The Art of the Cocktail Hour

With the dizzying amount of activity during the holiday season, you need to have your bar spiffed up, stocked, and party ready. Noted hostess Stephanie Booth Shafran spills her secrets for creating magical occasions beginning with the cocktail hour.

You're Invited: Classic, Elegant Entertaining
Images courtesy of Rizzoli Books
  1. Let your creativity shine through cocktail napkins.

“I am obsessed with cocktail napkins. You can reveal a part of your personality in the selection whether it’s a witty motif, napkins that reveal a passion—I have napkins embroidered with dragonflies, topiaries, King Charles Cavalier spaniels, and monograms, for example—or those that fit in with the theme of the evening. Have fun and be whimsical, and your choice will become part of the conversation.”

7. Introduce a signature drink for the hour.

“There’s a practical side to having signature drinks—they can be premade, and guests can help themselves, but they can also fit in with the chosen palette or theme for the night or even the location; a pink-hued cosmopolitan to complement the peonies in the room; a lemon kiss cocktail for a starry night soirée. And don’t neglect the garnish—the finishing touch. Like the cocktail napkin, the signature drink is also a conversation piece. However, too many drink choices can overwhelm your guests!

8. Include some bar nibbles guests can easily pick up.

“Bar nibbles are a part of the welcoming atmosphere and are especially appreciated by guests that arrive on a weeknight after a long day. These should be simple and tasty—mixed nuts, truffle potato chips, and olives. I stock my bar with these and love to use pretty silver and crystal bowls, so they are away at the ready.”

9. Present seasonally-focused, delicious, crowd-pleasing hors d’oeuvres

“You can serve passed hors d’oeuvres for larger events or for small gatherings. Set them on tables near seating, encouraging guests to sit down and talk. I sometimes set up a self-serve area where guests are invited to create their own plates. A cold seafood array with caviar, smoked salmon, shrimp, and oysters with all the condiments at the ready is a favorite of mine. I also like to elevate the humble. Our family cheese toast is always a hit! Serve food you love yourself, and your guests will too.”

  1. Dress for the Occasion.

“I am also obsessed with fashion and deciding what to wear is part of the fun of hosting and attending a party. It’s important to make an effort for the hostess and guests, and it’s another opportunity to unleash your creativity and personality. On a practical note, if you are hosting, be sure your ensemble is comfortable and able to take hugs in stride! I also circle back to the theme and choose ensembles that fit in and complement the color and mood, whether it’s a long flowy dress or a more tailored look.”

You're Invited: Classic, Elegant Entertaining
Images courtesy of Rizzoli Books
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