The Cocktail Party Solution
Hosting a cocktail party can be a fun and social way to entertain friends or business associates or a combination of the two. Naturally, all drinking should be done in a safe and responsible environment with people legally allowed to imbibe.
Several questions must be answered before we toast our success. I will answer those questions as we move forward.
Written invitations are often in order. The invite should include the date and time of the party and directions to the location. Generally speaking, cocktails parties should run about two hours and typically don’t run past 9 p.m.
For large numbers of guests a full bar may not be appropriate as the drink orders tend to run the gamut from simple to very complex as per guests’ tastes. In this instance a limited menu may be in order. The menu should feature six to eight house drinks varying in taste, types of liquor involved, and reflect the tastes of your guests. These drinks should include a standard Martini, Manhattan, and a few more immediately popular drinks like the Cosmopolitan. Also include the Old Fashioned, Salty Dog, and Rusty Nail. Warhorses like Gin and Tonic, Scotch and Soda, Screwdriver, and Bourbon and water should also be available. For smaller, more intimate gatherings, a full bar will function adequately as one will have more time to mix drinks.
Cocktails are usually served as appetizers, or aperitifs, before a meal. Therefore, one should have several small dishes available for guests to snack on while socializing. These hors d’oeuvres should be relatively light and simple to make. One should have Aram sandwiches, antipasto misto, smoked salmon with lemon and capers, baked brie, bruschetta pompodoro, assorted cheeses, and fresh fruit.
Next, will the guests enjoy their beverages and snack on hors d’oeuvres while in costume? If so, your invitations should include the necessary information. Is this party going to be in the tiki-lounge style with guests arriving in their finest Hawaiian shirts? If so, the décor should be in the same vein.
If one is working on a modest budget it may be appropriate to ask your guests, in the invitation, to bring along a contribution, be it a dish or a gift, for the bar. One should not rely upon the guests to bring essential items for the party. After all, it’s your party. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and failing is categorically out of the question.
All of the above must be considered when evaluating the budget for the event. Clearly, modest budgets may not allow for a full bar or an expansive hors d’oeuvres menu. There is no need to break the bank for the party, especially if the party is a small gathering of friends. It is entirely appropriate to ask one’s friends to contribute to the success of the shindig.
Now, a quick word on bar essentials: The bare basics for a planned cocktail menu include vodka, whiskey, wines, and beer. A more complete bar often features gin, tequila, bourbon, and vermouth. In addition, most cocktails include various mixers, including, but certainly not limited to, fruit juice, soda or tonic water, cola, and sours. Various garnishes include lemons, limes, oranges, and cherries. Again, be prepared if a full bar is offered. Coffee, tea, and water should be made available for all, especially non-drinkers or designated drivers. If a designated driver has not volunteered, have several taxi-cab phone numbers on handy. There is no excuse for excess or wanton disregard for physical safety.
To accompany the liquor, appropriate bartending tools shall be employed. A cocktail shaker is essential, as are a jigger, bar spoon, and an ice bucket. A blender is also an ideal item to have readily available. Regarding your glassware, it is far better to serve a fine drink in the wrong glass than a poor drink in the right glass. A bartending reference book will help determine the appropriate glass for each drink.
Ice-cold cocktails should be shaken or stirred vigorously with ice cubes and served promptly and in the correct glass. Cocktails like Martinis or Manhattans, which contain only liquor may be stirred with a long rod or spoon. Other cocktails containing fruit juice should be shaken. Vodka may be substituted for gin in any recipe with only a few notable exceptions, among them the James Bond Vesper martini.
If all ingredients are ready beforehand, the actual mixing is a very quick and pleasant process. Here is the recipe for the Vesper, named after one of Bond’s many double agent girlfriends:
• 3 oz. gin
• 1 oz. vodka
• 1/2 oz. French vermouth
• 1 large thin lemon peel
• Pour into shaker, but shake, DO NOT stir.
The music for the party should reflect the atmosphere. Music in major keys is typically favored for a cocktail party. Styles like uptempo bebop jazz, or classic lounge artists like Peggy Lee, Julie London, or even the Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra are entirely appropriate.
Once the party is in swing, and so is Ms. London, the drinks begin to flow and the party host may smile only then as he admires his handy work.