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Let’s Talk more about Cocktail HOurs: A brief HIstory

Easy to make sangria kit from Sipping Made Simple

While we are speaking of cocktail hours on the blog, I never knew where they originated from and I was always curious. Who thought it would be a fun idea to make complicated drinks and snacks right before dinner time? Once I knew P and I were having them consistently, I set out to learn more about the history of cocktail hours and their evolution. Read till the end of the blog for a tip on how to make your cocktail hour a breeze!

History + evolution of the cocktail hour

While British novelist Alec Waugh lays claim to the very first cocktail party in an Esquire article from the 1970’s, in the United States, the creation of the event goes to Missouri socialites, Mrs. and Mrs. Julius Walsh. In April of 1917, tradition holds that the Walshes invited 50 guests from different social circles to their mansion in the early afternoon. (This created quite the commotion as ladies were looked down upon if seen drinking in public.) Most parties had drinks after the dinner, not before, and the couple held theirs at noon. Mrs. Walsh also hired professional bartenders to cater to her guest’s needs instead of having them hover over a punch bowl, the norm for parties at the time. The Walshes bucked many norms with this party, and once the St. Louis press got wind of it, the fad had begun.

The newspaper article that noted the Walshes first cocktail party.

During the Prohibition era, drinking went underground in the form of speakeasies, and bartenders began to cultivate mixed drinks using fruit juices, cokes/sodas, mixers to hide the taste of alcohol. By the end of 1933, Americans had their beloved cocktails back and an abundance of new drinks made their debut at bars all over America. It was during the 1940’s that cocktail parties became the in thing to do and books and guides were being written for every hostess who wanted to hold a party, complete with recipes for aperitifs and canapés.

A prized vintage find would be a first edition copy of the Stork Club Bar Book, written by Lucius Beebe. The Stork Club was a famous New York bar haunted by celebs, including the likes of Lucille Ball and Grace Kelly. The book contains recipes for all the classics, like the Manhattan, but it also has fun recipes that bear the names of the club’s fans and patrons, like the Niesen Buzz Bomb and the Rosalind Russell. While I haven’t nailed down an original copy, I did surprise P with a reprint edition.

Zooming into the 1950’s through the 1970’s, cocktails and their eponymous parties began influencing pop culture and vice versa. In the middle and later part of the 20th century, vodka and tequila gained popularity and rum (which was popular back in the colonial days) returned for fruity and sweet drink inventions, like the Pina colada- one of my beach faves.

fun fact: It was during the cocktail hour that a gentleman would use his time to get to know his dinner date better and become more acquainted with other guests before being seated next to them at the dinner table.

Today, we still do a variety of low key and fancy cocktail hours and the rules have evolved. While I didn’t really get to enjoy it, there was one at my wedding, and most brides choose to have one to keep their guests entertained while they are taking pictures. During the holidays, hosts often like to have cocktail hours before the formal dinner, especially when entertaining out of town guests. People are also choosing to have one just for the heck of it, without dinner afterward. No matter how formal or informal, cocktail hours are engrained in our culture and I’m happy to carry on the tradition.

This sangria came together in a jiffy thanks to Sipping Made Simple and their ready to make kits!

Tips for hosting

If you choose to host a cocktail party, once this quarantine time is over, here are some good rules and etiquette to follow:

  • Have enough liquor and wine on hand. As a general rule, you will get 5 to 6 drinks from a bottle of wine. (Aim for a 5-6oz wine pour.) For mixed drinks, you can plan on about 16-17 drinks per 750 ml. bottle.
  • Expect that your guests will drink 2 drinks per hour for the first hour, then one per hour thereafter. 
  • Your goal at a cocktail party is not to get your guests drunk, but to get them feeling relaxed and sociable.
  • Have food for your guests to nibble on. Think one-bite foods or small appetizers that can be picked up with a toothpick or eaten by hand. make sure there are plenty of tabletops and space for guests who are mingling to set their plates and drinks on.
  • Keep in mind your guests who do not drink and have options for them as well.

Tips as a guest

If you are a guest of a cocktail party, keep the following etiquette in mind:

  • If you don’t know many people there, introduce yourself with a handshake, your full name, and your connection to the host. For example, “Hi! My name is Ethel Mertz, and Lucy is my next door neighbor and best friend So nice to meet you.
  • Be sure to seek out your host in the very least twice, once to say hello and thank them for the invitation, and once to say goodbye, thanking them once again for the invitation.
  • Do not ask your host for a tour of their home. Some people are very private and you don’t want to intrude on their personal space. The only exception to this would be a housewarming party, which is typically reserved for close friends and family, and the home is probably already on display.
  • If you are going to the personal home of the host, it is polite to bring a small token or gift. If the host is not holding the cocktail party at their home, the party is not honoring a person, or the person has written on the invite ‘in lieu of…’, it is not expected that you show up with a gift.

Sipping Made Simple is launching their new business by giving away one of their fun cocktail kits. Their sangria kits come with all the fun stuff you need to make a delicious red or white wine sangria Head over to my instagram for all the giveaway details!

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