Choosing drinks for a party

Your typical TV-land picket-fence house in American suburbia, circa 1960.

Don Draper: Go take Mommy and Francine’s orders.
(Little Sally Draper – who must be all of eight or so – skuttles off and returns a short while later.)
Sally: Two Tom Collins.
Don: Ok, you don’t smash the cherry on that. Just plop it in at the end. Try to keep it at the top of the glass.  Gin.

Mad Men’s oh-so-suave Don can rarely be invoked as a role-model for fatherhood – this excerpt isn’t even one of the main reasons why – so were this a parenting manual the reference above would be wholly inappropriate.  Happily it’s not, and what this demonstrates is that there was a time when knowing how to fix a cocktail was was a useful life-skill.

These days, our notions of ‘entertaining’ seem to orbit almost exclusively around offering a diversity and excellence of food. There’s a chef, a cookbook and a cuisine to suit every possible hostessing whim. But when it comes to the drinks, we’re pretty much still stuck on serving wines and beers. Very possibly perfectly chosen wines and boutique beers, but somewhat lacking in scope. It used to be that the drinks served would follow the overall arc of a party. An approach which, somewhat perversely, often results in alcohol consumption that’s less about gluttony and excess, and rather more about the drinks enhancing the overall experience.

Any host who is at ease mixing and serving fabulous yet simple drinks will find their guests to be disproportionately impressed. Especially if done at a pace that sends your guests on their merry way just the right side of merry.

The ‘simple’ above is worth heeding.  A wise host knows that there is honestly no need for their drinks trolley to be creaking under the weight of too many bottles. You’re not trying to be an actual bar, just as with the food you’re serving you’re presumably not trying to emulate an actual restaurant. Some well-chosen basics are all that’s needed to see host and guests through from cocktail hour to isn’t-it-time-for-everyone-to-go-home.


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  1. Do you have any suggstions for a 1960’s themed drink? My sister-in-law is turning 50 and we are hosting a family celebration. I was thinking of large tins of beer (i remember my dad having those- not sure they are available now) but would like to serve the approriate cocktails. HELP please x

    • What a great party theme!

      Babycham was huge in the 60s – how about that? You can order small bottles online at – and ebay usually has plenty of those really fun Babycham glasses going for a couple of pounds each.

      Punches ladled out from bowls popular too. Gourmet magazine featured this Sparkling Gin Punch in 1967:

      20 oranges, juiced
      12 lemons, juiced
      2 quarts gin (so that’s 2 litres)
      4 jiggers grenadine (or use syrup)
      6 dashes orange bitters
      2 quarts chilled soda water (2 litres)
      ice block for chilling – which you can make by freezing a tupperware or similar container that has been filled with water; or just use ice cubes

      Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, gin, grenadine (or syrup), and orange bitters in a large punch bowl.
      Just before you are ready to serve, add a large ice block to chill (or ice cubes) and pour in the chilled soda water.

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