How to Throw Together a Cocktail Party in 30 Minutes—From a Pro

Photo: Original Illustratoin by Stephanie DeAngelis

With football season in full swing and the holidays just weeks away (yes, it's really that time of the year already), hosting an impromptu cocktail party could likely "pop up" on your calendar in a moment's notice. Instead of spending precious time panicking, we're inviting hosts to take note of a few keys to efficiently throwing together a chic soirée with (extremely) short notice.

Who better to tap than entertainer extraordinaire—and our expert on the topic—CEO and co-founder of Tasting Table, Geoff Bartakovics. As host of weekly dinner and cocktail parties at his own home (an insanely stylish loft in NYC's Soho neighborhood), Bartakovics can whip up the perfect setting with the same ease (and slight touch of magic) a genie can grant a wish. And fortunately for us, he's sharing his hosting wisdom for how to pull together a cocktail party—and a chic one at that—in 30 minutes or less. Since we're on the clock, we'll let him take it from here:

"First things first: Get your mind right. You'll need to turn this into a game in order to pull the party off quickly without looking like a harried, spastic mess when your guests arrive. Pretend this is a reality television competition and set your strategy accordingly. I'd break the half hour into segments to create a bar, find or invent snacks, and touch up your pad (i.e., hide everything in a closet and hastily wipe down all surfaces—especially the bathroom— with cleaning products)."

Photo: Original Illustratoin by Stephanie DeAngelis

"The obvious answer is that you live the kind of life that's open to possibilities like this by always keeping 'drinking basics' at home. With a reserve bottle of vodka, tequila, gin, scotch, and bourbon tucked out of sight, you can fake a basic self-serve bar with options for everyone. Don't forget to stay stocked with cans (less waste than bottles) of club soda, tonic, and ginger beer. Set out a couple of bottles of wine (that someone brought to your last dinner party) and fish a few beers from the fridge, and you'll look like a pro.

Okay, you didn't read this article early enough? If you don't have a liquor store within a five-minute walk from your apartment, it's time to get creative with whatever you do have. The trick is pretending that whatever you've got adds up to an intentional concept. Only have a few bottles of brown spirits? Merchandise them neatly on your counter with a bottle of red vermouth, bitters, and that jar of cherries from your back pantry. Explain to your guests that you thought it would be fun to experiment with 'variations on a Manhattan' using various brown base spirits or whatever you've got."

Photo: Original Illustratoin by Stephanie DeAngelis

"Head to your computer for a quick search through online inspiration for a few specialty cocktails you can offer. For something even simpler, remember that you can fake a punch by using a 1:4 ratio of clear alcohol (vodka, gin, or tequila) to juice (orange, grapefruit, pineapple, etc.); then add bubbles (club soda, Perrier, prosecco, or champagne) to make the drink look effervescent. Add a few dashes of bitters and float some wheels of whatever citrus you have handy and you're ready to go.

"And, at a moment's notice, you wouldn't be a monster for limiting your bar to a bucket of random wines and beer you have at home.

"When it comes to glassware and equipment, think creative chaos: Aside from drinks, make a beautiful mess of whatever glasses, shakers, and cocktail stirrers you can find. Let your guests have fun finding whatever glass makes sense for their drink and scrounge up an eclectic selection of supplies to mix."

Photo: Original Illustratoin by Stephanie DeAngelis

"Now you don't need to feed these folks a full three-course dinner, but it's not really a cocktail party without something to snack on.

"From your fridge and pantry, pull out all the jars (pickles, olives, etc.) and bags of peanuts, chips, salsa, and dips you can find—even if they're open (but not stale!). Get creative, because even bars of chocolate (broken into chunks and laid artfully on a small plate) are game. The trick to making your bites look tasteful is merchandising: Pour the goods into small bowls, ramekins, or even tea cups (add a tea spoon for smaller nuts or seeds). Distribute your bodega bounty around the room on whatever surfaces are closest to the party area. A selection of small bowls with random nuts and chips will distract your guests from the dust bunnies lurking in the corner."

Photo: Original Illustratoin by Stephanie DeAngelis

"After you've prepped the sips and nibbles, spend your last few minutes focused on touch-ups—for you and your space. Focus on broad strokes like making your bed and hiding your dirty laundry (literally) rather than forgivable offenses like 'forgetting' to vacuum the rugs. Most importantly, get in the guest bathroom to quickly wipe down critical surfaces before the doorbell rings."

Photo: Original Illustratoin by Stephanie DeAngelis

"There's likely no time for a shower, so touch yourself up like a 19th-century Frenchman/woman (think: deodorant, cologne or perfume and a tooth brush), throw on a fresh getup, and take a deep breath. Whatever's done is done by the time the first guests arrive, so spend a moment getting into a festive mood as you summon your favorite party playlist, pour yourself a stiff pre-game drink, and toast your Macgyver-like party-prep skills."

Now that you know how to prep a cocktail party in under 30 minutes, shop a few of our favorite soirée essentials below.

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