Hosting a drinks party can be one of the greatest challenges any would-be bon vivant could undertake. Dinner parties offer their own particular challenges (see Dinner at Eight) what with the food and the china and the glasses and the tableware, but in the end dinner parties are generally small affairs and as long as you’ve assembled a jolly group, the food is edible (and the booze is ample) you should be fine. A drinks party is another animal. These events tend to be large — at least 20-40 guests – and people come and go at different times and there is the constant worry that at any minute things could turn terribly dull. This, by the way, is the worst thing a drinks party could be: dull. A drinks party can survive accidents, house fires, obnoxious drunks, inappropriate remarks, even nudity, but dull is the kiss of death at a drinks party.
SP’s number one priority when throwing a party is the guest list because — surprise! – people make the party. It matters not how much you invest in décor, how beautiful and impressive your house, or whether you dole out nifty gifts or trinkets, if your guest list is not right, your party will be a disaster. Pull out the address book. Invite the people who make a party, and then tell them to bring their lively friends. Use the excuse of a drinks party as a chance to get to know more interesting people, as well as pay off social debts. Drinks parties by nature are informal and new people are much more likely to accept an invitation to this than to a dinner party. Guest can come and go as they please so there is not the fear of being stuck at a table with a conversation hog.
Rule Number 2: Make access to alcohol easy and fast. Put the bar and the booze where guest can get to it and not get bottle-necked into some tight squeeze situation. If you are having more than 40 guests, you’ll need two bars on opposite ends of the room, house or venue. If the weather permits, put one bar outside and another inside. As for stocking the bar, you will need the four horsemen: Scotch, Bourbon, Vodka and Gin. Women love white wine and champagne. Men will want beer. Mixers should include club soda (SP prefers San Pellegrino) two-to-one over tonic water. Guests always seem to want cranberry juice. Slice some lemons and limes. You’ll need a bucket of ice, a wine key and a bottle opener. The beer and wine can chill in a cooler on the ground if you don’t have a gorgeous silver bowl. As for glasses, I love a one size fits all job but if you have the means and the space you should provide an old-fashioned glass for mixed drinks and wine goblet for wine and water. I love those red Solo cups if you have nothing to prove, but some snoots might look down on that. Or go with the SP Party Essentials Package. Provide Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and ginger ale for the non-drinkers. For Pete’s sake do NOT run out of ice. Figure two pounds per person in normal weather. Double that if you’re outside in the heat.
Rule Number 3: Music is key so make it popular and accessible. I know people love those moody, lounge-y compilations but they do not make for a good party. Put on the classics, the sing-alongs and hopefully the dance-along (always have a spot in mind where you can easily move furniture and roll up the rug!). I usually offer a program of music throughout the evening. The first minutes are for classics: Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday. The middle minutes call for classic rock. This loosens people up and they find common ground with strangers. Even well-edited 80’s new wave will work here. The last time period calls for dance music, and I mean common interest dance music. Classic hip hop, jam bands, pop music and yes, even disco. Fellows, you can scoff at vintage Madonna, but girls love it and will dance all night to that woman. If the girls are dancing, the party is a hit. Save the druggie ecstasy trance dance stuff for your next rave. It is not happy music. You need to have some soul. The sound level should always be just above the din of conversation. This loosens people up. Plus, once people get boozy, they get louder and we need to hear the beat!
Rule Number 4: Food. Well, you have to have it. It’s irresponsible to ply people with booze and deny them food to soak it up. Chips and nuts are fine, but for the same price get some cheese, crackers, olives, and fruit. I can’t tell you how popular a plate of biscuits and a sliced ham with a side bowl of mustard and mayonnaise is. If you or your friends can cook (or heat up a frozen bag), make some meatballs. Put your gourmet friends to work and ask them to bring their party food. I would stay clear of those layered dip things. They only look good until someone drags a chip through, then they turn slightly grotesque.
Rule Number 5: Clean as you go. If you don’t have staff to help, you should pick up cups, clean up the sticky spills and empty the ash trays. Make the place as welcoming to the last guest to arrive as it was for the first. On the subject of hiring staff, don’t underestimate the value of good help. This will enable you to enjoy yourself exponentially. If you have a housekeeper, ask her to work for you the night of the party (paying her extra of course). Put an ad on Craigslist for a bartender. You can usually find someone — experienced at that — for about what it will cost for two big handles of hooch. $10 -$20 an hour, depending on where you live.
Rule Number 6: Handle your liquor. Now as a host you are probably fond of the booze yourself, not that SP knows anything about that. Remember to pace yourself. It is your duty to make sure your guests are having a good time, meeting each other, and not becoming wall flowers. If you are blotto drunk you are not being a good host. Good parties don’t just happen. They are the result of hard work and attention to detail. You have to be on guard that the ice or the liquor doesn’t run out. You need to gauge the mood and make sure the music is right. If the law arrives uninvited, you will need to deal with them. It happens. Finally, you’ll have to pay attention to those who might need a ride home or a sleep-it-off on your sofa. People do get out of hand. It comes with the territory.
A note about lighting: When we talk about a party mood, we mean lighting also. I can’t tell you how many parties I’ve attended where so much attention was paid to everything but the lighting. Avoid over head lights. Turn off the switch and turn on the lamps. Even outside, we don’t want some glaring burglar light shining in our eyes like a police line-up. Light some candles. A wise woman once said, “If you don’t have time to clean for your party, turn out the lights and light a bunch of candles. It makes the girls feel pretty and the men feel romantic.”
Finally, have fun. You know SP will.
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