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(Stock photo | Getty Images | Creatas/Stock photo | Getty Images | Creatas)
(Stock photo | Getty Images | Creatas/Stock photo | Getty Images | Creatas)

Secret ingredients for the perfect holiday cocktail party Add to ...

Originally published on December 6, 2011.

As the Drink columnist for The New York Times Magazine and author of the memoir Drinking with Men (due out in 2012), seasoned Brooklyn bartender Rosie Schaap knows a thing or two about throwing a party, whether it’s hosting a successful 50-person shindig in a tiny studio apartment or doing it up in style with staff. In her view, holiday get-togethers, when all is said and done, have but one purpose: “Parties are for decompressing and relaxing,” she avers, so sideline the stress and celebrate the season with a carefree soiree.

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THE GUEST LIST

While who you invite to a party is key, the rules, Schaap believes, are relatively simple.

“Don’t invite people you don’t like,” the native New Yorker says. “Think carefully about who you invite and, if there’s anyone who stresses you out, there’s no need to have them in your home. Also, mix it up. You don’t want just your office friends talking shop all night, so make sure there are people from all the different parts of your life to keep it interesting.”

THE SET-UP

The most important thing when planning a party is to do as much in advance as you can. And when it comes to the space, Schaap has some basic rules to entertain by.

“I live in a 450-square-foot apartment and have hosted upward of 50 people [in it] In those types of smaller spaces, giving people as much room to move around [as possible]is great. Back as much furniture as you can to the walls and set up a food station in the kitchen and a drinks station in the living room.”

Schaap also believes in doing that little bit extra to help make your guests feel welcome. “If possible, real dishes, real flatware, real glasses. If you’re going to go to the trouble of throwing a party, it’s worth the extra effort when it comes to the clean-up.”

THE VIBE

Lighting at different levels, not just from overhead, is important to set the mood. Candles can do the job, says Schaap, but she sounds a note of caution.

“My mother once set her hair on fire at a cocktail party, so, if you’re going to go with candles to set the mood, little votive candles in a bowl are the way to go. Tall taper candles are just generally a mess.” When it comes to music, Schaap is all about the classics. “I don’t care how much you know about what’s happening in music right now, there’s something about 20th-century American standards – Fats Waller, Dinah Washington, Blossom Dearie, Django [Reinhardt]– that make you feel instantly sophisticated and ready to drink really good drinks.”

THE MENU

“Unless you’re able to hire or designate someone to stand behind the bar, you’re not going to have fun at your own party,” Schaap says.

The solution? Punch or mulled wine. “It’s entirely something you can do in advance, there are some grown-up punches and there is something welcoming and unfussy about a bowl of punch or pot of mulled wine on the stove.”

If you’re having no more than 15 people, however, holiday cocktails can successfully be made en masse. “It’s not a big deal to make a bunch of manhattans; for the holidays, I normally replace the vermouth with ginger syrup and add some blood orange juice.”

To keep guests sated in between drinks, one-bite food is a must, she adds. “Dishes like stuffed grape leaves and saffron meatballs are easy to serve and even easier to eat.”

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