The wedding rehearsal dinner: Champagne toasts, single-malt Scotch and a big cigar

When my son proposed to his girlfriend from on top of the Eiffel Tower observation deck at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, I immediately thought of two things: It would be a good time for him to put a dollar in the slot machine, and I would have to start planning for a rehearsal dinner.

As father of the groom, I would have only a few responsibilities, but it would be my chance to throw a party to end all parties, and right in the heart of San Francisco where they make their home. I lived there myself during part of the ’80s and ’90s, during a time when parties were meant to be as extravagant as possible – and I attended more than a few of those infamous dotcom launch parties and financial service firm soirees where money was no object, and the only goal was to spend more money than your competitor. Now it would be my turn to host a party that was unabashedly extravagant, a tribute to conspicuous consumption and inclusive of those bespoke luxuries enjoyed by titans of industry, movie stars and 19-year-old dotcom millionaires.

I would have to hide the bill from my wife.

I didn’t have a rehearsal dinner at my own wedding, but did host an engagement party at our favorite restaurant, Pola Pola, in Bangkok where we were living at the time. A beautiful, very tropical setting smelling of blossoming jasmine, it had a separate room for parties adjacent to a koi pond. It was on a busy main street, but set far back enough so the city noises were muted and we wouldn’t be disturbed by the loud motorcycle taxis, street hawkers and occasional elephants walking by.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner, and in front of everyone, I followed the tradition of asking my bride-to-be’s father for permission to marry. He told my wife that I would have to address him in Thai. Speaking Thai in front of a large group of people made me a little nervous, but I got through it. Later, I discovered that he actually spoke English fluently and was just messing with me.

I vowed that the party for my son and future daughter-in-law would be the best party I had ever thrown. This city by the bay has some of the greatest restaurants in the world, many of which have the requisite small private rooms. It’s decidedly different from my current residence in South Bend, Indiana, where food volume is usually the most important factor in restaurant choice. Were we to be throwing a dinner here, I would simply take everybody to the all-you-can-eat buffet and turn them loose, but a dinner in San Francisco called for a classier approach.

We decided on Scala’s, a pleasant and upscale bistro in downtown San Francisco which has some elegant private rooms, including the Wine Room, an intimate little room that looks like a wine cellar. It’s at the hotel we’ll be staying at, The Sir Francis Drake, a historic landmark which is perhaps best known for its doorman, who wears an English beefeater costume, and I thought it would be exceptionally cool for my guests to walk by the doorman on their way in. It’s decidedly pricier than the local all-you-can-eat food trough eateries around here, although certainly not the most expensive choice in San Francisco. Still, the bill begins to add up. In addition to the dinner, I decided to include a bar package with beer and wine, which requires a separate bartender for serving. And everyone has to be tipped, and protocol requires me to be more generous in San Francisco than in my frugal hometown. I’ll slip the beefeater guy a twenty so he’ll tip his hat to my guests and direct them to the party.

Champagne toast? Sure. How can we not? But that’s not included in the beer and wine package, so I’d have to spring for a few extra bottles of Domaine Ste. Michelle. Of course, I could have sprung for French champagne, but this Washington state sparkling wine proved more than adequate upon tasting, holding its own against far more expensive French counterparts. Lest I appear to be cheap in front of my guests, I’ll insist that I chose the Washington State sparkling wine over French champagne in support of the West Coast winery business, and avidly deny that I decided against the French champagne because I’m cheap.

To save more than a few dollars, I decided not to include the liquor package, limiting the single-malt Scotch my son and I love so much to a round of Glenlivet just between he and his bride-to-be, myself, and my wife, in the bar before the event. I will, after all, have to explain the bill to my wife at some point (assuming she finds it). Besides, San Franciscans just aren’t hard drinkers like folks back here in the Midwest.

I remember weddings and wedding parties of my youth, in the 1960s when people smoked big cigars, and such things remain one of my occasional guilty pleasures. It seemed to me that an appropriately mild cigar would be another good way to celebrate. Of course, this is San Francisco, and you can’t smoke in restaurants, in the hotel room or pretty much anywhere, and even if you smoke on the street people will look at you sideways. I decided to risk my politically correct cred and order a box anyway. A really good cigar is a pleasant luxury, and I wanted to experience it with my son, and act like a big shot and hand out ten-dollar cigars to anyone who wanted to enjoy a smoke with us.

It’s just one of those moments, like sharing your first beer. It was in Kraków, during the summer jazz festival, sitting at a table at one of the glorious outdoor cafes in the town square. He was sixteen. In Poland of course, drinking age is only a mild suggestion, and beer is barely even considered to be alcohol, anyway. I had taught him just enough Polish language to understand that the pretty waitress was offering us both beer, and he retained just enough of those lessons to quickly answer, “tak, proszę!” (Yes, please!) It’s a rare and memorable father-and-son moment, and one I’ll never forget.

The shared cigars would be one such moment.

I was tempted to go with the Cohiba, the huge, fairly strong cigars favored by Fidel Castro, just as a nod to San Francisco’s radical lefty mystique, but went with the Montecristo, which is wonderfully mild and with a good aroma. Rather than buying them locally and putting them in my suitcase, I decided to have them sent directly to my son’s apartment and avoid underpaid and frequently nosy TSA employees rooting through my bags and pocketing a handful. I went with a reputable online dealer, one of the biggest online shops that’s actually opening up a cigar lounge and bar later this year. Best Cigar Prices has the best selection of the online shops. I like the Montecristo White Series, which provide a mild and pleasant smoke. The shop had them in stock, so I purchased a box and shipped them directly to my son’s place.

As the day continues to grow closer, I resist tallying up the expenses, but regardless, it will be worth it – and this will be a party for the ages.