Stars aplenty at ESPN, Playboy parties
INDIANAPOLIS -- It may be the Racing Capital of the World, but on Friday night, the cars were moving slow, if at all, in downtown Indy. The streets were flooded with fans, partygoers and early tailgaters soaking in the atmosphere of Indy on the official kickoff to Super Bowl party weekend. Some pedestrians told local TV news that it had taken them as long as an hour and a half to walk two blocks. After trying to navigate the streets of downtown Indianapolis, we can commensurate. Your co-crew chiefs were on the ground at the top bashes
Audi Forum Party
Why that title: Once again, Audi sponsored the party and gave guests the VIP treatment in the form of Audi Forums with a driver for the night. Not having to look for a cab in downtown Indy was a bonus; navigating through bumper-to-bumper traffic downtown was another story.
Where: The Penthouse of the Conrad Hotel. The view from the roof looked out over all of downtown Indianapolis. You would have thought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were hiding out inside the hotel from the crowd that had gathered outside to get a peek at the many celebrities who were coming and going from the hotel.
Performers: DJ Pesce was spinning tunes.
Celebrities we saw: Neil Patrick Harris, Kellan Lutz, Spike Lee, Erin Andrews, Sherri Shepard and Matthew Morrison.
Celebrities who were confirmed, but we didn't spot: While we didn't spot Mary J. Blige, who was on the initial list, we did see Glee's Matthew Morrison and former "SportsCenter" host turned "Good Morning America" host Josh Elliott, both who were surprise additions.
Overheard: Maria Menounos told Neil Patrick Harris about a Super Bowl bet she made that would require her to wear a Giants bikini if the Pats lost. When she told him she was concerned she had eaten too much that weekend and joked that tabloids would write about how she looked, Harris quipped to the Extra correspondent, "You're going to have to be reporting on yourself."
Food factor: Mini pumpkin pies, steak with blue cheese crackers and chicken salad cups. It was certainly not your usual go-to football appetizer menu.
Race car rating: Warm-up lap. The Audi party was a low-key, exclusive bash on a smaller scale than the previous year. It was the equivalent to the pre-pre-party you might have at your house before a tailgate. The guest list was kept to a minimum, but because of the small space and intimate affair, guests were able to mingle on the balcony with Neil Patrick Harris, have a drink next to Erin Andrews and chat with Kellan Lutz near the DJ booth without the stuffiness of VIP tables and roped-off areas. After all, everyone here was treated like a VIP. The best part of the night? A surprise fireworks show outside of Lucas Oil Stadium. While Audi doesn't exactly get the credit for the fireworks, they do get credit for picking a stellar location with a view that overlooked downtown Indy.
GQ's Party presented by Lacoste
Why that title: GQ and Lacoste teamed up together again, with help from sponsor Patron, for the Super Bowl bash. While there were no Lacoste clothes like we'd hoped for, there was plenty of Patron to go around.
Where: The party was at the Stutz Building, which was the perfect location -- just far enough away from the heart of downtown Indy to avoid the traffic, but close enough for a mere five-minute cab ride from the stadium. While the outside appeared rather shabby, the open indoor space was surprisingly stylish inside and provided plenty of room to dance.
Performers: LL Cool J started his set by asking 10 women to come up to dance on stage with him. In the end, he didn't need the help to get the crowd bumping to both his old-school jams and new material. The celebrities seemed the most enamored. Brooklyn Decker had her hands in the air next to husband Andy Roddick, while David Arquette snapped pictures on his camera of Cool J.
Celebrities we saw: Andy Roddick, Brooklyn Decker, David Arquette, Christina McLarty, J.R. Martinez, Terrell Owens, Stephen Baldwin and Joe Manganiello.
Celebrities who were confirmed, but we didn't spot: The list was a bit overinflated but, as always, celebrities are unpredictable. Stephen Baldwin showed up in place of Alec Baldwin, and there was no sign of Jon Hamm or John Slattery (both of "Mad Men"). Adam Sandler, who was the darling of radio row early that day, was a no-show; other no-shows included Michael Douglas, Matt Bomer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Carson Daly, Will Forte and Chord Overstreet.
Overheard: LL Cool J admitted he had no time for a dress rehearsal. Meanwhile, David Arquette was seen exchanging numbers with his pal, fellow "Dancing With the Stars" alum, J.R. Martinez.
Food factor: The food was by far the best of the night. The hearty mix of hors d'oeuvres included mini chicken pot pies (yum!), mini burgers and vanilla and chocolate shakes.
Race car rating: Drag race. We were very impressed with GQ this year for many reasons: there were pool tables for guests to play, a stylish photo booth, a scrumptious mix of appetizers, a bar with no wait and LL Cool J, who had no shame bringing back his old-school jams. Overall, you can't ask for a more well-rounded party. We don't know how many times we can say it: You can't throw a perfect party without fulfilling all the necessary categories: food, drink, music, crowd and entertainment! GQ didn't blow it out of the park (er, race track) but it was a solid showing overall.
Playboy presents Carnival Mystique
Why that title: Playboy always amps up the themes for its Super Bowl soirees. This year the magazine hosted a party with a vintage circus-themed party, complete with aerialists, booty-short clad go-go dancers and a big top that looked something straight out of a Britney Spears music video -- not that that's a bad thing, mind you.
Where: The party happened at what's quickly become known as party central this week, the Bud Light Hotel. Formerly the Hampton Inn, it's been rebranded for the week. And no one's complaining, given there's an open bar that features -- of all things -- free-flowing Bug Light.
Performers: Can you handle this? The party was hosted by 16 Playboy Playmates -- in other words, every fraternity boy's dream. Other entertainers included R&B singer Ne-Yo and DJ Jessica Who.
Celebrities we saw: Honestly, you couldn't see an inch in front of you. But we did spy Ne-Yo, of course, the boys of LMFAO, actor Dave Annable, chef Guy Fieri, Nick Lachey and Mehcad Brooks.
Celebrities who were confirmed, but we didn't spot: Joe Jonas, Troy Aikman, Neil Patrick Harris and the boys of Maroon 5.
Overheard: "That's a Facebook profile shot right there," someone said of a cellphone picture taken of one of the go-go dancers. We didn't exactly see what was shown in the photo, but we can about guess
Food factor: Beef Wellington pockets, beef skewers and shrimp were passed around.
Race car rating: Slow start: Call it brand recognition, but the Playboy is always one of the hotly anticipated events of any Super Bowl week. But we love it when it's an exclusive-feeling affair. The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd didn't make us feel as special, though we're sure anyone who was in attendance at the event was still the envy of all of their Facebook friends.
ESPN The Magazine's "NEXT" Party
Why that title: The event celebrates the new cover model for ESPN the Magazine's NEXT athlete: this year it's Cam Newton.
Where: A warehouse about two miles away from downtown, which we rather liked. The event space was open, large and the aesthetics were colorful and the best we saw all night -- and we're not just saying that because this is our party.
Performers: Drake, who rocked the house. At one point we were teased, thinking he'd bring out his mentor and collaborator Lil Wayne. He didn't, but we loved his show all the same.
Celebrities we saw: Drake, Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry Rice, Vivica A. Fox, Tim Tebow, Michael Irvin, Spike Lee, Steve Young, Maria Menounos, Terrell Owens, Hope Solo, Kurt Warner, Cam Newton, Birdman, Blake Shelton, J.R. Martinez, Plaxico Burress and Drew Brees.
Celebrities who were confirmed, but we didn't spot: The glitterati stacks were decked at the ESPN party. It was likely easier to ask who wasn't there. Cellphone-camera shots popped off frequently throughout the party, with folks taking pictures of their favorite iconic sports figures and famous faces.
Overheard: A bunch of off-key wannabe rap singers. Seriously: Drake has a record deal for a reason -- he is actually talented, can hold a tune and we rather like his Canuck hip-hop flow. Some things are better left to the professionals.
Food factor: We were a bit disappointed that there wasn't much in the way of food at the party. There was plenty of booze, however, which is likely why folks practically had to be kicked out of the event. And they seemed happy about it.
Race car rating: Lap of honor: If you're going to throw a Super Bowl party, you've got to have two things to make sure it's a hit -- tons of athletes and loads of celebrities. Who else are we going to point out and ooh and aah over? Thankfully, this event had plenty of both, which makes it a 'til-the-lights-come-on kind of affair for us. Plus, Dunkin' Donuts was there to hand out hot chocolate and hot coffee to partygoers. In 45-degree weather, you'll find no complaints from us.
Laura Lane and Kelley Carter are regular contributors to ESPN.com.