Who: Aspiring Dr. Doolittles and their plus ones
What: The Minnesota Zoo’s annual Beastly Ball, One Hot Night
Where: Under the dolphins’ watchful gaze at the Discovery Bay exhibit
When: Saturday, April 24
Why: To celebrate the opening of a new exhibit, Faces of the African Forest, and to meet some of the zoo’s inhabitants.
The event began with a silent auction and meet-and-mingle session in the sprawling lobby of Discovery Bay, where we collectively ooh-aahed at the multitude of merchandise and experiences up for bidding. A mini live auction pumped up the crowd for the real thing, which was held in the dolphin performance amphitheater (no one dared sit in the splash zone). Dinner and entertainment followed. Lee Valsvik, of Cities 97, was the emcee for the night. And at the heart and soul of the event? The Red River hog, one of the upcoming additions to the zoo’s diverse repertoire of animals. The beast will debut in late May as part of a brand new exhibit, Faces of the African Forest.
After bumping into Mpls.St.Paul co-worker Natasha Freimark, saying hello to Minnesota Zoo CEO Lee Ehmke, and the Bronx Zoo’s Sue Chin, who complimented my $4 peacock earrings (score!), I managed to squeeze through the throng of guests surrounding Twin Cities patriarch and honorary event chair Don Shelby to get in a quick chat. He said, “My children grew up going here, and now they’re taking their children. This zoo isn’t just for fun, it’s an institution that’s dedicated to helping species survive.” Preach.
Getups ranged from full-length gowns and tuxedos to suits and cocktail dresses. Male guests received patterned bowties along with their invitations, which most were game to put on—I, of course, realized this only after I wittily complimented a guest for so skillfully coordinating his bowtie with his nametag. Affable waiters weaved through the crowd holding aloft platters of yummy hors d’oeuvres. My date, who mastered the art of food-stalking, managed to nab and wolf down about five zesty chicken satays; meanwhile, I stuck to flatbreads topped with tender lamb. We washed it all down with vodka cranberry drinks that came topped with a curlicue hog’s tail stirrer.
But the best moments of the night, in my opinion, were my conversations with the friendly naturalists who wandered the party with the most eye-catching plus ones of the evening: reptiles and mammals from the zoo itself.