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Thrifty Hipster botches 'Shanghaied' New Year's Eve party

Guests say Thrifty Hipster Matthew Dowgwillo faked them out.

Guests say Thrifty Hipster Matthew Dowgwillo faked them out.

Dozens of disgruntled party-goers are demanding their money back today after a New Year's Eve party sponsored by Thrifty Hipster failed to live up to its advertising.

Thrifty Hipster owner Matthew Dowgwillo promised a total recreation of downtown's OM restaurant at "Shanghaied: New Year's Eve 2011," complete with contortionists, gambling and geisha girls.

But guests rang in the New Year feeling more screwed than Shanghaied. Now they're demanding their money back and threatening to take Thrifty Hipster to the Better Business Bureau.
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The party had been hyped for a month by Dowgwillo, who promised an elaborate interactive experience. Guests could dine at OM, then slip into one of several separate rooms in the building--a casino room with poker and blackjack, a karaoke lounge, and two different dance floors. VIPs who paid extra had access to an open bar.

About 300 people snapped up the $95 VIP tickets and roughly 700 guests paid $45, for a total paid attendance of about $60,000.

Then, just hours before the party was supposed to begin, Thrifty Hipster sent out a mass email to revelers to tell them about an 11th-hour change of plans.

"Due to issues with capacity, we've decided to upgrade this event from OM (4th and 1st) to the Graves," the email read.

A post on Thrifty Hipster's Facebook page added that fire code issues were to blame for the late switch to the luxury hotel's fifth-floor ballroom.

VIP ticket holder Alyssa Lynne called both OM and the Graves, and was assured that nothing had changed but the venue. But when she showed up at 9:30 p.m., there seemed to be a few amenities missing.

No contortionists. No acrobats. No casino gambling. One lonely DJ and only one dance floor. A wonky karaoke machine. Everything was lumped together in a single room.

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"There were so many unhappy people," she says. "It was really disappointing."

While go-go girls and the Shibari artist did make an appearance, service at the bar quickly disintegrated. Rather than enjoying a separate open bar, VIPs clamored along with regular ticket holders for free drinks, and the wait grew to an hour long. Guests told City Pages a shot from the ice luge dragon's nostril took another hour in line.

Guests reported that by 11:30 pm, they were out of vodka. A little past midnight, you couldn't get Captain Morgan. Then there was no beer. Then no glasses.

"One of the bartenders walked off the job, she was so overwhelmed," says Kristy Behling, another attendee, in a letter to City Pages.

In the aftermath of the failed event, Thrifty Hipster's Facebook page erupted with angry comments. Then came complaints that  the negative comments were being deleted. Several people are publicly threatening to take their grievances to the Better Business Bureau if they don't get refunds.

"Thank you for ruining so many peoples NYE!" reads one emblematic comment.

About 48 hours after the debacle, Dowgwillo sent an email to those asking for refunds informing them that he didn't have any of the estimated $60,000 tab.

"At this time, we hold $0 of your money, OM and Graves have the balance," Dowgwillo wrote. "Let's just say there was one guy in this whole thing from OM that profitted and screwed everyone else."

Dowgwillo claims the owner of OM did not obtain the proper permits from the city and only revealed this to him 24 hours before the party.

"I almost got into a fight--an actual fight--with the owner of OM," Dowgwillo tells City Pages.

OM owner Vikram Uppal declined an interview but responded with a brief email promising to make good.

"Expectations for the event were not met for guests," Uppal writes. "Matt and I are working together on a refund for guests."

As for refunds, Dowgwillo claims he paid all of his cut to the Graves and will have to negotiate with the hotel to get it back.

President of Graves Hospitality Benjamin Graves says the hotel did what it could with a day's notice. He adds they were told to expect 600 guests, not 1,000, and 16 VIPs, not 300.

"We stepped in to be a good neighbor," Graves says. "As it was told to us, if we couldn't do it, there was basically no other way to."

Dowgwillo also claims he's throwing a free make-up party for anyone who left angry.

But unhappy customers seem reluctant to trust their good times to Dowgwillo again.

"It sounds like a crock," Behling says.

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Additional coverage

* More complaints from unsatisfied "Shanghaied" attendees

* Thrifty Hipster responds to complaints

* OM out of business, owner Vik Uppal mum on "Shanghaied"