By Jess Blumberg, Janelle Erlichman Diamond, Ken Iglehart, John Lewis, Suzanne Loudermilk, and Amy Mulvihill.
We swear, 2008 wasn't only about Michael Phelps. Okay, so it was mostly about Michael Phelps, but a lot of other stuff happened in Baltimore, too—some great, some not-so-great. Narrowing an entire year to the five most significant events? A tricky task, but one the editors of Baltimore magazine relished. From sports (that Phelps guy), to parties (okay, that Phelps guy again), to retail, headlines, arts, and dining, our editors chose the five local moments that we think defined 2008. Disagree? Of course you do! But isn't that why lists are so much fun?
C-Mart blacks out its final designer tag.
For more than 30 years, C-Mart was the go-to place for Manolo Blahnik heels, Coach bags, and Prada sunglasses, famously advertised through its handwritten, busy, and sometimes (intentionally) cryptic ads: "Major New York designer warehouse fire!" It was back in 1975 when E. Douglas Carton opened the first C-Mart in Forest Hill. When Carton's nephew Keith Silberg took over in 2005, he closed the Forest Hill store and re-opened in an old K-Mart in Joppatowne—adding furniture to the mix. In 2007, another store was opened in Prince George's County but closed a year later. Then a year or so ago, Silberg sold the company to childhood friends Daniel Shuman and Brad Bondroff. And then—here comes an all-too familiar refrain—the economy tanked. The Joppatowne store closed for good this October. We'll miss the fervent hunt for big-ticket bargains and steals. And truly, their timing couldn't be worse. After all, this is exactly when we need to buy our Gucci on discount. We'll miss you, C-Mart.
Burberry opens in Baltimore.
Our little town is all grown up. High-end retailers are flocking to the city like John Waters to kitsch. Dare we say Baltimore is becoming upscale? Harbor East has become a mini D.C.—attracting Urban Chic and Sassanova (where shoes can cost as much as a rent check) plus other posh retailers like Handbags in the City. And now even Towson Town Center is getting in on the high-end action. The new wing includes a 5,400-square-foot Burberry, the British luxe fashion house, with threads for men and women and accessories (handbags, shoes, eyewear, jewelry, fragrance), which opened for business at the end of October. Plus, a Lacoste and Louis Vuitton are coming next summer. Things continue to look encouraging downtown: The Four Seasons Hotel also promises some extravagant shops. Our wish list: Barney's Co-op, Tiffany & Co., Fresh, Intermix, an Apple store . . .
Christian Siriano wins Season 4 of Project Runway.
Columbia-born, Annapolis-raised, and fierce for life, Christian Siriano stole our hearts with his Flock of Seagulls haircut and quotable catch phrases on the fourth season of Bravo's Project Runway, a reality competition for designers. Before fame, Siriano worked as a hair washer and styling assistant at Bubbles Salon in Annapolis and enrolled at Baltimore School for the Arts. When he auditioned for Project Runway, Siriano had already interned for Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen in London. The hometown hero walked away with not just the top prize (fashion spread in Elle magazine, $100,000, a Saturn Astra) but also the "fan favorite" award and a Victoria Beckham gush. This past fall, Siriano debuted his first post-Project Runway spring collection at New York Fashion Week. We hear it was fierce. (To catch up with Siriano, check out this month's Baltimore Grill.)
Renee Zellweger Spotting Becomes Baltimore's Favorite Pastime.
We try not to get all gushy and stuff, but seeing an A-list movie star in our town, shopping at our stores, eating at our restaurants makes us a little star gazey. This past summer, apple-cheeked actress Renee Zellweger was here filming the period piece My One and Only and the poor girl couldn't buy hand weights without us knowing about it. She was spotted at South Moon Under buying a Marc Jacobs bag and Ray-Bans; at Urban Chic she left with Sara Happ lip scrub in vanilla bean and cocoa and Herban Essentials Peppermint Towelettes. She dined at Charleston and Cinghiale, perused the goods at Second Chance, sipped coffee at Starbucks, and worked out at MAC. She was described as "the sweetest, nicest person," "really, really skinny," "all smiles," and "we're like best friends now." Hopefully, she liked us, too.
Ray Mitchener takes over Ruth Shaw.
It was bound to happen after 40 years in the business: Ruth Shaw was ready to not be Ruth Shaw anymore. The Cross Keys fashion doyenne, who opened her eponymous shop in 1973, has remained one of the city's premiere tastemakers. One of the reasons for Ruth Shaw's success? That would be Ray Mitchener, her longtime manager and buyer who would accompany her on shopping trips to Europe and New York. Mitchener came to Baltimore in 1972 from North Carolina to study fashion design at Towson—and never left. He started working at the boutique in 1977. When Shaw retired recently, Mitchener bought the business. It was a natural takeover, he says, and Shaw gave him a great offer. Always the teacher, Shaw taught him how to edit lines and pick out the best pieces, how to find different shapes for different body types, to take risks, and to learn from his mistakes. Since taking over, Mitchener has introduced a few more contemporary lines, he says, but everything else has remained the same. Just the way Shaw—ever a proponent of quality over trends—would like it.—JD
Browning tragedy rocks Cockeysville.
To hundreds of Cockeysville friends and neighbors, they seemed the least-likely family on Earth to suffer such a tragic crime. Yet on a Saturday night in February, John Browning, 45, his wife, Tamara, 44, and sons Gregory 14, and Benjamin, 11, were all shot to death (three in their beds; John Browning was sleeping on the sofa) by eldest son Nicolas, 15, a bright Dulaney High School sophomore. The more than 1,300 mourners at the family's funeral remembered that the Brownings were active in their church, that John Browning was a successful attorney, that Nicholas was a Boy Scout who played lacrosse and enjoyed skiing near his family's vacation home on Deep Creek Lake. But after his guilty plea earlier this year, he is expected this month to be sentenced to three decades in prison—as a result of his plea, he won't serve life without parole.
Dixon house raided by the state.
Mayor Sheila Dixon and her two children Joshua, 13, and Jasmine 19, had a jarring awakening on a Tuesday morning in June, as a minivan, an unmarked state police cruiser, and an unmarked Chevy Malibu pulled up quietly in front of their house in the peaceful, upscale neighborhood of Hunting Ridge on the city's western border with Baltimore County. More than seven hours after the dawn raid, investigators from the state prosecutor office emerged with boxes and folders they had seized, part of an investigation into city spending and gifts she received while she was City Council president. Dixon's response? She went to the gym. Six months later, Baltimore is still on the edge of its seat, waiting to see if she will be charged in connection with the nearly three-year investigation into unauthorized gifts and no-bid contracts. But while the bold move by prosecutors in searching Dixon's private home undoubtedly unnerved the city's first female mayor, you wouldn't know that by looking at her performance. She continues to brush off the probe as a baseless political witch hunt and is still talking tough about the city's problems and how to solve them—just like nothing ever happened.
Partial eclipse comes to The Sun.
In yet another sign of the waning fortunes of daily newspapers, The Sun cut 100 jobs in June, more than half of them in the newsroom, through buyouts, layoffs, and the closing of open positions. When it was done, the newsroom, in particular, seemed gutted of many of the names that had drawn readers to the 171-year-old paper every day in recent years. Among those choosing buyouts were columnist Gregory Kane (his column is in the Examiner now), sports writer Roch Kubatko (his blog was the most popular feature on The Sun's website), reporter Douglas Donovan, and many others. Casualties among longtime editors included John Fairhall, Jack Gibbons, Georgia Marudas, and Stan Rappaport, to mention just a few. A paper-slimming redesign followed, all of which prompted longtime readers to ponder, "So who's left over there?" With the venerable Christian Science Monitor now giving up its daily print edition for Internet-only editions, others, like The Sun, could follow suit in the years to come. In the meantime, Baltimore readers will take what we can get—not that we have much choice.
Warren Buffett gets even richer, buys Constellation Energy.
On Wednesday, Constellation Energy was still a profitable industrial giant and one of the region's few remaining Fortune 500 firms, raking in $21 billion per year in revenues from power generation and energy trading. On Thursday, September 18, all that ended as the global financial implosion caught up with CEO Mayo A. Shattuck III, forcing the company into a fire sale to the energy division of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, which snagged Constellation for $4.7 billion in cash, about half its pre-crisis value. Constellation, which operates 83 nationwide power plants, as well as owning BGE, had been looking for a financial partner to share some of the risk in the wholesale energy business. But the credit crunch emptied the dance floor and prompted Standard & Poor's to lower Constellation's credit rating because of worries two large European lenders would cancel the credit line they had granted the company. The good news? After Constellation's reversal of fortunes, Shattuck will waive $18 million in cash severance under the planned merger, though he still would be eligible for millions if the deal is approved by state regulators. Now the city waits for layoffs: Berkshire has said Constellation will operate autonomously, but most such acquisitions bring with them staffing "efficiencies." Does that Warren Buffett know a good deal, or what?
Slots bill passes.
Alongside the aquarium, The Walters, and the Museum of Dentistry, add one more distraction to Baltimore's list of stuff to do: slot machines. After years of heated debate and political rancor, citizens were able to make the call on legalizing slot-machine gambling that elected officials never could, voting decisively to approve 15,000 slot machines at five locations around the state. Despite arguments that it would encourage gambling addiction and attract criminal elements, the constitutional amendment to permit the machines (that surrounding states already allow) was supported by Gov. Martin O'Malley, who hopes it will serve as a fix for Maryland's recession-aggravated budget woes. Supporters have promised that education, health care, and public safety will be the big winners as a result of the estimated $600 million in state revenues from slots, and some of the money will also go to prop up the state's ailing horse-breeding and racing industry. Only time will tell if these one-armed bandits are the kind that give to the needy or take away.—KI
ARTS & CULTURE
The Wire wraps after five seasons.
After five seasons of hosannas from critics and haranguing from local politicos, The Wire ended its impressive run on HBO. Although it never pulled in the ratings or Emmys it deserved, the show raised the bar for episodic storytelling on television while using Baltimore to examine the state of urban America. As crafted by David Simon and Ed Burns—and an impressive stable of writers that included novelists George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Richard Price—The Wire was dense, multifaceted, and unflinching. "Instead of aiming for mass appeal and spin-offs, zeitgeist and action figures, we constructed a show that confounded and abused casual viewers and struggled to grow its audience," Simon wrote in our February issue. The Wire put the grit in integrity, and, thanks to DVD, the coarse complexities of Bubbles, Omar, and McNulty will endure for years to come.
Rolling Stone names Baltimore "Best Scene."
Baltimore's fertile music community got some long overdue, national love when Rolling Stone named it "Best Scene" this past spring. Citing the city as "a hotbed for rap and art rock," the grand dame of music journalism gave shout-outs to Beach House, Dan Deacon, Double Dagger, and Darkroom Productions, as well as local hang-outs such as The Sound Garden, Golden West Café, and Normal's. And with the Wham City collective going full tilt and new venues dotting the landscape, we won't be giving up the "Best Scene" mantle any time soon. So back off Austin and Seattle. Keep your distance Brooklyn. We've waited a long time for this.
Meyerhoff Collection to become wing of National Gallery.
In March, the Baltimore County Council approved making Robert Meyerhoff's estate, with its staggering collection of modern art, a wing of the National Gallery. The unusual arrangement—it will be the first permanent location outside D.C. to house National Gallery holdings—calls for the Phoenix, MD property to be opened to the public as a museum and study center after Meyerhoff's death. That means the public will finally be able to view Meyerhoff's extensive holdings, which have become almost mythic in the imaginations of art lovers. The 265-piece collection reportedly includes works by Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and various other iconic artists. And when the Meyerhoff gallery finally opens, horse country figures to be a much hipper destination for a weekend drive.
Marin Alsop and the BSO stage dynamic production of Bernstein's Mass.
Music Director Marin Alsop certainly went out on a limb making Leonard Bernstein's Mass the centerpiece of the BSO's 2008-2009 season. The critics were largely hostile to Mass when it debuted in 1971, and there were concerns that the theater piece/symphonic work hadn't aged well since that time. Still, Alsop, a Bernstein protégé, insisted she could reinvent it as something of a modern masterwork. Well, darn if she didn't do just that. In October, Alsop led the Morgan State University Choir and Marching Band, the Peabody Children's Chorus, a singing and dancing "street chorus," a rock band, and members of the BSO into uncharted territory at the Meyerhoff, and they all responded admirably to the maestra's verve and vision. In fact, it was one of the most memorable productions ever mounted at the Meyerhoff. After a successful local run Alsop and company took Mass to New York's Carnegie Hall and D.C.'s Kennedy Center, where the piece connected with critics and audiences alike, and the doubters were similarly converted. Bernstein would be pleased.
Franz West's BMA exhibit redefines the museum-going experience.
How often have you been to an exhibition where you're encouraged to sit on some of the art, pick some of it up and carry it around, or ignore it and read the newspaper? Well, that's all part of the BMA's Franz West retrospective, To Build a House You Start with the Roof, which opened in October to great fanfare in publications such as Art Forum and The New Yorker. Smartly curated by Darsie Alexander, who recently left the BMA for a job at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the show uses the Austrian artist's whimsical and interactive sculptures and installations to question how we engage with art. West's work even tweaks the rules of that engagement by encouraging museum visitors to become part of the artwork by handling some pieces and interacting with others. The Calder meets Dr. Seuss vibe of West's enormous sculpture The Ego and the Id, which dominates the first room, sets the perfect tone for the rest of the exhibit. —JL
Martick's ladles its final bouillabaisse.
Morris Martick, a maverick who introduced many Baltimoreans to exquisite French food at his quirky bohemian restaurant—where you actually had to ring the doorbell to gain entrance—suddenly and sadly closed the place down in August. No more elegant pâté, roasted duck, or ethereal bouillabaisse at the eponymously named Martick's Restaurant Français on W. Mulberry Street. Martick was tired, he told the press. Well, who wouldn't be at 86 after running the place since 1970? An eclectic chef, he shopped for his own ingredients at local markets (he was a locavore decades before the silly name came into existence) and often greeted diners before heading back to kitchen duties. But over the years, the place has looked a little worn and tattered, even in the dim lighting. And there were some outdoor code violations, though nothing serious. We have to take Martick at his word. It was probably time to close the chipped blue door.
Cupcakes become the new black.
Cupcakes are not just for kids anymore. They're for grown-ups, too, especially as the miniature treats get fancier and fluffier, and the competition for our taste buds gets fiercer. Gone are the days when plain-Jane cupcakes were just sandwiched between the cookies and other fancy creations in bakeries. Nowadays, it's all about specialization. And in Baltimore, there are a lot of baby cakes vying for our attention. This year, we saw two more businesses join the cupcake craze: CakeLove in Canton and Perfect Cupcakes, an on-the-go mini truck taking up a post at the Inner Harbor. They join the already established Charm City Cupcakes and The Baltimore Cupcake Company in Locust Point. It's nice to know you're never too far away from satisfying your sweet tooth. As Catherine Hamilton, baker/owner of Perfect Cupcakes, points out, "[Cupcakes] bring back childhood memories. Everyone has a cupcake memory."
Bravo's Top Chef comes calling for one of our own.
Score one for the Baltimore culinary scene with executive chef Jill Snyder being picked as a contestant (oops, make that cheftestant) on Bravo's Top Chef. Our girl, who heads the kitchen at Red Maple, is being pitted against 16 other knife-wielding challengers in food-crazed New York City for a chance to win $100,000 to start a restaurant. In her Bravo bio, Snyder, 28, says she'd like to "own a small resort that serves amazing food and features rides in her hot-air balloon." Well, we hope she's flying high by the time the show ends. (The finale for the 14-episode program had not been shot at press time.) Snyder is also competing against Maryland native Melissa Harrison, a Baltimore International College alum (like Snyder), who's now cooking in Boulder, Colorado. Kudos to BIC for turning out these great chefs and making us proud. —SL
Harford Road becomes a culinary destination.
Remember when Harford Road was a virtual culinary wasteland? Sure, there was a smattering of delicious homespun places (Koco's Pub, to name one), but your choices were pretty much limited to fast-food joints. Now the stretch from Lauraville to Hamilton is sizzling with some really great cuisine. Chameleon Café can be credited with initiating the trend in 2001 by offering excellently prepared foods with a focus on seasonal, local fare. But it was this year that had us driving up and down the street sampling menus at Clementine, Hamilton Tavern, The Parkside Fine Food & Spirits, and Grind-On Café. All are capitalizing on being neighborhood gathering spots with Clementine and Grind-On even providing toys for the little ones. And these aren't frou-frou establishments. Jeans (not even the good ones) are perfect attire for digging into Hamilton Tavern's fried pickle chips or Clementine's decadent mac-and-cheese. Maybe we can hope for an Angelina's comeback?
Slow food comes to Baltimore.
The buzz words in the restaurant business this year were "seasonal," "local," and "farm to table." It was all about freshness, nutrition, and being environmentally conscientious. Kerry Dunnington, a member of Slow Food Baltimore, decided to raise awareness even more. She and her committee members issued an Eat in Season challenge to area restaurants, asking them to offer appropriate foods on their menus for a week. The idea was to have one restaurant featured each month. The response was overwhelming, Dunnington says. "What amazed me was that these people got my letters and called me. I didn't expect that," she says. "All of them have been so excited." Watertable at the Renaissance Hotel kicked off the challenge in May. This month, One World Cafe is on board from December 8-15. The best part is that the seasonal focus is continuing in 2009. (For a complete list, visit slowfoodbaltimore.com.) Dunnington hopes that other Slow Food groups in the country will adopt the practice. "My dream was that it would be a domino effect," she says.
Michael Phelps touches the wall .01 of a second before Milorad Cavic to win his 7th gold medal.
It's the record eight gold medals that have made Michael Phelps a national folk hero. But it was race number seven on August 16, the 100-meter butterfly against Serbian swimmer Milorad Cavic, that became the defining moment of Phelps' Olympics. As both swimmers made their final burst toward the wall, Cavic appeared to touch first. Indeed, the always-animated Mama Phelps held up two fingers and mouthed the word "second." The disappointment on her face reflected the feelings of fans across Maryland—and the world. But suddenly, the numbers appeared on the official scoreboard . . . Phelps had won! The wall's foolproof touch sensor revealed that, miraculously, Phelps had managed to get his Aquaman digits in just a hair ahead of the Serb. Debbie Phelps sank to the floor in joy and disbelief and Phelps's quest for immortality was intact—and inevitable.
Joe Flacco runs 38 yards for a touchdown in the season-opening victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
While rookie quarterback Joe Flacco's performance has been inconsistent ever since, his first career touchdown showed at least the potential for greatness. In their season opener on September 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens held a 10-3 lead late in the third quarter. Flacco was supposed to hand the ball off, but called an audible (changed the play) after seeing the Bengals' formation. Flacco faked a handoff, ran to the right, and jogged 38 yards into the end zone, his longest run since high school. While Flacco got help from center Jason Brown and wide receiver Mark Clayton, the play showed that the rookie had good instincts. Flacco looked calm and collected despite the fact that he was thrust into the spotlight because medical issues benched our top two quarterbacks. Fans at M&T Bank Stadium chanted "Let's go Flacco," (hey, it sort of rhymes) a sentiment that we hope will be echoed around town for years to come.
Two players score within a 12-second span to help the Baltimore Blast win the MISL championship.
To cap off an extremely successful postseason, the Baltimore Blast beat the Monterrey La Raza 14-11 in Milwaukee on April 26. In the Blast's fourth championship in five years, midfielder Denison Cabral scored a hat trick (three goals) and was named the game MVP. He was also a part of the game-changing moment midway through the third quarter. At the 7:10 mark, midfielder Carlos Garcia scored and then, only 12 seconds later, Cabral scored after a turnover to make it 12-8. It was a close game until the end as La Raza scored with six seconds remaining but didn't manage to get another opportunity. Although indoor soccer may not be the most popular attraction in the city, it is still pretty cool to see a Baltimore sports team with the number one next to it.
The Orioles trade superstar Erik Bedard to the Mariners for Adam Jones and four pitchers.
In a very un-Orioles-like move, Baltimore's beleaguered baseball team traded its superstar, starting pitcher Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners back in February. Because it was two years before Bedard was eligible for free agency, we got a pretty sweet five-player package in return: outfielder Adam Jones, who ended up being a power hitter this season; All-Star pitcher George Sherrill, who converted 31 saves for us; and top minor-league prospect pitchers Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio. As for Bedard, he had a disappointing six wins in 15 starts, was hurt for much of the season, and got invasive shoulder surgery in September. Not only was our trade extremely successful, but it sent a clear message to our big competitors in the American League East: The Orioles are coming.
The Blue Jays celebrate their 10-9 upset over top-ranked Duke, advancing to the NCAA final.
The usually impeccable Hopkins Blue Jays weren't looking so impeccable this season. With an admittedly tough schedule—they faced nine ranked teams—Hopkins lost to Duke 17-6 the first time around resulting in a five-game single-season losing streak, the longest in the school's history. But things turned around and they found themselves once again facing the top-ranked Blue Devils in the NCAA semifinal on May 24. This time, Hopkins showed no mercy. Senior attackman Kevin Huntley scored four times (one goal was the Top Play on SportsCenter), and goalie Michael Gvozden had a remarkable 17 saves, giving the Blue Jays a 10-9 victory. Gvozden blocked one last shot with three seconds left, sparking a wild celebration in midfield as the players mobbed each other and threw their sticks in the air. Though they lost to Syracuse in the final, the Jays looked like they'd already won the whole thing. —JB
The Phelps family charms Charm City.
The October 25 Pathfinders for Autism fundraiser was billed as an evening of celebrity, fashion, and fun, and it delivered, with luminaries like B.J. Surhoff, Brian Roberts, and Bob and Kendal Ehrlich strutting their stuff on the catwalk. But it was Olympic champ Michael Phelps whose mere presence was enough to elicit whoops of delight from the (mainly female, go figure!) throng. And Phelps went one better for the hometown crowd, bringing his mom, Debbie, and older sisters Whitney and Hilary along for the party. All four prowled the catwalk, proving that the whole "close knit family" thing was no media construction. Our favorite moment was when Michael blew his mom a kiss as they passed on the runway. An audible sigh rippled through the crowd as Charm City fell just a little bit more in love with its boy wonder.
Spontaneous line dancing erupts at the Best of Baltimore party.
It was like a scene out of a cheesy (but fun!) '80s movie. About halfway through the August 14 Best of Baltimore party, DJ Kopec queued up "Cha Cha Slide" by Mr. C The Slide Man. Suddenly, the various clusters of revelers on the dance floor coalesced into one seamless moving mass. As the coordinated crowd turned, shimmied, clapped, and stomped in unison, more and more partygoers flocked to the dance floor to participate or watch. Too dumbstruck to join in, we watched from the edge, half expecting to see Patrick Swayze making his way through the crowd to us. After all, nobody puts Baltimore in the corner.
Christian Siriano brokers a deal over a couture bidding war at the Baltimore School for the Arts gala.
Designer, trendsetter . . . diplomat? Sartorial sprite Christian Siriano returned to his alma mater on March 1 for the school's annual fundraiser. At the time, Siriano was still a few days away from being crowned the youngest-ever winner of Project Runway, but already his reputation preceded him. He had committed to designing a custom-made creation for the highest bidder in the BSA's fundraising auction, but when socialites Molly Shattuck and Penney Hubbard got into a bidding war that escalated to $25,000, the cutting edge cutie decided to cut a deal. Siriano offered to make one-of-a-kind frocks for both ladies if they each agreed to pay $25,000. Shattuck and Hubbard eagerly agreed and the school reaped the benefits. We believe this is what's referred to as a win-win.
Helen Thomas speaks her mind during audience Q&A at AVAM gala.
She's been a beacon of journalistic integrity, doggedly questioning authority as part of the White House Press Corps since the Kennedy administration. But journalist Helen Thomas was the one in the hot seat at the American Visionary Art Museum's March 15 gala, for which she was the guest of honor. Taking questions from the audience, Thomas got candid, calling the Iraq War "unconscionable" and suggesting that America needs to reflect on its recent history by asking, "Who are we and what have we become?" She was an equal opportunity offender, too, rolling her eyes at the field of candidates vying for the then hotly-contested Democratic nomination. "The Democrats are nowhere and everywhere on the issue of Iraq," she complained. Lest you think it was all doom and gloom, the then 87-year-old Thomas revealed her secret ambition: to become a torch singer. Considering Thomas attended the gala after an 18-hour flight from Dubai, we think she's capable of anything.
The National Aquarium Gala Goes Green.
The National Aquarium established its green bona fides at this year's first ever Green Gala (April 5), sponsored by (irony alert) Constellation Energy. Guests could tour the facility, including the Australian exhibit, purchase tickets to win a Toyota Prius, and snack on an environmentally sensitive menu of seafood from restaurants like Roy's and The Oceanaire. Even the decorations, plates, and cutlery were made of eco-friendly materials like bamboo. And while the fundraiser only netted a modest $150,000 for the aquarium, media relations manager Jennifer Bloomer said its success was measured in more than just dollars and cents. "It was a first-time event for us, so it was successful," she says. "The over-arching goal for us was to gather the public and teach about bringing conservation into your daily life." —AM