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The best Tampa Halloween party you've never heard of

It started as a house party of 30 friends on Hallo­ween.

Thirty-three years later, it has become the hottest ticket in town, especially among the gay community.

The annual All Hallows Masquerade Ball returns Saturday for a night of costumed merriment. A record 2,000 people are confirmed on the guest list.

The ball has grown so big that organizers this year had to move it to the Tampa Convention Center. Previously, it has been at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Florida State Fairgrounds and the Museum of Science and Industry.

If you don't have an invite by now, better luck next year. All Hallows is by invitation-only. Costumes aren't just encouraged; they're mandatory.

A group of 16 men organize the party each year for friends and family. You've got to know one of them to receive an invitation, which is mailed several weeks in advance. A save-the-date postcard goes out in July.

The men, who prefer to remain anonymous, meet all year planning the details and selecting the theme, which they keep under tight wraps, unveiling it on the invitations. This year's: the Candy Shoppe.

The group seldom talks about the party publicly for fear of calling attention to members who aren't openly gay. In 33 years, organizers have granted only one interview to a gay publication, but never to a mainstream one.

The party is anything but a secret to the gay community. Partygoers start working on their costumes well in advance and organize sewing parties to build excitement.

"It's the A-list of Halloween parties in the Southeast,'' said Mark Bias, one of the founders of the GaYbor District Coalition, which unofficially governs gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses in Ybor City. "People are more into it than Guavaween.''

Bias has gone to nine balls, twice on stilts and once wearing a lamp shade.

"It's a wild night. Very, very creative,'' he said. "It's like a huge gay pride celebration at Halloween.''

The party attracts plenty of straight people, too. Many guests who have moved come back each year, including a few from as far as London and Amsterdam.

The hosts split the party's cost and collect donations at the door. The costume contest has categories for best group and most true to theme. The winners receive brass medallions and bragging rights for a year.

The best Tampa Halloween party you've never heard of 10/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 4:42pm]
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