Throwing a memorable cocktail party doesn't have to be stressful or expensive. The Purcell Sisters, authors of "Cocktail Parties, Straight Up!" have entertaining down to a science. With the weather getting colder, their beach-themed party is the perfect remedy for the winter doldrums. From keeping your guests entertained, to delicious food and drink ideas, Lauren and Anne are here to share some of their stylish tips with us. — Allison Beck
Let’s Get It Started
Thinking back to the best cocktail parties you’ve attend, what qualities do these parties have all in common? Typically, conversation flows effortlessly and time just seems to fly by, as you’re having so much fun. To guarantee that a fun time is had by all, we always plan to have a "conversation kick-starter" that fits in with the party’s theme. For our beach-themed party, we like to hand out blank stickers as guests arrive and ask them to write down the “Three Things I’d Want on a Desert Island.” Lauren’s list? Artichokes, Lyle Lovett CDs, The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. Anne’s list? Her husband RJ, a full season of This Old House on video, and Milano cookies.
It’s pretty simple to set up; have on hand a lot of markers and a big stash of “Hello, My Name Is” stickers, but without the words. Guests have been known to change their minds mid-evening about what they can and can’t live without, so it’s good to have plenty on hand.
Dance All Night to This DJ
Setting the island-feel for your party doesn't have to break the bank. Think simple: Brightly colored cocktail napkins and umbrellas for drinks. Maybe a blow-up palm tree in the corner. Perhaps ask your guests to come in their tropical best; flip flops, Lilly Pulitzer, or a souvenir t-shirt from a favorite vacation destination are all encouraged. The key is to create an atmosphere that is comfortable, slightly sexy, and lots of fun. Play some Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffet, or another steel-band classic on an iPod or CD, and pretend you're dancing on the beach in the Caribbean.
What to Serve
To spread the party's theme, we always serve an original, signature drink. Our "The Gilligan" cocktail will remind you of fruity, frozen tiki drinks, but is a whole lot easier to make for a crowd.
If you want to serve more than just a signature drink, either supply beer and/or bubbly, or encourage your guests to bring along their favorite island brew.
What to Eat
What is more tropical than coconut, curry, and cilantro flavors? At our parties, we typically serve 3–5 appetizers, depending on how many we're expecting. One "heavy" appetizer, like our Coconut Curry Scallops; one or two "medium" appetizers, like our Chickpea Cilantro Dip, and one "light" appetizer, like crudites or cheese, for nibblers. Of course, what party would be complete without some bowls of salted nuts or olives?