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How to Host a Classic Cocktail Party

How to Host a Classic Cocktail Party
Reading time: 8 min

They may hark back to the 1920's, but cocktail parties are timeless. Mixing the tradition of the event with modern cocktails can bring spark to an event. So you need to get the balance right. Here are our simple tips to hosting an utterly incredible cocktail party that will have your guests begging for more.

Women holding champagne flutes

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Pre-plan your gathering to keep it stress-free

Like with any good event, planning your cocktail party well in advance is key. A month or so before you should have the date and venue picked out so that you can invite your guests in good time and begin to make the necessary preparations for drink, food, entertainment and decor. Here you can definitely learn from how the Victorians hosted. It may be outdated, but they knew how to throw a party.

Consider a stylish theme

Set table at dinner party

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If you decide to give your party a theme, keep it simple and glamorous. Black and white, 1920s speakeasy, and Old Hollywood are all iconic themes that don't require too much effort from your guests and maintain a degree of elegance. Avoid anything kitsch or that requires costumes of any kind, as these tend to be lowbrow or tawdry.

Enforce a semi-formal dress code

Couple holding champagne glasses

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Cocktail parties are intended to be sophisticated events for which one should be properly outfitted. While you don't need to go so far as to demand that your guests wear ballgowns and tuxedos to your soiree, semi-formal attire should be mandatory. Suggest that men wear a smart suit, tie, and leather shoes, and women high heels and a quintessential cocktail dress. We are sure that the majority will be more than happy to gussy up for a special evening out.

Send out personalized invitations

Digital invitations - whether that be through social media channels or email - are becoming increasingly commonplace. That said, regardless of how convenient these may be, the simple fact is that sending invites out over the Internet will debase your event. Paper invitations are much more thoughtful and personal, and will make your event all the more memorable.

Select suitable decor and set it up with care

No matter if you are holding your event at your home or a hired space, you should invest time and effort in choosing the right decor. Prioritizing quality over quantity is key when picking decorations. Anything paper or plastic will cheapen your affair, so go instead for items that are classic, understated, and of the highest possible caliber.

We would also suggest you keep your background palate neutral in order to keep the focus on your decorations. Setting your tables with white or beige tablecloths, for example, is a great way to spotlight special touches such as exquisitely designed tableware, floral arrangements, and fancy candles.

Invest in quality glassware and cocktail-making equipment

Cocktail-making equipment

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Keeping your cocktail-making station stocked with all the necessary equipment is of the utmost importance for any kind of cocktail party. Stainless steel cocktail shakers, jiggers, mixing spoons, freeflow pourers, muddlers, strainers, and sieves should all be behind the bar.

In addition, what you serve your drinks in is just as important as what you make them with. Crystal martini glasses and classic cocktail tumblers will make the creation and presentation of your beverages all the more striking.

Make a statement with live music

Close-up of saxophone player

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Hiring live musicians for either a portion or the entirety of the evening will give your event that little bit of extra oomph. We'd personally recommend something that creates a lovely atmosphere but does not distract your guests from mingling, such as a harpist, pianist, jazz band, or acoustic guitarist.

Alternatively, put together a mellow playlist

If you do not wish to hire live music for your soiree, a smartly arranged playlist will work wonders in its place. Prior to the beginning of your event, put together an assortment of instrumental lounge-type music. Afterwards, strategically hide speakers around your home or hired venue, and play the music at low volume.

Impress your guests with the finest spirits

Top view of cocktails

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Spirits are the most important part of any cocktail party, and so you should choose only the best to buy and serve. If you are a cocktail connoisseur, you may select your tried-and-true favorites. If you are novice, however, consider visiting an upscale liquor store and having a knowledgeable employee find you the best bottles for the beverages you plan on serving.

All this said, do not neglect guests that do not drink or those that are designated drivers for the evening. In addition to spirits, purchase gourmet syrups and mixers so that you can create virgin cocktails that will be just as delicious as their alcoholic counterparts.

Don't just stick to the usual spirits, though. Champagne cocktails, or even beer cocktails, can spice up your cocktail party even more.

Free up your time by hiring a professional bartender

Close-up of bartender making cocktail

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Hiring a professional to make drinks throughout the evening not only ensures the perfection of each beverage served, but also frees you and other guests from having to spend time behind the bar when you could be mingling and enjoying each others' company.

Keep recipe cards on hand to jot down ingredients and instructions

Keep some stylish stationery by the bar in the case that a guest wishes to have the recipe for a cocktail made that evening. Jotting down a recipe on a nice card is much classier than typing it into a note on their smartphone. Moreover, it will make a nice memento of your party.

Prepare a few signature drinks

Cuba libre cocktails

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While you should have an assortment of spirits and mixers on hand to accommodate the requests and respective tastes of your guests, you should also offer a few signature drinks. If you'd like your party to retain a classic feel, stay away from outlandish or overly-complicated concoctions. Instead, select a few traditional cocktails and give them a bold twist. For example, replace the whiskey in an Old Fashioned with aged rum for extra sweetness, or add cloves to a Manhattan for a hint of spice.

Alternatively, you do decide to hire a professional bartender, take advantage of their expertise and have them create or curate several signature cocktails for your party.

Serve bite-sized delicacies

Close-up of appetizersSource: CC Flickr

Canapes and other hors d'oeuvres are the nibbles of choice of cocktail parties for good reason. Serving up an assortment of delectable appetizers complements rather than detracts from good drinks and conversation, as opposed to a buffet table of heavier dishes.

Your cocktail party appetizers should be: artfully presented; small enough that they can be consumed in a few bites; and manageable so that your guests do not have to put their glass down to eat them. We'd also suggest you pick spicy or salty hors d'oeuvres so as to both tantalize the taste buds and encourage drinking.

If you're seeking some inspiration, here is a list of absolutely exquisite hors d'oeuvres that would be a fine addition to any cocktail party, including blue crab beignets and seared steak lettuce cups.

Have a form of entertainment prepared in case of a lull

The aim of every cocktail party should be to keep the drinks and conversation flowing. However, even the best of events have their moments of silence, which is why it's smart to have some form of entertainment up your sleeve to re-ignite the party. Card games are a safe and traditional pick, and don't take away from the elegance of the evening like charades or board games would.

Send your guests away with party favors to leave a lasting impressing

Handmade bonbons

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Any good host or hostess knows the importance of not having their guests leave empty-handed. When you bid your guests adieu at the end of your event, send them off with an elegant party favor as a token of your appreciation. Wine stoppers, cocktail shakers, miniature bottle openers, and personalized glasses or tumblers are but a few of many favors that are appropriate for both themed and non-themed cocktail parties. Edible party favors - such as nut mixes or gourmet chocolate bars - are also always a hit.

Concluding remarks

Cocktail parties are a staple of high society gatherings and have been for nearly a century. It is no doubt daunting to host your own soiree - no matter if it is your first or eleventh - but if you follow Noble.life's simple guide to throwing a classic cocktail party, your event is all but guaranteed to go off without a hitch.

Now we turn the tables to you, our dear readers: Do you have any other tips to add to our list, or a signature cocktail to suggest? We'd be delighted if you left your comments below.