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Host A Festive Happy Hour; How To Curate A Posh Party

It’s that time of year when we want to gather and raise a glass or two to toast to happy days with family and friends; to seek our tomorrows that will be brimming with good health, love, and peace. But. 

If you’re in a kind of holiday vortex about what will make a memorable and successful cocktail party ~ or a Happy Hour at any time of the year ~ see how to “shake up” a Posh Party.

At the recent Holiday House benefit for Breast Cancer Research held at the Elizabeth Taylor Collective in New York City, I was honored to not only create a front entrance tablescape homage to Elizabeth Taylor but to also produce a talk on How to Host a Festive Holiday Cocktail Party. I thought it would be in the Holiday spirit to share those tips and suggestions for your cocktail parties.  

Besides, you can use these tips and suggestions at any time of the year.   

During my talk at the event I did indeed shake up the “Gilded Violet Eyes” cocktail I created for the event, inspired by Liz Taylor’s famously violet eyes. (See my previous Post for recipe.)

Violet was a design theme because the benefit was held at the film’s star’s former mansion in New York City. I shared the recipe (that was so well-received at the Opening Reception. Xoxo Thank you so much!) in my recent Garden Glamour post.  

At the talk, I asked the terrific team from Wölffer Estates to join in rather than follow my talk.  I highlighted the importance of a cocktail’s quality ingredients; authentic, delicious botanicals, as well as the importance of local and seasonal spirits, superior ice, ambience and more.

I shared these kinds of tips from my book, The Art of the Garnish, as well as from my home entertaining repertoire.   

Elements of a Memorable Cocktail Party

While many of us do very much enjoy entertaining at home, I recognize there are scads of you wonderful readers that prefer to go out and meet friends and family and / or want to mix it up with a preferred caterer. And count me in as a card-carrying member of that cohort.  

Pragmatically, it can’t be denied that corona virus has upended some of those traditions and consequently, home entertaining has floated to the top of the list when considering a holiday celebration. 

A Cocktail Party gives you the opportunity to host a party that can be modest in terms of food and drink and time but unabashed in the mere idea of glamour, bonhomie, and “victuals.” But if you’re fretting about what kind of Cocktail Party you can host if you don’t have a home bar and don’t have a clue how to mix a drink. 

Here’s my entertaining at home suggestions for what makes a successful cocktail party.

  • The right guests are a key ingredient. You want to invite those folks that will add a memorable dimension of artful, interesting, and networking kind of agency and intriguing conversations. Mix up the guest list with a trusted cohort of family and friends that will add as much sparkling conversation as the victuals aka the food and drink.  Maybe you might feel a wee bit out of your comfort zone inviting that musician you hear at the local winery or bar, or the manager of the bakery you just discovered or… 

  • Remember,  you are producing a glamorous, memorable Cocktail Party that is essentially, crafting theater. You will want to get out of your comfort zone and think of what will make you and your guests, well, happy.  What is your style? Is it a classic Hollywood-inspired kind of Nick and Nora Dashel Hammet cocktail hour 

Bryn Mawr Film Institute to screen 'The Thin Man' with martinis |  PhillyVoice

Or perhaps you’re channeling “Mad Men”   Say goodbye to 'Mad Men' with a party complete with retro food and cocktails    

or something a bit more contemporary and well, homey,

Do you have a bar cart from where you can not only stock spirits and glasses but also cocktail napkins and accessories? 

There are barcarts to suit just about every home style and budget. 

If you just can’t see your way to spending for a bar cart or can’t carve out the space for one, you might consider a beautiful tray placed on your table or puff or hassock.

What exactly should you feature on those bar carts, trays or bars? 

When creating a beguiling Barscape for any occasion, you want to consider a mix of:

  • Necessity

  • Utility

  • Novelty or Whimsy or Nostalgia/Style

You should stock your barscape with your favorite Spirits, along with the classics, including: vodka, gin, bourbon, pisco, whisky, tequila, scotch, amaros, aperitifs… 

There are endless brands and variations that, over time, you will prefer. If you want my recommendations, just comment below or email me and it will be my pleasure to suggest the brands and spirits I use that I think will add to your cocktail adventures. 

Glasses. Here too, there is a sexy stock of options that will boost your cocktail hour pleasure. I’ve read there are nine to 15 types of glasses that one needs to serve up a proper cocktail. That can get to be a wee bit of an investment if you are to provide four glasses of each glass type.  My opinion?  While cocktail glasses are designed for specific drinks and not only look pretty but they also allow the cocktail’s taste to star, you can host a swanky party with a select few glasses. You can even use the ever-versatile Mason Jar if that suits you… 

Personally, I adore vintage glasses, crystal, and the marriage of cocktail with its glass: as in Margarita ~ glass and drink; Martini ~ glass and drink ~ or a Nick and Nora which is a love child of a coupe and a martini glass; Zombie mug for Tiki; Copper mugs for Mint juleps… 

If we’re talking basic glass types, I suggest: 

  • Martini glass or Coupe

  • Highball

  • Rocks

  • Wine 

I do love an “Up Glass” for a majority of the drinks I create and enjoy. If you’re pressed for inventory budget and space, the coupe and martini glass can serve double duty. Rocks glasses are essential to serve up a variety of drinks.  

I do suggest getting the best glass you can ~ the faceted and heft of good glasses adds such an intrinsic look and feel to a classy cocktail hour.

And go for whimsical too. I couldn’t resist this “flamboyance” of flamingos and have them in two sizes. (Yes, flamboyance is the collective for flamingo. How perfect is that?!) 

I have a growing collection of vintage cocktail classes that I get online from a few sources, including It’s Not Just Cocktails.

They offer a variety of bespoke glasses. I adore my etched martini and coupe glasses for their classy,  artful look and size. They are elegant to hold, too… Like a piece of nice jewelry…  


I find the vintage glasses are more diminutive than today’s bowl-sized glasses!  You can also find vintage glasses with their matching pitchers ~ so lovely to whip up an afternoon’s Daquiri’s in.


I use my wedding crystal with abandon!

Bill and I love how the German crystal “Vespa’ with its etched, grass-like look has endured. 

I had all the champagne and wine and water glasses. Over the last few years I’ve added the highball and rocks glasses. That crystal delivers the heft I’m talking about. 

Cocktail Napkins and Coasters are Classy too yet essential ~ to absorb the condensation on the glass, to allow your guests to dab at their lips and also may be used to wipe excess lipstick from a glass rim. If you have food bites, the napkins are likewise needed.  

And just maybe, there will be a new business idea drawn on the back of a napkin. Or, as in days of yore, one’s phone number written on the back… Oh, the intrigue… 

Coasters are key to keeping water stains off your furniture and absorbing some of that condensation.

But the best part “barring” the utility of cocktail napkins and coasters, is that in employing them as accessories you can really ignite the style, charm, and glamour of your barscape. And you can change them out as your mood or party event changes.

I love vintage cloth, especially linen and embroidered cocktail napkins. I have a great variety that I’ve collected and use with great frequency. They also appeal to the “sustainable me.” 



I also love the artful variety of paper napkins that amplify the season or the holiday. I’ve used these fiery Scalamandre ones. 


And these colorful animal prints      

I have custom holiday and seasonal napkins for most every occasion.

 You can custom create a look, too.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you (wink;) that I have “Art of the Garnish” cocktail napkins for our home bar and for my book talks.  

I get these from Preppy Mama/Personalized Cups on Etsy. Jenny is a sweetheart to work with. 


I couldn’t resist these pink flamingos napkins because I adore these birds, plus I think they like to be paired with the flamingo glasses (smile) And, yes, I have peacock ones, too.  

Some cocktail napkins are just so funny. My dear friend Roberta gifted me the series of these imbibing dames and I laugh at every sip! Thank you, ten times over.


Ice and Ice Bucket ~ Whether the cocktail you’re serving is straight up or on the rocks, ice is key to most every drink. It must be as pristine as all the other ingredients. 

So, please, don’t just crack your ice tray into the drinks. eeks. It may have acquired “freezer fragrances” (or worse).  

I recommend that you make or get the purest ice that you can. In our Gotham apartment, I change out the water in the trays daily. We have an ice maker at our country house so that helps a lot. There, we also have the Opal Nugget ice maker ~ we purchased it as part of their GoFund me drive. It’s a great, pure, ice maker and is now readily available at most all major retailers. 

This Nugget Ice Maker Is on Sale for the Holidays | Bon Appétit

In addition, fun, seasonal ice “sculptures” are too groovy. I love the skull and santa and the rose ice “cube” and big, round sphere that I’ve added to our happy hour drinks. 


In addition you will need an ice bucket. This way you and your guests can readily add more nuggets or cubes with the tongs that you’ve perched on the side of the bucket like a Frank Sinatra hat just slightly to the side.  

We use this shiny gold one from Williams Sonoma in our home Speakeasy. I see they have a copper one that I’ll just have to ahem, “invest” in because it will complement the copper bar top… 

Ice Bucket with Tongs | Williams SonomaHammered-Copper Ice Bucket With Lid | Williams Sonoma

I also have glass and silver ice buckets. I especially like the standing ones because they add that vertical design element and also keep the barscape less cluttered. There are ice buckets in brass, mosaic, crystal, and in shapes as varied as top hats to pineapples to flower pots. You can also use the buckets as wine coolers. 

Think about compiling a collection of bar accessories that will reflect your mood or season. Alternatively, you can choose one look that showcases your signature elan.

Cocktail Tools ~ Most of the utensils you’ll need to make drinks are readily available and most can be repurposed from your kitchen, including knives, peelers, and strainers.

However if we’re talking cocktail culture, you’ll want dedicated tools, Here, I’ll point out there are a few “most-needed” tools for you to consider:

  • Shaker ~ I love how the gold or aluminum is just so pretty ~ they shine on the barscape no matter what you’re shaking up.

  • Jigger ~ a good one to have is glass and/or one that has the two sizes at each end. Don’t you just love this Tiffany sterling silver jigger?  

Diamond Point jigger in sterling silver with a Tiffany Blue® accent. |  Tiffany & Co. HIC Japanese-Style Stainless Steel Double Jigger | Bed Bath & Beyond

At the other end of the spectrum is this excellent Japanese style jigger from Bed, Bath & Beyond. 

  • Muddler ~ if you enjoy Mojitos, Mint Juleps, or Old Fashioned, (who doesn’t?!) you’ll need this tool to muddle (i.e. “squish”) the fruits, herbs or berries. You can also crack or crush ice with it. 

  • Hawthorne Strainer ~ you can also use the wire spring or coil in the shaker to create creamer or frothy drinks. A separate strainer is also a must if your shaker doesn’t come with a strainer top 

  • Bottle Opener, Bottle Stopper, Knife

Accessories ~ Other super fun accessories/slash necessities for your barscape include straws, swizzle sticks, toothpicks. There is a fantasy-inducing dream of options available that will transport your cocktail party presentation. 

Depending on the season or holiday I use colorful striped straws, animal swizzle sticks and as I did recently at the Holiday House benefit, gold-topped toothpicks ~ they are so pretty that they shine on the barscape no matter what you’re shaking up.

And I used some of these star swizzlers on my Holiday tablescape as an added glamour ingredient.   

Fun swizzle sticks.  I have mermaids, and animals and …

While I admit that some of my favorite swizzle sticks come from iconic bars (some now long gone) that I’ve been lucky to sidle up to, as noted in my Art of the Garnish book, including El Floridita, Trader Vic’s at the Plaza, Nevis, Eden Rock in St. Barts, Copenhagen, Switzerland (where I attended school and well, the Metropole and the Schweizerhof are legend) and more ~ but on a more practical and economical level, I encourage you to explore the myriad options available to you after you determine your cocktail party theme and look. And then sizzle with your swizzles. 


Let there be no doubt that a garden-to-glass or a bejeweled garnish will transport your cocktail party to the ultimate experience. It’s so worth the effort to create pretty and I venture to say, unexpected garnishes.  After all, you’re making some magic!   

Most folks don’t know that we can enjoy so many edible flowers, blooms, and blossoms. Consider orchids, tulip petals, hosta, lilac, cherry blossoms, and rose petals, in addition to the more considered lime, lemon and other citrus. (You can see more of the seasonal, garden-to-glass garnishes and cocktails I created at the outset of what I thought would be a few months’ of corona quarantine for the “Covid Cocktail” Live parties now on my YouTube channel.) 

The main ingredient in cocktails (and food) is love; along with the freshest, seasonal, and hopefully local spirits, spices, herbs, especially if you’re making your own, homegrown bitters and simple syrups (more on that in another Post.)  After you’ve curated the best ingredients, all you need to add is Surprise and Delight! 

As I say in my book talks, 

“Remember, There’s no Doggie Bag For Cocktails!”


Here are a few of my “Garden-to-Glass” Garnishes to surprise and delight you… It’s fun to get creative. 




What elements are essential to creating a memorable, swanky experience? 

Music. Lighting and Fresh Flowers.  Fragrance is the sense that triggers memory the most so consider that when arranging your seasonal floral designs to present on the barscape. 

To kick things off, consider serving a sparkling wine or champagne as guests arrive. 

It’s easy, refreshing, and gets your guests in the spirit. You can add a botanical topping for that extra touch, such as Creme de Violette, orange juice, Amaro or any of the fantastic bitters from Modern Bar Cart. Think: spiced grapefruit, sarsaparilla, chocolate, cherry, burdock or…  

This way, if you offer up a delicious welcome glass of champagne, you’re a bit free to mix up the evening’s cocktail. I suggest one to three choices of drinks. 

At-Home entertaining cannot compete with a bar or restaurant where drinks can be ordered on demand.  You’ll make yourself crazy.  Here, you should be thinking about creating a fun, convivial experience. 

Usually, a “Happy Hour” is approximately two hours. 

Lighting: You can use real candles or battery-operated ones ~ from tea lights to pillars to add a romantic, clubby feel to your cocktail hour. 

Music: Have your playlist good-to-go whatever platform you use ~ turntable, digital device, SoundCloud or… It will keep the music flowing without those silent pauses or you having to step away from the conversation. The volume shouldn’t prevent guests from talking. Remember, it’s a rather intimate environment and I always say, 

“It’s Called Small Talk for a Reason.” 

No one wants to be yelling or shouting about the “little things” that glue a conversation together….

The genre of music literally sets the pace; the mood of the party. For me, I prefer Jazz at the cocktail party.  After all, the first cocktail era was called the “Jazz Age.” And it’s so very American.  But I love all kinds of Jazz, including Latin and French Jazz.  I also like to highlight women from earlier jazz eras who may not be as well known, including Lovie Austin, Dorothy Doneganm and Ginger Smock to name a few. 

Compositions: When putting out the food and drink compositions, I look to marry up or tie in to the drink’s flavors and theme. For example, for the “Verdant Green Jangala” in my Art of the Garnish book, I wanted to expand on the nature element of “green” therefore the plants and coasters and nibbles reflected that. 

I went one step further to create the nature/outdoor mood. I used our digital devices tuned up to nature channel videos so that I could add an aural element to the sensual cocktail experience. You can ask your guests to add theirs to the composition. 

You can also do this if you’re hosting an Oscar or Emmy show; just tune up to old movies or performers! It’s a conversation starter for sure. 

A composition to highlight my “Verdant Green Jangala” (Sanskrit for jungle” is a kind of riff on the classic Grasshopper.

I also look to thematically align the colors of the composition to amplify the cocktail’s ingredients


This is “Ancho Estrella” made with Ancho Reyes spirit. The dishes and garnish and cocktail napkins echo the theme. 


This is a Fire and Ice winter look with Kafi Träsch made with schnapps and coffee and cream, served with what else? Chocolate.


“Heart of Gold” inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” is made with gold-flecked Goldschläger schnapps, served with German-inspired pretzels, pigs in a blanket, a gold jewel pin on ginger garnish, and lots of edible gold… 


Maria’s Mead: Nectar of the Goddess: with homegrown honey. Honeybee pin garnish and Maria’s honey tags that are so artfully designed by Bek Millhouse, add to the honeyed look. 


  Tropical drinks with lots of hot colors 


“Boba Black Pearl” cocktail served with root vegetable treats ~ because boba pearls are made from the cassava plant! 


“I’m Nutty for You” cocktail served with Cracker Jacks ~ and I used for the garnish, too.  Plus you get a prize!   

You now have all the ingredients plus the confidence to host a festive, posh, cocktail party.  

Cheers to your success.

(Let me know how you make out. Smile,)

Headline cover photo: Angie Lambert

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

Join me to celebrate a romantic, garden-infused, entertaining lifestyle filled with artful design, sparkling dinner parties, peerless martinis, and copious magnums of champagne!





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