Best of Sarasota 2013

After I entered Selby Gardens through a jungle-like swath of vines, tropical flowers and giant fronds, the waiter holding a tray of champagne flutes and offering edible diamonds was a welcome sight. "Edible diamonds?" I asked. "Yes. They're made from sugar," he explained. And they were tasty! Slightly sweet, cool, certainly a nice complement for some bubbly on a spring afternoon in Sarasota.

What occasioned such opulence? None other than our epic annual Best of Sarasota issue, celebrating all the local establishments and experts who have earned not only our love but also our ink as a "best"—definitely a harder get. And if I do say so myself, our team went all out. Although the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are already a breathtaking venue, our marketing and events manager, Molly Hunsinger, assisted by event planner Maria Brady, increased the elegance with antique chandeliers hanging from the banyans, a violinist at the entry, lovely live models draped in fresh florals and delicious local food and drink everywhere.

More than 30 restaurants, retailers and bars ringed the ample lawn, allowing guests like Chris and Bethany Laney, Christina Pitchford and Christie Uihlein and some 450 others to amble for hours in an attempt to enjoy it all. I heard a lot of good things about the small bites, which I was too busy chatting to try, but apparently everyone loved the Bijou Café's shrimp and South African grits, J-Pan's inventive sushi rolls, and the fresh citrus martinis served up by my friends at Libby's.

The magazine tapped me, along with fellow writers and bloggers Judi Gallagher and Heather Dunhill, to do some video coverage of the event (click here to check it out). I talked party details on camera with all sorts of guests, including my parents, Kevin and Lynda Daves, who won four bottles of wine from Michael's On East in one of the blind raffle boxes. And each entry was only $20, which was donated to Selby Gardens. Win-win. And it turned out they were good friends with my friends, Cindy Cockburn and Rod Millington. This is definitely a small town.

My next interview victims were Rachel and Cooper Levey-Baker, the latter a long-time colleague through our alt-weekly days up to our current posts as contributing editors for Sarasota Mag. When they tried to refuse—I'm not sure why people are so reticent about appearing on camera—I convinced them by remarking on their spectacularly coordinated pink and blue plaid (on him) and stripes (on her). Very impressive.

Almost as impressive as those Living Vine things creeping about the party—oh, I didn't mention them? Almost blending into the garden background at times, the performers were covered in leaves from head to toe and walked on stilts, only their painted faces giving them away as people.

It felt as if the garden had literally come alive, as their long, leaf-wrapped limbs extended and slowly, subtly curled back. "Why have Living Vines at the party?" offered Cooper. "Vine not!" His wit never fails.

After wrapping our interview with laughter and hugs, I noticed a small group gathered on the bayfront, away from the rest of the party. I sauntered down there— the cool kids always hang out at the edge of the party—and found my friends Rich Schineller, Sarah Fulton, Adam Schiffman and Ilya Gaev smoking cigarettes and taking in the sparkling bay as the sun slowly sank. The view alone made me grateful to be at such a lovely event, but it was even lovelier to enjoy it with friends.

After the high glamour and hectic pace of the season, this party always seems like a mellow, relaxing way to close things out. "It's just such a happy, hometown event," our publisher, Kelley Lavin, said. I couldn't help but agree. Flitting about the garden, laughing, chatting, snapping photos—yes, I felt right at home. This was one of those parties that no one wanted to leave, although the necessity of finding a restroom pulled several of us back in as the sky began to darken, the glittering bayfront slowly fading from view. Somehow cramming into one stall, a gaggle of girls from Laura Jean's Consignment Boutique, led by the adorable Lindsey McDaniel, giggled and then glammed in front of the mirror.

It wasn't just the open bars; we were all in great spirits from such a wonderful time. I'm not just saying that 'cuz I work for Sarasota Magazine. I go to a lot of these things, and this rocked. When I complimented Ann Logan, development director of Selby Gardens, for the ambiance of the affair, she simply said that she and her team "can take credit for the beautiful location, but Sarasota Magazine did all this."

Whether it was planned or not, ending the event with a glowing full moon shining through the trees and foliage was the best finish to what was definitely the best season I've had. Sarasota, you're the best. Thanks for reading.

Follow Veronica on your social network of choice, including Instagram, @veronicapastore.

Click here to see photos, winners and video from the Best of Sarasota 2013.

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