friends you haven’t seen in months. Breathe in the warm, salty air and remind yourself that you’re one lucky soul to have the good fortune of living in this little slice of paradise. — Kristen Pace.
Photo gallery by Scott Braun.