Change the venue and you change a lot.

This is exactly what WinterKids did Thursday night when it moved its annual summer fundraiser from the white linen world of the country club to the quirky confines of Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland. Crammed from floor to ceiling with an mind-boggling mix of antiques and collectibles, Bubba’s has been a Portland institution since 1959 and in recent years has reinvigorated its timeworn lounge by bringing in revelers with Zodiac parties and ’80s and ’90s dance nights.

“Bubba’s is really Portland’s best-kept secret for this kind of thing,” WinterKids Executive Director Julie Mulkern told me. With two bars, a lighted dance floor and three main party rooms (plus endless nooks and crannies filled with old appliances, stuffed toys and the much-talked about lunch boxes), Bubba’s looks radically different from other function halls. Sure, the upholstery at Bubba’s may be ripped and the antiques a little dusty, but such a venue helps make a party more memorable.

“There are so many auctions, but this stands out,” Dani Kolben told me.

Her husband, Eric Kolben, is on the board and he and fellow board member Will Stiles came up with the idea to move the party to Bubba’s.

“Our mission (as WinterKids) is to get kids off the couch,” Stiles told me. “Tonight our mission is to get the parents of the WinterKids out of the house.”

Ryan Keith of Turner told me the location helped convince a couple of his friends to attend the License to Chill party.

“They asked if the dance floor was going to be lit up,” Keith said.

“The last time I was here was for an ’80s night,” Rebecca Daigle of South Portland told me. “It’s a fun venue.”

In addition to a funky atmosphere, the party served up a silent auction and eats from Buck’s Naked BBQ and Portland Pie. About halfway through the party, the 250 guests were treated to a zany (and slightly naughty) improv comedy performance by Dennis Hunt, Tuck Tucker and Tom Walsh, who are members of Running With Scissors.

This was followed by a short live auction, handled by Maine’s Funniest Mom (and newly minted Old Port ice cream shop owner) Karen Morgan. The premier item was a chance to enjoy 18 holes of golf and dinner with two-time Olympic snowboardcross gold medalist Seth Wescott.

When he addressed the party guests, Wescott, who volunteers his time for the organization, told us: “It’s amazing to see this grow over time. Being home and hurt this winter was kind of a blessing because I got to visit more schools.”

After the auction, the band North of Nashville, a favorite with the Sugarloaf crowd, took to the stage and got people dancing on the illuminated disco floor.

WinterKids provides all Maine 5th through 7th graders with free and discounted admission to slopes and trails. The organization also introduces Maine children, particularly new immigrants, to the state’s rich tradition of winter sports.

“Without all of you here supporting us, we couldn’t have reached 17,000 kids this year,” Mulkern told the crowd.

“People know us for the Passport program,” incoming board president Michael Peisner told me. “Our mission is to get kids of all backgrounds to know the outdoors.”

One way the nonprofit achieves this, Peisner told me, is by collecting “winter outerwear, because one of the barriers is when families don’t have warm clothes.”

Since the License to Chill party raised more than $20,000 for the organization, I’d say the forecast looks good for introducing even more kids to Maine’s winter wonderland once the snow starts to fly. 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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Twitter: AveryYaleKamila