New Year's Eve parties get crunched by recession

The big ball will still drop and champagne will still flow, but even New Year's Eve, the biggest party night of the year, is getting squeezed by tight economic times.

The city of Louisville has already canceled its kid-friendly fete that drew 10,000 people last year, and for the first time in 20 years, Dudley's restaurant in Lexington won't offer a prix fixe menu on Wednesday, New Year's Eve, said owner Debbie Long.

"It was a big decision to give it up," said Long, adding there will be dinner specials and offerings from the regular menu of her fine-dining restaurant on South Mill Street in Lexington. But, she said, "because of the economy and everybody being so cautious," she wanted to give people the option of coming in for, say, a glass of champagne and an appetizer instead of mandating a three-course meal.

Long is making similar changes in the menu at her other restaurant, Buddy's, at High Street and Euclid Avenue.

She expects a crowd, though.

"I think people are ready to get out, but they may not want to spend $100 a person," she said. "We are just trying to say, 'Come on, everybody, let's get out from under our rocks and just party.' "

The Lexington Downtown Hotel and Conference Center, formerly the Radisson Plaza, will again host what's billed as "Lexington's Biggest Party," but ticket sales are off about 20 percent, said Angela Matherne, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. Packages there start at $259 per couple.

The hotel's more expensive and exclusive packages, which are priced at $349 this year and usually sell out shortly after Christmas, are still available, she said. The hotel added additional food to its packages this year to entice customers with extra value, she said.

Matherne is cautiously optimistic that business will pick up in the last few days, but she is not sure it will match the 2,000 people who came out last year.

On the flip side, more folks are booked to party this year at the Holiday Inn North, said general manager Mike Curd. But, he said, many of the expected 400 to 500 patrons, who are buying packages starting at $125 per couple, probably are coming for the farewell performance of the popular Lexington band Long Duk Dong, which is calling it quits.

Plus, he said, "it's New Year's Eve. People really want to still get out and celebrate."

That's the spirit that Jason Seay, owner of Riptide Restaurant and Bar, is hoping for. He's going big this year, adding fireworks and shuttle buses that will take partygoers from the riverside restaurant near Clays Ferry to a close-by Red Roof Inn, where rooms are offered for $55.

People will come out because it's the night to celebrate, he said.

"It's the one day of the year where everybody wants to get out. We need to go out, relieve some stress and have a good time," said Seay, who's expecting 400 people at his restaurant.

"You can't just sit around and worry," he said. "People are looking forward to a better 2009."

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