In every group of friends, there is “that couple”: the ones with the best place to hang out, who keep a stash of snacks and know how to mix an actual grown-up drink.
Can we let you in on a little secret? It doesn’t take much to become “that couple.” You just need a few easy recipes and versatile staples in your pantry, fridge, and bar cart. So go ahead and invite people over for the pre-party—and don’t be surprised when they all decide to stay.
An Aperitif or Two
There are lots of ways for guests to get their drink on, but the skilled host knows to keep the bar cart stocked with the ingredients for staple cocktails. Between these three cordials (and their classic cocktails), you should be able to please a crowd.
Lillet is a blend of wine, citrus liqueurs, and quinine—the ingredient that gives tonic its tang. For a classic Vesper, pour 1⁄2 a measure of Lillet Blanc, 3 parts gin and 1 part vodka into the cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake vigorously for 8 to 10 seconds. Pour into a highball glass using a cocktail strainer. Squeeze in a slice of lemon peel to release the flavor and place in the glass.
Campari (available here) is the stuff that Negronis are made of. To mix one, pour equal parts Campari, gin, and red vermouth into a rocks glass (like this one) filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange. If that's too strong for your taste, replace the gin with sparkling wine, or just mix Campari and soda.
Easy Aperol Spritz
Less bitter than Campari, Aperol (available here) is just 11 percent alcohol, which makes for easy (day) drinking. The spritz tastes like rosé and Orangina mixed together. Of course you want to taste that! And the recipe is crazy simple: Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add 4 oz. Prosecco, 1⁄2 oz. Aperol, 1⁄2 oz. vodka and a splash of club soda. Stir gently.
Something to Snack On
Let's be honest: your guests might come for the drinks (and company) but they'll stay for good food. It might seem like creating a spread of noshes to go with grown-up drinks requires lots of planning, but that's not the case. Keep these simple ingredients hanging around in your freezer or pantry, and you'll be ready to play host when your besties invite themselves over on a Saturday night. This spread goes well with oiled crostini, so have your friends bring over a baquette or two—or send your S.O. out on a quick errand.
Make a Simple Pea Spread
Mix garlic, 1 tbsp olive oil, a pinch of salt, and 1⁄2 cup water in a small saucepan. Add 2 cups frozen peas and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Pulse mixture in a food processor to form a paste. Mix in chives, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1⁄4 tsp. pepper, and 2 tbsp oil. Stir in reserved liquid until mixture is thick but spreadable. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Spread on toasted crostini.
Serve Marinated Olives
A jar of olives is a perfectly good addition to any cocktail party as is, but try elevating this pantry item in just a few easy steps. Your guests will be impressed.
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine 1⁄2 cup olive oil, 3 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp crushed coriander seeds, and 2 bay leaves. Cook until fragrant, then remove from heat. Let steep 1 hour. Pour over 2 cups olives and 1⁄2 a thinly sliced orange. Stir to coat. Marinate at room temperature for 2 hours, or cover and chill up to 4 days. Serve at room temperature.
Olives in Brine
While you can definitely just toss these in a pretty little dish for snacking, they're also perfect for the marinated olive recipe above. If you don't have time to marinate, no worries. As long as the oil has cooled (which it should during the hourlong steeping process), they're good to go! Villa Reale, $11.75, Amazon
Sardines with Chili-Tomato Sauce
Enjoy on their own as antipasti, or layer with roasted red peppers on toasted crostini. This four-pack has an assortment of flavors, and enough tinned fish to last you a couple of impromptu parties.
Bela, $22.50 for 4 pack, Amazon
Mackerel in Organic Olive Oil
These are best served room temperature with salt and pepper on oiled crostini. Season, $17 for 6-pack, Amazon
Tangerine Marmalade Spread
Pair a drizzle of this tangy jam with ricotta cheese on hearty crackers. Stonewall Kitchen, $9.79, Amazon
Olive Oil Crackers
Pile charcuterie onto these hand-cut crackers with distinctive olive oil flavor. Stonewall Kitchen, $6.95, Amazon
Four varieties of hard salami make this assortment a cocktail party crowd-pleaser.
Battistoni, $35, Amazon
Get the Gear
Now that you've figured out what kinds of noshes and tipples to have on hand, all that's left to do is serve in style. Check out our selection for stunning style elements that will complete your cocktail party checklist. (Pro-tip: if you're currently putting together a wedding registry and aim to be "that couple" who hosts to best parties, put these on your list.)
Hopefully you've already graduated from red party cups when friends stop by for cocktails, but now it's time to invest in a set of glasses you save for these occasions. This Old Fashioned glass from Crate & Barrel has a heavy bottom to support grown-up ice cubes (see below) and a stiff drink.
Whether you have a "no outside shoes" policy in your home or you've got more lax standards for guests in the house, you should still strive to avoid water rings at all costs—in style, of course. These textured aluminum coasters are just one set in Crate & Barrel's extensive collection. Browse their other offerings to see what goes with your other bar accessories.
As much as you might be tempted to muddle your mojito ingredients with the end of a wooden kitchen spoon, you can certainly do better than that. Consider this 4-piece bar tool set from Bloomingdales. It'll make you feel like a real-life mixologist.
Elevated cocktail party snacks call for pretty plates to serve them on. Depending on the color scheme you're going for in your kitchen and bar area, these hand-decorated porcelain canapé plates from Bed Bath & Beyond might interest you.