Cocktail parties are a pleasure for me, for three reasons:
1. A closet introvert, I can have a delightful time for several hours, then read a book, all in the same evening,
2. I like to wear semi-dressy clothes and bigger jewelry than I'd choose for a casual dinner, and
3. I just love eating in bite mode. As I age, multi-course dinners are an effort to finish and, if served late, interfere with sleep.
(Business cocktail parties are rarely fun, and not really parties. Many people seem to get into a "max the free drink" mode, which I find boorish.)
It's also a fond memory. My parents, Bill and Ev, hosted regular cocktail parties. Our house had a bar, which my father called "the chapel" and my mother, "the cardroom".
Black and white harlequin-tiled floor, white leather bar stools, grasscloth wallpaper, and mural of Clifton Webb in evening clothes, swinging from a lamp-post. Seltzer bottles and silver ice bucket, the alluring, forbidden jar of maraschino cherries. No wonder I feel quite at home in hotel lounges.
Many people think cocktail parties are a lot of work for just a few hours, or that you need staff, but our friend Jim taught us his trick: make your cocktails in advance.
Use a classic recipe with fresh fruit juices (if called for); multiply a single recipe to get the quantity you need. C'est tout!
Mix and store them in the liquor bottles or empty glass fruit-juice jars. Make three or four varieties, for example, in colder months we might offer Manhattans, Corpse Revivers (see recipe) and Cosmopolitans, and in the summer, Margaritas, Mojitos, Sangria– classics people know. Prep your garnishes in ramekins so they're at hand to pop into the drink, just like the pros.
If the cocktail uses soda or champagne, add that ingredient at the last minute.
We also have wine, apértifs like Lillet and vermouth and plenty of flat and sparkling waters and fruit juices ready to serve. I'm always looking for fancy, interesting fruit juice blends.
You might also offer mocktails, though my guests prefer Perrier with a twist. It's important to have a nice glass, with garnish for the Perrier; alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks should be equally fetching.
Any leftover pre-mixed cocktails keep forever in the freezer. Cocktail nibblies are easy: make trays of smoked-salmon canapes, buy some cheese straws, put out bowls of nuts, cherry tomatoes and sliced saucisson. Or you can make tempting bites like these 101 appetizers you can make in 20 minutes or less, from the estimable Mark Bittman.
Of course there's the glassware and tiny napkins; I have several sets of my parents', and everyone says "Oh, these must be your mother's!" Who makes Pucci-print napkins these days?
After the guests left, my mother would change into a sweeping challis robe, take off her earrings and pop pot pies into the oven for a light supper. Her strategy works well to this day.
Corpse Reviver #2
Adapted from Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Lillet
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce Cointreau
1 drop absinthe or pastis
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker; fill with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.