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Cocktail Party Basics

Whether it's your first or your fifteenth, use these tips to take your cocktail party to the next level

If you'd like to have a party but don't want the hassle of a dinner party, much less a blowout, think "cocktails." Invite up to 30 good friends, stock up at the liquor store, put together the easy appetizers below, and you'll be set to throw an elegant soiree.

Quick Appetizers

Keep it simple but don't skimp on appetizers. If your guests are drinking on an empty stomach, your elegant cocktail party could become a frat-style bacchanalia pretty quick. (Save that for your first-anniversary toga party.) Present your apps with flair -- think unusual containers and unexpected garnishes -- to disguise their humble origins. Some easy, quick hors d'oeuvre ideas:

    Cheese and Bread
    Yep, the classic. The bonus is that this requires absolutely no cooking or preparation, yet it looks gourmet. Offer a variety of cheeses. Colin Cowie, entertainer extraordinaire, suggests serving three ripe cheeses: a triple creme cheese (like brie), a blue cheese, and a goat's milk cheese. Another unusual option is sheep's cheese: It's creamy and subtly delicious. Serve with crusty French bread -- don't cut it into slices, just leave out a serrated bread knife. Set out small jars of different mustards for an additional treat.

Don't bother with an elaborate fruit salad: Just display some munchable fruit, such as strawberries or grapes, in a swank bowl. It's a nice break from standard stick-to-your-ribs fare.

Cowie also suggests serving sausages with mustard at an elegant cocktail party. Just buy a variety of sausages at a gourmet shop or supermarket (go for turkey-apple or chicken varieties if you want to stay away from ultraclogged arteries). Grill 'em and slice 'em up. Serve with the same mustard and bread you've put out for the cheese.

Olive Paste with Toasted French Bread
Buy an extra loaf -- or six...bread is always good to have on hand -- of the same crusty French bread you're serving with your cheese platter and slice it into bite-sized pieces. Lightly toast in your broiler. In a blender, mix black olives (any pitless variety will do), a few tablespoons of olive oil, juice from half a lemon, and pepper to taste. Voila! Instant olive paste. It looks gourmet but takes less than a minute to make. Make the paste a few hours in advance -- it gets better as it mellows.


As the title "cocktail party" implies, cocktails are crucial to the success of your event. What type of cocktails to supply? First off, forget beer and froufrou frozen drinks, though you can stock up on wine, water, and juices for those who don't want to imbibe too brazenly. Check out our Bartending 101 article for some classic cocktail recipes, but feel free to experiment and create -- and name! -- your own signature drink. Some more unusual choices:

    Blue Moon
    2 parts Finlandia vodka
    1 part pineapple juice
    Dash blue Curacao

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

Shake well until chilled and strain into a martini glass.

Wave Cutter
Equal parts Bacardi rum, cranberry juice, and orange juice

Pour all ingredients into a highball over ice.

Coco Vanilla Martini
2 oz. Stoli Vanil vodka
1/4 oz. dark creme de cacao
1 oz. melted chocolate

Pour vodka and creme de cacao over ice in a cocktail shaker.

Shake well until chilled and strain into a chilled martini glass rimmed with the melted chocolate.

2 parts Finlandia vodka
1 part peppermint schnapps
1 sugar cube
1 mint leaf

Pour vodka and schnapps into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

Shake well until chilled and strain into a martini glass. Drop in a sugar cube and garnish with a mint leaf.


Go elegant with some classic jazz (you can't go wrong with Charlie Parker) or with some of that Ol' Blue Eyes. Or make it smooth with some cool R&B. See our piece on party music for more ideas. The goal is to keep your guests relaxed and the conversations flowing.


No need to go overboard with the decorations. You can make your living room look chic on the cheap.

  • Buy one bouquet of flowers and distribute the blooms among several vases scattered throughout the room and in the bathroom.

  • Light a dozen votive candles (a few bucks for 20 at most drugstores) and place them on saucers throughout your living room for a warm and festive glow.

  • Buy some cool paper cocktail napkins and coasters. You know, the kind imprinted with martini glasses or tiki gods or perhaps emblazoned with the phrase, "Your place or mine?" They'll do double duty as conversation starters and groovy decor.

  • Remember to display your bar paraphernalia -- don't keep it hidden in the kitchen!

-- The Nest Editors

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