Twenty years later, Hair o' the Dog isn't just about networking or being single-and-ready-to-mingle - especially since Cronin, 47, is married with four kids (ladies, Molinaro, 47, is still available). The bash has become one of Philly's biggest, longest-running fund-raisers attended by nearly 4,000 fans annually with celebs from the local news, fashion, and sports industries.
Along with the Academy of Music's Anniversary Ball, HOD, as it is affectionately called, is among the first big social events of every new year held at tony venues such as Memorial Hall, the Naval Cruise Terminal, and this Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel on 17th Street.
Although HOD was founded to host tech-biz networkers, it has evolved to include Philly's young professional crowd, local personalities, and every bow-tie-wearing hipster. It's even spread outside the country (Saskatchewan's HOD, also on Saturday, is nearly sold out). And it's not so selfish anymore: There's a philanthropic element to this get-together, with tickets from $165 to $900 ("VIP Bottle Service" for four), which has raised money for AIDS research and 9/11 relief funds. This year, a portion of the proceeds will go toward the Claddagh Fund, founded by the Dropkick Murphys, to help underfunded nonprofits.
The pay-it-forward mentality started when Cronin became a Big Brother in 1996. By 1997, the third year of the HOD, a portion of each party's proceeds was going to various charities. Approximately $150,000 has been raised since then, Molinaro said.
"We're living blessed lives," Cronin said. "Our goal is to raise money and more importantly set an example that anyone with 'iconic value' should give back."
There have been iconic moments, too, like the 2002 gala at the cruise terminal where Cronin played drums and a platoon of 15 U.S. Marines from Arlington, Va., in full dress, jumped on stage before deploying to Iraq. One was Cronin's first cousin Lt. Col. Kevin Duffy, who later led a mission with 150 Marines and Special Forces to capture al-Qaeda members.
"Theirs was, and is, a unique franchise they have built over time, a fun black-tie," said John Colabelli, the Philadelphia Style publisher who hasn't missed a HOD since 1999. Most black-tie functions are usually purely philanthropic, he said, and this event bucks that trend.
The reason for the Dog's success, Colabelli said, is similar to that of the international white-attire-only Dinner en Blanc franchise: It's filled with young sophisticated people networking, dressing up, having a great time. "That's the draw and they do a hell of a job marketing it. I'm their biggest fan."
Susie Celek, co-owner of the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel spray-tan salon Skin Palette, made it to her first HOD in 2010 and was so bowled over that she and her partner became sponsors of every Dog since.
"Throwing a fun party is one thing that they do - there's not a minute where the room isn't filled with energy - but Rob and Dan do such a good job of making and maintaining strategic partnerships for their party, that you can't help but be enthused."
With such good buzz, the organizers have noticed that out-of-towners are HOD-goers, too.
"From the market analysis, we get a number of folks from NYC and Baltimore, as well as people from Miami," Cronin said. "We had a bachelorette party from Texas where all the girls flew in from across the U.S. to meet at HOD, like you would do in Vegas."
Despite the recent placement of the pair's pictures on the event's TV and paper ads, Cronin and Molinaro have largely existed under the radar - especially in contrast to Halloween bash host and jewelry designer Henri David.
"We didn't think HOD would be this popular," Cronin said. "When you are 28, you envision yourself at 47 to be a gray-haired, low-key guy. I honestly expected or hoped to convert HOD into a quiet, political dinner. I guess I was way off on all that."
Blame their entrée into greater visibility on onetime nightclub marketer Buffy Harakidas, who, as Chorus Communications' director of marketing since 2010, produces HOD.
Harakidas, 37, has created a greater social-media presence and lured to the event live entertainment beyond the locals (Friday's DJ Havana Brown will be the first platinum recording artist to grace HOD), so they could attract a younger, hipper demographic that HOD was lacking, in addition to the fortysomethings familiar to the Dog's dance-and-drink party.
"Whatever she does, we say 'In Buff we trust,' " Cronin teased. "Still, no matter what the demographic or what money they make, or if the faces are ones we recognize or not, Hair o' the Dog is filled with people who want an opportunity to get loose. Everyone's good with that."