Classy Cocktail Party Ideas for Any Budget 

click to enlarge Pick your poison: a bubble bar can use any sparkling wine - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Pick your poison: a bubble bar can use any sparkling wine

Time to throw the red Solo cups away. If you drink craft cocktails and beers out and about, bring it on home for your next shindig—it’s not as difficult as it might seem to host a party that’s as classy as you are.

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To start off, figure out your budget and number of guests. Di-Anna Arias, director of sales and culinary vision for Don Strange of Texas, suggests hiring a bartender for parties for more than 20 guests. If it’s an intimate soiree you seek, a well-organized and accessible self-serve bar works fine.

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For Jake Corney, bartender at the Bar at Bohanan’s, the aesthetic of the party should be a main priority, and the simplest way to create that is by furnishing appropriate glassware. He suggests staying away from stemware, which breaks more easily, and opting for antique and old-fashioned teacups.

“You don’t see that in a lot of bars, so it’s really cool to see it in someone’s house,” Corney says. “The worst thing to do is make a really good cocktail and put it in whatever’s laying around the house.”

Or, if permanent’s not an option and you trust your guests to not break things, Arias recommends renting glassware from local event supply warehouses such as Aztec Party Rentals.

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Make your party legit by getting your hands on large format ice from your favorite cocktail bar or restaurant supply store. As far as Corney’s concerned, having top-grade ice adds that extra touch of class. He also suggests having large blocks of ice or ice in the shape of washers available to float in punch bowls.

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Once glassware and ice are settled, plan a cocktail menu based on two to three spirits or sparking wines. Choose cocktails that can be easily batched or prepared by guests. As a rule of thumb, plan to provide one drink per person per hour. Pick recipes that will showcase the freshness of the ingredients and prepare any juices or nectars a day before the party. You want to be able to enjoy yourself and not worry about tending the bar.

Homemade nectars and juices can be paired with Champagne, prosecco or cava in what Arias dubs a “bubble bar” used during a boozy brunch or late cocktail party. Use interesting pitchers for fruit juices and make sure garnishes are available for guests to use in topping off their flutes.

Also a fan of bubbles, Corney suggests starting the evening by welcoming guests to the party with a Champagne cocktail toast. “You want to start and end with something inviting—it’s a good way to get everyone on the same level, get the vibe going,” said Corney. He suggests starting the night with an easy mix of St. Germain and Champagne, garnished with a lemon peel.

The best way to avoid getting stuck behind the bar is to prepare large batches of one cocktail, whether in a punch bowl or pitcher. “Have three or four glass pitchers with labels attached on the handle, and instructions on how to finish the cocktails by adding a base spirit, like a shot of vodka or gin,” said Arias. Or serve a basic Bee’s Knees or Tequila Honeysuckle, easy to batch and each requires three ingredients or less (base spirit, something sour and something sweet).

What’s a cocktail without a garnish? Arias and Corney are both fans of garnishes and encourage hosts to keep fresh fruit slices, berries, lemon peels or edible flowers around to top off any individual cocktail of punch bowl.

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Having two or three stiff drinks might make for sloppy guests, so plan to have snacks available. Try pairing cocktails with interesting appetizers. For the DIYers, why not try your hand at making your own pate using duck and chicken livers available at local farmers markets? Shop the international aisle for cured meats such as Spanish ham or chorizo that pair well with boozy drinks.

Set cheese, crackers, nuts or honeycombs out on leftover stone or marble from kitchen remodeling projects. Or keep things fuss-free and casual by laying out butcher or block paper on a table, arranging your meats and cheeses and labeling each treat with a marker. Find jars for pickled okra and cute bowls and plates for olives and bruschetta. Use what’s available at home to add a cozy feel to slightly upscale snacks.

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The devil’s in the details—print out and frame copies of each recipe to keep alongside the cocktails, or write down the recipes on small chalkboards, giving the bar an interactive feel without having to hover over your guests throughout the party.

Depending on your budget, hostess gifts can help cement a booze-filled party in your guests’ memories once bellies are filled and thirsts quenched. Try a parting gift of bitters, cocktail spoons, muddlers or handwritten or screened-printed recipe cards on card stock or fun stationary.

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