Society / Featured Parties

Inside a Houston Billionaire’s Mega Mardi Gras Party

Helicopters, a Yacht, a Police Escort and VIP Perks Galore

BY // 02.28.17
photography Gary Fountain, Dave Rossman

GALVESTON — It just doesn’t get any grander than it does when traveling in billionaire Tilman Fertittas Mardi Gras entourage and the closer you are to Mr. Big, the more glorious the experience. Consider the helicopter transport from Houston to the grassy knoll at his San Luis Resort, the sirens-blazing police escorts between Fertitta’s two Mardi Gras bashes, and placement at the gala head table where service, food and drink are as lavish as any Vegas high roller could command.

The Las Vegas connection is paramount in the annual San Luis Salute, this year themed “Space Pirates.” The side entertainment and comely show girls often hail from Fertitta’s original Golden Nugget and this year as in past years, the headliner at the ball, Jason Derulo, moved the following night onto the stage at the magnate’s casino in Lake Charles.

“I wish that New York knew how to throw a party like Tilman Fertitta does in Galveston.”

For more than two decades, the gala, benefiting the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has been a sellout, even as it has grown from the intimate ballroom at the San Luis Resort to the vast party space in Fertitta’s Galveston Island Convention Center. Six months before invitations were printed, the gala was a sellout with 1,800 revelers eagerly awaiting the not-to-be-missed festivities.

VIP guests at the head table were a step up from previous years when Vegas cronies broke bread with area notables. Holding primo head table seats were  Rich Handler, CEO of Jefferies (the global investment banking firm), the glamorous MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle (displaying her oft-admired legs in black sequined short shorts), CNBC’s Power Lunch co-anchor Brian Sullivan, and North Point Advisors founder Dave Jacquin, in from Napa Valley — all indicative of Fertitta’s new persona as the Billion Dollar Buyer.

“I wish that New York knew how to throw a party like Tilman Fertitta does in Galveston,” Handler,the New York financier remarked.

Regulars at Fertitta’s lengthy table included astronaut Scott Kelly, no worse for the wear after his year in space, and his squeeze Amiko Kauderer, along with his identical twin brother Mark Kelly and former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was clearly into the swing of things as she swayed in her seat to the rocking music. University of Houston chancellor and president Renu Khator made the cut (Fertitta is UH board chairman) as did Guinness world record holder news anchor Dave Ward and wife Laura, State Sen. John Whitmire, Houston’s new police chief Art Acevedo and wife Tanya, Maria and Neil Bush, Dancie and Jim Ware, and the loveliest lady of all — Paige Fertitta, who chairs the gala along with her husband.

Clearly on a high spun by the night’s heady crowd and the festivities, Tilman enthused, “I love it! It’s for UTMB and it’s also a good time.” Proceeds from the event were earmarked for the medical school’s Zika researchers.

As is tradition for the Fertitta’s retinue, the night of revelry began harbor side and included Knights of Momus duchesses (in their elaborate ball gowns), family and escorts partying across the dock into a flower- and chandelier-festooned party tent and on board the Fertittas’ $40 million yacht, The Boardwalk. (But, please, shoes removed before boarding the fabulous toy.) The early evening champagne fueled what would be one long and glorious Mardi Gras celebration. As Fertitta’s mother, Joy, declared of the sunset fete, “We always like a party before a party!”

Back at the ballroom, jaws dropped at the aerial acrobats, the LED lighted spacemen and the out-of-this-world vixens in silver lame jumpsuits that looked as if they were painted on. A shimmering space vehicle floated above one of several dance floors in the vast ballroom and massive planetary orbs hung from the ceiling while videos of the universe and interplanetary travel fed the “Space Pirates” theme. All of it the work of Landry’s events planning arm, The Events Co. and its major domo Richard Flowers. (Landry’s Inc. — the multinational, diversified restaurant, hospitality, gaming and entertainment company — is wholly owned by Fertitta.)

Seen: Doe and Henry Florsheim, Jerri and Jim Moore, Beth Muecke, Neil Hamil, Liz and Dr. Bill Decker, V.J. Tramonte, Joanie and Doug McLeod, Ellie and Michael Francisco, Kelli Fertitta Woods and Josh Woods, Sarahbeth Melton and Pierce Bush, State Sen. Charles Schwertner and wife Belinda, Christina Stith, and three of the Fertitta’s four children — Blayne, Patrick, and Michael.

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