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Special Sites: Top picks of corporate event planners

From a room with a view to cocktails at the zoo, corporate event planners share their favorite venues.

Windows, Los Angeles Recommended by Jill Henry, corporate events coordinator, DirecTV Inc., El Segundo, Calif. Located atop the 32-story Trans-america Center, Windows offers a panoramic view of downtown L.A. The recently renovated restaurant reopened in October, featuring gourmet steaks in a retro '60s-style atmosphere. DirecTV held a product launch for 100 guests here in November. Besides the beautiful view, Henry was impressed with the venue's "excellent food display and service." Several private dining rooms can accommodate up to 150 guests for a seated dinner and 400 guests for a reception; the entire restaurant can be reserved for special events seating up to 300 diners. Call 213/742-3944.

Hotel du Pont, Wilmington, Del. Recommended by Paula Kovach, event coordinator for the technology underwriting department at Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., Warren, N.J. Located 25 minutes from Philadel-phia International Airport, the 20-story, Italianate hotel opened in 1913 and underwent a $40 million renovation in 1992.

Kovach, who organized a three-night training session for 45 people here in 1999, says the service sets this site apart. "From the first site inspection to finalizing the bill, the hotel staff always took the extra step to help out."

The hotel's Gold Ballroom, which can accommodate 500 seated diners, features ornate decorations and sgrafitto renderings-multiple layers of colored, hand-etched plaster. The Federal-style du Barry Room, with its white pillars, parquet floors and crystal chandeliers, accommodates up to 125 guests for a seated dinner. The 217-room hotel also offers a 1,200-seat theater that presents Broadway touring shows and other entertainment. Call 800/441-9019 or 302/594-3100.

Top of the Tower, Chicago Recommended by Percy Sales, senior events coordinator for the Dallas branch of Houghton Mifflin Co. Located on the 99th floor of the Sears Tower, this room with a view can accommodate up to 250 seated guests with a dance floor, 350 without, and 500 for receptions. The textbook publisher held its annual reception for 300 clients here in April. Food stations were arranged in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. "The food reflected different Chicago neighborhoods," Sales notes. "The stations were set up to correspond with the outside view, so behind the Chinese station, guests could glimpse a view of Chinatown, and so forth." Other neighborhoods represented by food stations included Little Italy, the financial district and Wrigleyville, whose station offered hot dogs and popcorn a la Wrigley Field. Call 312/993-9801 or visit the Top of the Tower Web site, located at

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Recommended by Percy Sales. Sales touts the location of the mus-eum ("It's right across the street from the Moscone Center") and the quality of its permanent collection ("Guests can take their champagne and tour the museum").

Featuring bold, modernist architecture and slanting skylights, SFMOMA offers five event venues with capacities from 278 to 750 for a seated dinner. The museum can provide private tours of its art collection as well as event invitations and favors from its MuseumStore. Call 415/357-4000 or make a virtual visit at

Tipitina's, New Orleans Recommended by Melissa Henderson, events coordinator for Rockville, Md.-based Essential Technologies. This live-music institution embodies the spirit of New Orleans, according to Henderson, who held a special event for 200 at Tipitina's during her company's annual conference last year. Three locations are available-Uptown, French Quarter and, most recently, The Ruins, located across the street from the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center. Events might include a live zydeco band, local delicacies such as muffuletta and jambalaya, or time in a music studio with Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers. Call 504/523-3527 or visit Tipitina's online at

Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, Ill. Recommended by Connie Valvano, vice president of special events, Fox Family Worldwide advertising sales, Virginia Beach, Va. "We host clients at the Brookfield Zoo every year," says Valvano. "It's family-oriented and does a great job catering." After-hours events include a narrated sunset safari tour and cocktails at one of the animal exhibits. Two banquet facilities are available: Bocaditos accommodates 75 to 125 guests for a seated dinner featuring South American-inspired cuisine and decor; the Discovery Center has room for 250 seated guests with a dance floor. For more casual events, the outdoor picnic grove can accommodate 200 to 10,000 guests for a barbecue. Call 708/485-0263, ext. 355, or visit the zoo's Web site (

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