Cocktail Party Ideas
Cocktail parties bring to mind old-school Hollywood, so play up the retro glam factor by turning off the overheads, lighting silver candlesticks and scattering a few vases of roses around the room.
You want everyone mingling, so push couches back to the wall to make more space to circulate. If you want to give guests a spot to break off and engage in private convos (not to mention offer a brief respite from their stilettos), create small sitting areas with dining chairs and a couple of small folding tables to serve as drink parking places. Just don't line up chairs one after another against the wall, junior-high-dance style — no wallflowers on your watch. The finishing touch: a couple of pens and small blank pads strategically placed around the room to encourage starry-eyed would-be lovahs to exchange digits.
Next, set up an area for your bar and stock it with booze, juices, sodas, club soda, ice, fruit garnishes, pimiento-stuffed olives, assorted glassware, shot glasses, a cocktail shaker, a stirrer, swizzle sticks, cocktail napkins and a cocktail recipe book for flashes of liquid creativity.
If you want to pull out all the stops, go on a shopping spree at your local liquor store, then hire a bartender for the evening. On a budget and don't want to get stuck behind the bar all night? Multiply a single classic cocktail recipe by 10 (try Harvey Wallbangers, Sidecars and Rusty Nails), mix them up in pitchers, and label each one — then all you have to do is set out an ice bucket and tell guests to help themselves. Or buy a few favorite liquors and mixers, print out a fancy drink menu with recipes, title it "Specialties of the House" and let guests mix their own.
Whatever you decide, don't bother with beer and wine. Half of what puts the party in cocktail party is the novelty of downing fancy drinks you don't drink the other 51 Saturdays of the year.
Dress to the nines! If your guests will indulge you and go all out, that is. Guys can get gussied up with velvet jackets, ascots and pompadours, while ladies don their fanciest frocks and do it up Breakfast at Tiffany's — style with wraps, gloves, enormous cocktail rings, and a tiara or flower in their hair for extra intrigue.
But let's face it; not everybody likes to dress up. And not everybody will. If that's the case with your friends, consider calling it a costume party and asking people to wear over-the-top finery like top hats, monocles, fake-fur stoles and feather boas. Or take a cue from Truman Capote's famous Black & White Ball and tell everyone to dress in black or white. It won't necessarily make them dress up, but the sharp color contrast will lend a little flair to your affair.
Sparkling conversation is what makes a cocktail party really swing, but if you want to shake things up a bit, try these cocktail contest ideas:
- Let the martini snobs compete for best mixologist. Be sure you have vodka, gin, dry vermouth, olives, pearl onions, lemon twists, a shaker and a stirrer on hand to unleash the martini magic.
- Challenge guests to create the best new cocktail (ridiculous cocktail name mandatory) from your assortment of liquors, mixers, garnishes, swizzle sticks, and drink umbrellas.
- Play a mixed-drink take on Mad Libs™. Ask one guest to come up with an adjective and another a noun (for example, Tasty Pie or Hot Wax), then ask the contestants to make that drink; best version wins.
- Give guests a shot at top showoff by seeing who's best at flipping shakers and dramatically pouring drinks. Break out the plastic shakers and glasses for this contest, and hold it in the kitchen, where the spills that go with the thrills won't lead to carpet-cleaning bills.
The key is to keep people mixing, so don't put your all your deviled eggs in one basket. Set up tables in different parts of the room, separate from the bar, so guests can snack, sip and chat wherever they wander. For campy fun, you could even tie on a vintage apron and serve your guests treats from a tray.
But rather than overwhelming guests with all your hors d'oeuvre offerings at once, keep some culinary surprises up your sleeve (or more practically, covered in plastic wrap on top of the fridge or in a shut-off room). Bringing out three small "courses" of appetizers keeps the party feeling fresher than everything from soup shots to nuts set out from the get-go.
As for what to serve, think small and portable. Bite-size nibblies like spicy almonds, wasabi peas or Spanish peanuts are a step up from chips and pretzels and make a great complement to cocktails. If you're feeling ambitious, whip up stuffed mushrooms, crostini topped with tapenade, or anything with caviar. But please, skip the ho-hum plastic veggie-and-dip platters from the warehouse store, or at the very least transfer them to your own serving dishes.
Vodka Gimlet (serves 1)
- 1 oz sweetened lime juice
- 1 1/2 oz vodka
- lime slices, for garnish
Mix lime juice and vodka into a mixing glass with ice to chill. Strain into a glass, and garnish with lime slice.