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    Cocktail Party 101

    styleCocktails. The name alone involves two of my favorite things. That aside, throwing a cocktail party may be my third favorite type of get together to throw. Cocktail parties are easy to execute, and can be as glam or laidback as you want. They are the equivalent of the little black dress of events. If you put the time in initially to select what works best for you, you will always be able to have something chic and quick to pull out of your proverbial closet. However, the issue is that for many, a cocktail party appears to be a large, daunting and expensive endeavor when it doesn’t have to be.

    I like to think of cocktail parties as falling into three categories: full bar, signature drink and mixing station. Once you have made a decision on what type of party you want to throw, you can then decide what your total investment (time and money) will be for your festive evening.

    A full bar cocktail party is exactly what it sounds like. It is what your friends might live for—an open bar that includes an assortment of liquors, mixers and toppers. It’s the most expensive and most time consuming, because basically you are creating a bar for your friends to get drunk at for free. Unless your company just did its IPO, you are looking to clean out your liquor closet, or you just enjoy dropping several hundred dollars, then avoid this type of cocktail party. Aside from the cost of the liquor and mixers, you are looking at additional costs associated with multiple types of glasses, ice and the inevitable chaos that comes when you end up with 15 open bottles of mixers in your fridge. In my opinion, take your friends out to a bar and open a tab; you will be happier (and just as broke) for it.

    A mixing station cocktail party focuses on one liquor, such as vodka, and you provide a variety of mixers for your guests to experiment combining with it. A signature drink cocktail party features one or two mixed drinks that you choose in advance. Depending on the occasion, I love throwing one of these two types of parties. If you opt for a mixing station cocktail party, I like to organize two to three different stations around the house to avoid bar congestion. Each station has a different mixer and a bottle of the signature liquor and different garnish. To help reduce costs and for a fun twist to this idea, I ask guests to bring their favorite brand of the signature liquor to the event. It’s a great way to reduce your costs and to learn about the subtle differences in flavor profiles.

    styleBut for the biggest impact, the signature drink cocktail is the hands down winner. I love that with this type of cocktail party, the drink can be made in advance and put in decorative pitchers and containers. It’s simple and easy, plus you control costs and, honestly, having a good time on a budget can be all the more merry, especially when you are footing the bill!

    To round out your cocktail party, be sure to serve a few nibbles to accompany the drinks, like herbed popcorn, roasted almonds and a small assortment of cheeses and crackers. There is no need to do a full spread; your friends came to get their drink, not their ‘eat on’! Follow these simple guidelines and you are assured of having a smashing cocktail party.

    Courtney Lake is the interior designer and lifestyle expert behind Monogram Décor ( and its celebrated blog, “Courtney Out Loud.” His work and writings have appeared on television and in writing including “The Wall Street Journal,” “The Nate Berkus Show,” the “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Life & Style Magazine,” “RUE Magazine,” “Real Simple,” “This Old House” and “7×7 Magazine.”