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How to Throw a Retro Cocktail Party.

By: Jen Shoop

Just before Christmas, we hosted a little retro-style cocktail party. The theme was born of Kacey Musgraves’ Christmas special, which is delightfully kitschy (who does Christmas shows anymore?), and though not all of the fare and details were authentically “retro,” the result was a quirky throwback vibe. We served up espresso martinis (Mr. Magpie made his own coffee liqueur using the America’s Test Kitchen recipe) in these gorgeous vintage-style martini glasses generously gifted by Hammett, seen below.

espresso martini

But I also think a classic club cocktail like a Tom Collins (complete with orange-maraschino cherry “flag” as garnish) would be perfection. Do not bother buying bottled Tom Collins mix — I honestly have no idea what’s in there. A Tom Collins is more or less a lemonade spiked with gin, and easy to make. I’m sharing my recipe with lots of overly nitpicky details below, followed by my menu!

Magpie Tom Collins Recipe.

2 oz Hendricks gin

1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice*

3/4 ounce simple syrup**

Schweppes club soda***

garnish: 1 orange crescent and maraschino cherry (we love the ones from Luxardo) flag

  1. Fill a highball glass with ice (love these — though we usually use our similarly-shaped Watson cooler glasses for these) and place in the the freezer. I love a frosted, icy glass.
  2. Short shake all ingredients except club soda in a cocktail shaker. “Short shake” means you only use a few ice cubes (we usually use three per serving) versus filling up the entire shaker with ice, and you do not shake the ingredients as long as you typically would (when making most cocktails, we typically try to shake for a full 13 seconds — so maybe go for about half that time, or six seconds, when short shaking for a Tom Collins). These instructions sound finicky but they do impact the result — typically, shaking for 13 seconds with a shaker full of ice will dilute the cocktail with melted/chipped ice, which is the goal for many cocktails, but in this case, you are going to be diluting the Tom Collins with a club soda float so you don’t want to water your base down too much. The goal should be a quick mix and chill.
  3. Strain into highball using a cocktail strainer. Top with club soda to fill the glass.
  4. Garnish with orange crescent and maraschino cherry, skewered by a cocktail pick.
  5. Serve with a straw. We love these.

*A small note, but I like to squeeze my lemons using a hand press and then strain my lemon juice through a small sieve so you catch all the pulp/seeds.

**Do not buy bottled simple syrup. Simply place equal measures (by weight, using a kitchen scale) of ultra-fine sugar and hot water in a Pyrex measuring cup and stir until the sugar has dissolved. If you cannot find ultra-fine sugar (sometimes hard for us to come by), you can just place sugar into a food processor and whir until you achieve a finer grain. We then decant the simple syrup (and other syrups — we also make ginger syrup, cinnamon bark syrup, demarara syrup, and a few others we like for cocktails) into these squeeze bottles we keep in our fridge.

***Any brand will do, of course, but I do like the Schweppes that comes in small glass bottles because you can screw the top on and preserve for use later. I never go through a full can of club soda so this feels less wasteful.

Additional cocktail gear notes: These angled jiggers are the absolute best for measuring cocktail ingredients. They are designed so you can see the amount you’ve poured from a birds-eye view / you don’t need to lift it to see how much you’ve poured in. Fantastic because you are often measuring such small increments of ingredients! We use the weighted shaker top and bottom from Koriko – widely considered the best – and this cocktail strainer that fits perfectly over the mouth.

Magpie Retro Cocktail Party Menu.

PIGS IN A BLANKET — I used Trader Joe’s pastry puffs, brushed them with egg wash, and sprinkled with Trader Joe’s everything bagel seasoning. Served with Grey Poupon’s Rich Country mustard.

SWEDISH MEATBALLS — I used America’s Test Kitchen recipe. These were SO good but honestly a a bit of a hassle to make, as you deep fry the meatballs in batches and it took forever and fry oil never smells…great.

CHEX MIX — I use the recipe on the back of the chex box, but add Old Bay seasoning and round up on all seasonings by maybe 1/8th to amplify the flavor.

MIXED NUTS — Just the classic Planters mix. Does anyone realize how delicious a salted cashew is? Yum. I love having bar snacks out and easily available from any perch in the house, so nuts and chex mix are great options here.

SHRIMP COCKTAIL — I swear by Ina’s cocktail sauce recipe (it’s heavy handed on the horseradish, which I love), and Mr. Magpie does some kind of crazy ninja cooking magic by poaching the shrimp in court bouillon. Serious Eats has a guide to how to prepare cocktail shrimp in this method here. It results in the most flavorful, perfectly cooked shrimp you will ever eat.

A few other suggestions I considered: deviled eggs, Grandma Carm’s ranch crackers, pimento cheese dip, club crackers wrapped in bacon and toasted until crispy in the oven (my mom used to make those!), cheese straws, fondue, The Rounds cheese biscuits.

Magpie Retro Cocktail Party Accoutrements.

I used pearl cocktail picks for the swedish meatballs — such a fun touch! — and placed the bar snacks in a three-part server like this. I also just added etched glass nut bowls to my collection and they would be perfect, too. We used Caspari Christmas cocktail napkins because of the season, but I am in love with cheeky embroidered linen cocktail napkins like these.

retro cocktail party accessories

01. MME MINK SOCIETY JACKET

02. DEEPA GURNANI EARRINGS

03. COCKTAIL PARTY INVITATIONS — ALSO MAKES A SMARTPHONE TEMPLATE!

04. CLUB POUR ONLY NAPKINS

05. HAMMETT HIGHBALL GLASSES

06. PINEAPPLE COCKTAIL TUMBLER

07. ALEXANDRE BIRMAN HEELS

08. COCKTAIL PICKS

09. JONATHAN ADLER BAR CART

10. CHILL PILL COCKTAIL NAPKINS

11. GUCCI LIPSTICK

12. HAMMETT MARTINI GLASSES

13. HAMMETT MARTINI PITCHER

14. PEARL COCKTAIL PICKS

15. JENNIFER BEHR EARRINGS

16. TALLER MARMO FEATHER TRIM GOWN

17. ETCHED GLASS STACKING NUT BOWLS

18. FOOTED CHAMPAGNE BOWL

19. BOSKA FONDUE SET

20. MICHELLE WILHITE CLUTCH

21. THE ROUNDS CHEESE BISCUITS

22. VODKA DECANTER

23. WATERFORD OLD FASHIONED GLASSES

24. HARRISON ROUND SERVING TRAY

P.S. Two other more unique cocktails I love here and here.

P.P.S. Feathered fashion.

P.P.P.S. Notes on entertaining.

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6 thoughts on “How to Throw a Retro Cocktail Party.

  1. So fun! Love the retro vibe of the invitation to go with the theme. The shrimp cocktail and other nibbles sound divine.

  2. Thank you for this post! We love to have friends over but have gotten out of the habit, and your posts on entertaining (I think you also had one on hosting a dinner party?) are so helpful to kickstart my hosting again.

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