How to Throw the Perfect Intimate Soiree

The best cocktail parties are the ones that overcome what might be called “the Goldilocks conundrum”: not too big, not too small, but just right

Number of guests: 12 to 25
Save the date: 4-8 weeks in advance
Invitations: 3-6 weeks in advance

Illustration by Kirsten Ulve and Maurice Vellenkoop

A Drop in the Bucket

If there’s a jar on your bar, it should be stuffed with market-fresh garnishes, not dollar bills. We can’t say this more emphatically: Asking your guests to tip the bartender is a bunk move. Your best bet? Settle on a price ahead of time with the drink maker that includes gratuities. This way it’s clear up front you’ve got it covered, and you don’t need to stay sober to talk finances at last call.

party_pourHeartPour Your Heart Out

A DIY drink station will please thirsty hordes when the bartender is backed up. Steve Livigni (the Chestnut Club and Scoppa Italian Roots) offers this recommendation: “Buy a variety of spirits—gin, vodka, white whiskey, mescal, pisco, cachaca, agricole—and a few tonics. Put out garnishes and let folks go at it.”

Illustration by Kirsten Ulve and Maurice Vellenkoop

Illustration by Kristen Ulve

Master of the Mix

Matthew Biancaniello is L.A.’s most buzzed about bartender. His company, EatYourDrink, pops up at restaurants around town, and for the right price ($2,500 and higher), he’ll come to you. His specialty: multicourse omakase-style cocktails that use organic spirits, Névé artisanal ice, and ingredients from his garden or foraged from the Santa Monica Mountains.

A sample of Biancaniello’s most extravagant menu:

Course 1
Alcoholic oysters drizzled with meaty pechuga (a pricey mescal-like spirit) and topped with a lobe of sea urchin

Course 2
Monkey 47 gin martini crowned with osetra caviar

Heated hand towel soaked in bergamot and mint

Course 3
30-year-old Laphroaig scotch, neat

Course 4
Eggnog infused with white truffles

Course 5
A stunning layered drink that features an old-fashioned made with 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle floating atop a Sazerac made with 25-year-old Rittenhouse rye

Parting Gift
A bottle of rhubarb-infused Saint Germain liqueur to take home—if you can make it there

House Calls: These Rent-a-Bartender Services do the Shaking for You 

party_bunnyFor Abracadrunks
Magixology brings in drink slingers you may recognize from top local bars such as Harlowe and Honeycut to tailor cocktails for your party, while magicians who have appeared (and disappeared) at the Magic Castle perform tricks. Packages start at $15 a person.

party_bowlingFor A-Listers
The Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel offers a cocktail catering service that provides everything, from the Spare Room’s vintage barware and skilled bartenders to the small-batch booze and house-crafted seasonal syrups and garnishes. Packages are tailored to any theme and group size; basic service starts at $20 a head.

party_flameFor Heat Seekers
La Guelaguetza’s Michemobile offers several varieties of michelada—the hot sauce-spiked, salt-rimmed beer drink—but the converted van also features a DJ booth, two turntables, and four beer taps. For $450 an hour (three hours minimum), they bring the party to your house.

party_clubFor Club Kids
SBE’s Collins Cocktail Catering transforms your home into the SBE bar of your choice (hotties in heels not included), complete with signature drinks like the Bazaar’s liquid nitrogen caipirinhas. Or you can work with the bartenders to customize cocktails. Prices range from $15 to $25 a person.

party_flyFor Regulars
Ask the mixologist at your preferred watering hole if he or she can make those fancy bevs for your fancy fete. With enough notice (and a fair fee), most pros are happy to ditch the regular gig for a night and party with their favorite barfly.

Joseph Brooke

Photograph by Joseph Shin

Living Proof

The bar makes the party, and these items make the bar. Joseph Brooke’s must-haves:

Bitters Vial
Even the most attentive mixologist values the precision of this gadget, which ensures consistency with every dash.

Cane Sugar Sodas
Brooke chooses naturally sweetened soft drinks, with the exception of standbys ginger ale and Coke.

Cappa Pisco
Pisco, a spirit fermented from grapes, is the hooch du jour. Honor tradition with a pisco sour or try a chilcano (pisco, lime, and ginger ale).

Cocktail Picks
Toothpicks are so passé. Skewering fruit on reusable metal spears adds a sophisticated flourish to drinks.

Ebaloy Citrus Squeezer
Cocktails made with fresh juice are always appreciated. With two spouts for pouring, the Ebaloy does double duty.

The 86 Co. Spirits
Ergonomic bottles—with scored lines for batch drinks—set this brand’s gin, rum, tequila, and vodka apart.

Highland Park Scotch
This complex whiskey has more notes than a Bach concerto. Sip slowly.

Italian Mixing Glass
The contraption can mix up to five drinks at a time. Negronis all around!

Knob Creek Rye
Rye whiskey? More like rye risky: At 100 proof this small-batch spirit is dangerous but delicious.

Brooke says guests love this cute fruit. A lidded (and trendy) mason jar discourages finger-foraging.

Tapatio Tequila
Like wine, terroir can affect tequila. The acidity in this “highland” brand (distilled at a high elevation) balances drinks.

Bartenders touch all sorts of nasty things (like cash). Lemon wedges stay germ-free with this tool.