TORONTO, March 5 (Reuters) - While not the premium liquor and prime rib parties of old, miners are laying on the cocktails again after several lean years, booking hotel lounges and nightclubs to twin drinks with deal making.
An upbeat tone at the world's biggest mining conference comes as global exploration spending snaps a four-year decline, underpinned by a rebound in metals prices and strong global economy.
After-hours plans at the March 4-7 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto range from cocktails for 200 at the Pinnacle Room, a 43-floor hotel venue with 360-degree city views, to a night at Rebel, a waterfront venue more familiar with rock stars than rock miners.
The parties are in stark contrast to grim affairs in recent years, which were marked by tiny budgets, wilting veggie trays and downbeat guests.
But they also come with a catch - pitching ideas, striking deals and securing funding is the name of the game.
"It's speed dating, straight up," said Kevin Lonergan, operations director at Ireland-based Lisheen Mining & Technical Services.
Canada's Century Global Commodities chose a downtown hotel for its party after years of invite-only lunches and 2015's office reception, where a project manager poured drinks from the front desk.
"This (year's) party has a value because of the networking opportunity - it's effective given the amount of activity going on and people bringing deals to us," said Chief Executive Sandy Chim.
Goldcorp Inc sold out the #DisruptMining event it co-hosted with KPMG, which awards up to C$1 million ($770,000) for the best business pitch to revolutionize mining.
Sunday night's party featured a dinner for nearly 600 with elaborate light displays and confetti cannons that marked the announcement of the winner.
'NO NEED TO ACT LIKE SCROOGE'
Even tiny 'junior miners' that don't yet generate revenue see value in opening their wallets wider.
Explorer Erdene Resource Development hosted dinner on Saturday for 50 Mongolian officials and industry players at a high-end steak house, where a double porterhouse steak goes for C$160.
"Juniors like us, we do something very focused," said operations vice president Michael Gillis. "There's a lot of potential pay off."
Red Cloud Klondike Strike said 590 investors, money managers and miners wanted to attend its pre-conference party on Friday night. The junior mining advisor, which only had space for 500, had 30 guests at its first party in 2012.
PDAC president Glenn Mullan said the days of "zombie" miners doing distressed financing deals to keep their stock alive were over. "We're enjoying some real indices of prosperity again."
Floor space was sold out at Toronto's convention center, Canada's biggest such facility at over 2 million square feet (186,000 square meters), with waiting lists for vacancies, he said.
Last year, global exploration spending rose 15 percent to about $8.4 billion, and S&P Global Market Intelligence on Monday forecast a further increase of up to 20 percent in 2018.
John Gravelle, the interim CEO of Colt Resources, said an industry uptick and buoyant battery metals prospects means many companies are upbeat.
"Miners don't need to act like Scrooge anymore, but we need to respect the shareholders whose money we're spending," he said. "Spending money and depriving ourselves of sleep is part of being here - but we need to wake up with the business cards that will generate the payback." ($1 = 1.2991 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Susan Taylor; Editing by Amran Abocar)