Cocktails and their parties

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.)

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 Cosmopolit
ans, 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.

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 g
1 o
unce 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.


Shelley said…
This is on my list of things to do someday. Hope you don't mind a bunch of naive questions. How often might you do this? How many people do you invite? How do you decide whom to invite? What time do you set as a start? What time do you set to finish (and how do you get people to go home?) What night of the week do you normally choose? How does one reciprocate for an event such as this?
Northmoon said…
Sounds delightfully civilized!
Mardel said…
OH I do love a cocktail party, and hosting them is fun, even the making of a couple of simple appetizers. And then I can settle down and reflect after the guests have gone.

I'll have to try your mixer. It sounds yummy.
Duchesse said…
Shelley: Glad to answer
-How often? 2 or 3 times a year, but my parents did it at least twice a month. It's a festive way to celebrate an anniversary, promotion, return from a long trip or other personal occasion.
- Number: 12-35; too few is not lively, too many crowds my house. If you have a large house or yard, no max
- Who? Same as for dinner party: interesting mix with some new faces
- Start/finish time: Duration is 2 hours. On Friday, start is 6 pm- but you could go as early as 5 pm. or as late as 7 pm if people need travel time from work. On Saturday; 5-7 is nice because people can to on to other things.
-Put finish time on invitation (join us for cocktails, 6-8 pm.) Gently begin to clear glasses at finish time (NOT before). Occasionally you will have to tactfully hand someone their hat, if they do not know cocktail party etiquette. ("Roy and I are leaving for dinner, Stewart, can we give you a lift?", or "We promised Susie we'd pick her up from Ginger's and take her to the movies").
I much prefer written invitations to e-vites or phone calls, but those are OK too.

- Night of week: typically Fri. or Sat. but you might also host during the week if you have a reason ("Please join us for cocktails on Thursday, 6-8 pm. to say goodbye to Harry, who's leaving for New Zealand".) Typically not Sunday evening (see below) or earlier in the week unless it's a business function or you have retired.

You can also host a cocktail as a garden or deck party, say 4pm-6 pm on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

- Reciprocation: You do not have to reciprocate with the same invitation. You might invite the hosts for coffee, brunch, dessert, a visit to a gallery, or an outing you'd both enjoy. Of course if you like having people for dinner, you can certainly do that.
Susan B said…
Cocktail parties are so civilized. I love the idea of hosting one and may seriously endeavor to do this year.

For your readers who live near a Costco, they have *amazing* canapés in the freezer section, just heat and serve.
We are more inclined to do terrasse/garden parties simply because this is an occasion when we can mix smoking friends in with the nonsmoking majority - that tends to make it an earlier affair. I like making canapés, tapas etc but not every two weeks!

Most of us are more of the wino persuasion (including some sparkling wine à l'apéro) but there is one friend who has lived and worked throughout Latin America who is always making little rum drinks, something I never have at home.

Now getting people to dress is another matter. Not that they are slobs who show up in sweatpants, but only certain of them will play along.
M said…
Cocktail parties are such fun and it sounds as if you are a splendid host. (Not at all like Mrs. Bucket on Keeping up Appearances). On BBC, and very funny.
mette said…
Great advice. I like the fact that there is a timetable. I want to meet people, but if hosting, I don´t think that I´d have the energy to do it any longer.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: Costco- great tip. They also have good smoked salmon.

lagatta: Especially festive when someone offers drinks you don't see everyday. One of my friends makes a sangria with rum instead of wine. A friend who hosted a Russian themed party with lots of infused vodkas.

lisa: "It's Bouquet! B-U-C-K-E-T!" Love it.

metscan: We usually host dinner parties. Sometimes I feel tired before but when everyone arrives, it lifts me.
Maravonda said…
Hello Duchesse! I am glad that Shelley started with "naive questions" because I am writing to tell you that I learn little things from you all the time, the little things that don't come up among my co-workers. For instance, I now know what fleur de sel is (and plan to have some the next time I feel like really cooking...also I thought absinthe was poisonous and did not know what pastis was. So you do not only stimulate thought, you encourage research! Please continue!
Duchesse said…
Maravonda: Thank you and feel free to ask questions; if I can't answer, someone reading likely can.
sisty said…
I decided not to wait for an actual party, and am enjoying a Corpse Reviver as we speak! I have to say that three of your recipes -- including this one, and also the caramels and plum cake recipes -- have made it to the top of my list.

This reminds me of when my kids were little and we were invited to a "grownups" cocktail party by a couple we knew with similar-aged kids. I remember feeling a little miffed at first that we couldn't bring the boys, but then quickly realized that there are some occasions that are much more fun adults-only. We had a ball!
M said…
Just one more quick note to say thanks for posting the Mark Bittman recipes. I've already copied them for future reference. Who knows, I may decide to host a "candlelight supper" someday :)
Frugal Scholar said…
I think cocktails must be coming back because my son is very interested in them. I can only recall one party--I remember a hollowed out cabbage filled with cocktail sauce with zillions of shrimp on toothpicks stuck into the cabbage. I was allowed to eat a few before being banished. Is that the most 60s image?

I guess the new ones are without the ubiquitous cigarettes??
Glennis said…
I do love cocktails, but we live in a rural area and driving to us is treacherous, so giving a cocktail party is somewhat inappropriate. We'd rather feed folks a good dinner for coming all the way out here.

We enjoy cocktailing in town, either at a bar with expert bartenders, or at a reception for a certain arts organization that does nice parties, usually with a theme drink and always marvelous little nibbles.

I just recently learned to make gougeres - little puff-paste cheesy bites. They are great cocktail fare, but the best thing about them is that you can make a big batch of them and then freeze them. When you need something savory to serve with a cocktail, you can just take them out of the freezer and pop them in the oven for 10 minutes.

The Corpse Reviver sounds delicious!
Duchesse said…
sisty: Cheers! I only post recipes that I assess as "gems". Glad you like them.

Frugal: Cocktails definitely having a comeback my 20-somethings and their friends. What a great image, sounds like a porcupine inside out.

g: I adore gougeres! We make them often but I didn't suggest as many people get nervous around pastry. But they are easy enough and so good.

Though I have had cocktails in the country, they either precede dinner or are served as part of an afternoon gathering, like croquet. Or you might have overnight guests!
materfamilias said…
Like "g"-- love the idea but our geography doesn't quite work. Tough for folks to dress when they have to walk a kilometre on a dirt road after they get off the ferry! Still, I'm going to try to figure out how to adapt the idea a bit -- perhaps Lagatta's garden cocktails will work . . .

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