Anatomy of a Fantabulon

Just what goes on at an average Fantabulon? Many things! The party typically starts Friday evening and goes all the way through early Sunday afternoon.

Friday

People’s availability for Friday night can vary wildly, and with traffic, the trip up to Fantabulon can take over three hours. As such, attendance during the first night is often a bit lower, although those who make it up earlier often land themselves a coveted bed. (The cabin where Fantabulon is hosted used to be able to sleep up to eleven people in actual beds, but with up to 25 people spending the night, most are ending up on air mattresses or in sleeping bags.) Due to the smaller crowd, we often get pizza or grill hot dogs for a small, easy dinner to complement the snacks. The bar is fully open and the photo booth is switched on (there’s usually a display near the dance floor or bar area), but the outfits are reserved for Saturday night. Perhaps because it tends to be the dedicated Fantabulonistas who are actually present, Friday night always seems to be wilder than what one might expect, especially given that we tell people that the “real” party is on Saturday night.

Saturday

For some of us (like me), Saturday starts with a hangover, which is quickly followed by a coffee cake breakfast and maybe a little hair of the dog in the form of mimosas. Depending on whether it’s a winter or summer Fantabulon, there’s either some post-breakfast downtime (often filled with board games (Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne seem to be perennial favorites) and ideally playing around in the snow—quite the novelty for the average Angeleno) or everyone gets ready to head over to the lake for the day (assuming a summer thunderstorm doesn’t force us inside). The bar doesn’t really open up until after dinner, but there’s a small selection of beers for those allergic to water.

Unfortunately, the world’s best Tex-Mex restaurant closed, so dinner just isn’t the same. Then again, I find it best not to gorge myself right before putting on my traditional party outfit of short shorts and a mesh tank top. As night begins to fall, costumes are donned, the photo booth starts up, music starts to play (a good playlist is critical!), and the liquor starts to flow freely again. If someone’s had, having, or going to have a birthday within a few days of the event, this is typically when cake (invariably from the Jensen’s bakery) will be served. The night usual involves a mixture of conversation, dancing, double Jenga, photo booth shenanigans, and more that somehow can run until as late as dawn. If you’re planning to go to bed early, bring earplugs and maybe a sleep mask.

Sunday

Aside from the second hangover, Sunday is pretty easy. After the debacle of the first Fantabulon’s waffles and pancakes and eggs and bagels and cereal Sunday brunch, a simple spread of lox (usually homemade—thanks, Billy!) and bagels with a pitcher or two of mimosas has become one of the more established traditions. Beds are made, goodbyes are said, and people are usually sent home with a bag of trash (we don’t have garbage service up there) and hopefully a few fond memories. Decorations that took weeks of preparation are taken down in a matter of hours, and everything is packed away for possible use in the future.

Fear not, for like James Bond, Fantabulon will return, but unlike the aforementioned movie franchise, the next installment is usually only about six months away.

What’s in a name: the ℏ

the ħ at Fantabulon presents The Sand Bar
the ħ underwent a slight rebranding for Fantabulon: Under the Sea!

The bar at Fantabulon isn’t just called “the bar at Fantabulon,” but in fact has its own special name—albeit one that may be opaque to all but the nerdiest among us. Owing to my time as a physics major, there was simply no other suitable name for my bar other than “the ħ,” where that funny little lowercase-h-with-a-line-through-the-vertical-part is the reduced Planck’s constant (pronounced “h-bar”), which is

reduced Planck's constant (h-bar)
Reduced Planck’s constant (rendered in LaTeX, naturally)

The name is really the perfect distillation (get it?) of my humor: it requires a bit of semi-obscure factual knowledge that, once known, renders the “joke” hardly worth a smirk.

I’ll spare you my attempts to derive just how Planck’s quantization of energy was arrived at. I will say that since Fantabulon has mostly switched from incandescent light sources to LEDs, one might say that black-body radiation is most relevant to the party through the bar’s name.

What’s a Fantabulon?

Fantabulon: Deep Space!
Fantabulon: Deep Space! group shot (that’s me in the Viking helmet); credit: Tim Wagner

Fantabulon began as a desire to do something memorable with friends. The initial inspiration was a post on the Something Awful forums about a group of Scandinavian friends who over the years built several iterations of a houseboat on (inebriated) nights and weekends together. Something of that scale sounded too large in scope and prohibitively expensive, but I still wanted to do something.

A few days later, the name “fantabulon” came to me in the shower. It conjured up thoughts of a house party of a legendary scale, and given that I’m fortunate enough to be born to a family with a vacation home located only a couple hours away, it seemed like a possibility. My sensible (now ex-)girlfriend agreed it was a good idea, and when a few of my closest friends came over for a game of Settlers of Catan, it was agreed that in about two months’ time, the inaugural Fantabulon would be held.

The initial preparations were pretty limited: basic liquors and a few cheap liqueurs were purchases, decorations mostly consisted of Christmas lights and dollar store holiday garlands and tinsels. The disco ball was a mere 8″ in diameter, but at least we had one. If there’s one thing that was too ambitious, it was the choose-your-own-adventure breakfast bar.

first Fantabulon cocktail
The first Fantabulon cockail: a sea breeze; credit: Sarah Zagha

From its humble beginnings, Fantabulon grew with each successive iteration—if not in attendance at least in the size of the “Fantabulon liquor trust.” Themes were added—from the sadly snow-free Avalanche! to the tiki-tastic Under the Sea!—and with them came more elaborate decorations and lighting schemes, curated cocktail menus, outrageous outfits, and more. This latest edition, Fantabulon V!!, represents both a back-to-basics approach in terms of just trying to be a wild party for close friends while also being a testing ground for the entirely new concept of the Champagne Room as well as a massive overhaul of the photo booth.

Given how much energy goes into throwing one of these events, it makes sense to start documenting it. Perhaps some of the lessons learned along the way can help you create your own Fantabulon on whatever scale works best for you.