A well dressed posse is living their best lives, dancing to a live mash-up of the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling and DeBarge’s lost classic Rhythm of the Night. A glitter cannon fires. It’s 10.03am.
Welcome to Flemington’s famous Birdcage, the exclusive enclosure where the rich, the corporate and the B-list enjoy unbridled hospitality, while nearby some horses beat others in big races.
From 7am on Wednesday, the marquees in the Birdcage’s ‘Millionaire’s Row’ – this year minus stalwarts Myer and Emirates – were unveiled for a sneak peek.
The morning dance floor action is at 1 Oliver Street, where guests are greeted by a woman wearing a Christmas tree-esque dress made from flowers, steel struts and dozens of brimming champagne glasses.
Set in a mansion, it’s the VRC’s own marquee for members willing to pay $790 per ticket ($890 for guests) for fun, booze and canapés including smoked trout macarons, Wagyu cheeseburgers and potato and goat’s cheese dumplings with parmesan truffle sauce.
In 2018, the VRC is also debuting its Bird Bath Bar, an alfresco space with a Palm Springs vibe, complete with astro turf, striped umbrellas and a round swimming pool.
“No nudie runs, no diving, no bombing, but absolutely paddling,” Caroline Ralphsmith, VRC executive general manager Customer Engagement, told The New Daily above the strains of Do You Know the Way to San José.
The bar will be serving “our beautiful chicken sandwiches and a glass of Mumm, can’t go past it”, and can take a “couple of hundred” guests at a time, Ms Ralphsmith said: “This is going to be young and a bit loud.”
On the ground floor of the gorgeous, three-level Lexus marquee, model Megan Gale is posing next to a car and trays of Piccolina mochi gelato balls with custom fior di latte and mandarin yuzu sorbet are handed around.
Next floor up, personal calligrapher Winessa is handwriting initials on leather race books, and Rockpool chef Neil Perry said one of the highlights at Lexus will be Attica’s Ben Shewry’s dessert: “He’s doing an Australian lamington, so the black on the outside is black ants.”
Maison Mumm’s unveiling almost stalled on the launch pad when model Kate Peck wrestled for a minute or two to uncork a champagne bottle in front of a 12 metre rocket which took 30 engineers to design and build.
But inside the silver-and-red Space Odyssey-themed marquee – in honour of the house developing the first champagne bottle designed for space travel – it was a blast, with an eight-piece orchestra playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity and an intergalactic DJ high in the rocket.
Even the menu is space-themed: breakfast gels, freeze-dried fruit salad and pearls in an obulato triangle and a dessert of titanium white ‘apple’ mousse sitting on raspberry ‘spaghetti’ and champagne foam.
Tabcorp’s live floral wall, and chef Darren Purchese’s chocolate flowers were stunning, and in prime position on the rails and with floor-to ceiling windows, Victorian beer brand Furphy’s The Watering Hole is the largest marquee, holding up to 400.
With a 10-metre bar, the Furphy vibe “is old-school country pub”, said a spokesperson, with menu offerings (all from local produce) including mini shepherd’s pie, lamb shank schnitzel, cauliflower cheese and jam donut ice cream.
A couple of doors up at Kennedy, a doorman ushers you into a greeting from a concierge who handles all race day requests: Band-Aids, directions, small talk.
The feel of the luxury retailer’s marquee is a cross between hotel lobby and old-fashioned store, with colour-coded flowers by Fleur McHarg (today it’s lilac), a baby grand pianist and DJs.
Now in its second year of a five-year contract, is the expense worth it for Kennedy? Executive chairman James Kennedy laughed. “I think the week is the most important in Melbourne for the year. This is on brand, it’s exclusive, luxurious.”
He’s learned from the marquee’s 2017 launch, where a live python handed around divided guests including Bec and Lleyton Hewitt. “You just need a bit of experience. I still think the snake worked quite well.”
The weirdest thing in the Birdcage is also a ripper: at property developer Pace Development Group’s ‘penthouse’, the ground floor is set up as a lounge room and the second is a bedroom with outdoor wrap-around terrace.
Guests are invited to have a lie-down on the bed, which has a $60,000 hand-stitched horsehair and merino fleece mattress by UK company Vispring, whose customers include royals and the Beckhams.
If you get the chance, try it out. “We sell about eight or nine a year,” Cameron van den Dungen, of Hawthorn’s Forty Winks told The New Daily.
There will be security for the mattress, “and I’ve slipped a waterproof cover on just in case”, Mr van den Dungen – who plans to retire it to his holiday house post-races – revealed. Smart bet.