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A stress-free cocktail party

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Updated: December 14, 2011 6:44PM

I hold these truths to be self-evident. People love hot hors d’oeuvres, especially if they involve molten cheese. People can, and will, camp out in the kitchen at a party in the most inconvenient location, in plain sight of a perfectly lovely couch in the living room. People will lose their drink and pour another one. People will use an unconscionable number of napkins. And in the face of delicious fruity cocktails, especially those containing umbrellas or fancy garnishes, people will lose their good sense.

It is for these reasons that we bring you: Cocktail Party 2.0.

“If you really want to have a great party, put a lot of work in beforehand,” says Lillian Joyce, a trial attorney in Tampa, Fla. and party-hostess extraordinaire. “But when that doorbell rings, no one can have a better time at that party than you. If the host is having a great time, the guests will have a great time.”

So that you can get to that point, here are some tips for setting your cocktail-party plans in motion.

† Make ahead: Phyllo dough and puff pastry lend themselves to freezable hors d’oeuvres. Make a couple each week in the month before a party and the freezer will be full of bake-and-serves. Supplement these with doctored store-bought items (cucumber rounds piped with salmon cream cheese; a “meze” platter of purchased hummus, feta, olives, roasted red peppers and pita wedges).

† Arrange food in different parts of your house — wine and cocktails on the patio, a buffet table in the family room, desserts in a hallway. This gets people out of your kitchen and circulating. If carpeting is an issue, consider throwing down a cheapie holiday area rug.

† Cocktail shakers are cool, but they entail some spills and some stickiness. In the same vein, martini glasses get very sloshy as guests get likewise. We’re not saying “go sippy cup,” but regular highball-shaped glasses are safe and all-purpose.

† At the beginning of a party there’s a bottleneck at the bar. Premixing batches of “signature” mixed drinks (maybe something retro — Harvey Wallbangers? Monkey Glands?) or punch can get a drink in everyone’s hand in no time. Once your pitchers are empty, people seem content to mix their own drinks or switch to wine. And feel adventuresome: People get hung up on vodka being the “universal solvent.” Most party guests are willing to try a featured cocktail, especially if it has a fun name.

† If you are doing passed hors d’oeuvres, stagger hot and cold dishes (so that the voracious don’t camp out near your oven door).

† Count on five paper plates, napkins and glasses per person, and try to limit standup-cocktail-party foods to those that can be eaten with fingers or fork only.


Stow beer and soda in a sturdy cooler, stick wine bottles (some of them opened and recorked) in a big metal tub (plastic planters work well, too).

Although inelegant, it’s important to have garbage cans placed near any buffet station and the drinks station (with recycling bins for bottles and cans).

If guests are assembling their own cocktails (or you’ve hired a bartender), the raw minimum includes vodka, gin, Scotch, bourbon, white rum and tequila, with appropriate mixers (bitters, vermouths, Cointreau, cognac, sour mix, tonic) and juices.

For something fun, include recipes at the bar for unusual drinks guests can make themselves. Make sure the bar is stocked with ice, jigger, bar spoons, muddler and shaker and garnishes (twists, olives, cherries, swizzle sticks).

Scripps Howard

News Service

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