It's so funny to read cooking and entertaining books because people seem to have such differing opinions on cocktail parties. There are those who are adamantly opposed to such a form of entertaining. They find the affairs to be dull and boring or too business-like. Then there are others (myself included) who enjoy drinks parties whether as the host or the guest.
The reason I like to give cocktail parties is because they seem to inspire a sense of conviviality. Loosen people up with a few drinks and who knows what might happen! (And inevitably, things do happen...like walking into a room and finding two guests in an amorous embrace. To me, that's far more entertaining than having someone spill red wine at a party!) I don't really think it's a cop out because at least you're entertaining.
To me, drinks of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety are of utmost importance, but food is a close second. You want to have a little variety with some light nibbles and something heavier to help sop up the alcohol. And remember, in their treatises on entertaining, Elsie de Wolfe, Dorothy Draper, and Elsa Maxwell all admonished their readers to serve hot hors d'oeuvres HOT, HOT, HOT!
Want to know what London society was serving at their cocktail parties in 1935? Well I came across this gem from Vogue (Dec. 1935), and it proves that entertaining was serious business back then just as it is today.
Nowadays, the high point of any cocktail party is not so much the cocktails as the food that goes with them. Imagination about cocktail party food has become an absolute necessity- and to copy your clever friends the sincerest form of flattery. At this time of the year some hot food is essential- but nothing so unimaginative as hot sausages. They are out of date, back numbers. You must think up something different. The Prince of Wales has hot buttered American soda biscuits, with cod's roe, served in hot silver breakfast dishes, and creamed shrimps in little pastry containers. Mrs. Maugham has hot bacon sandwiches, which disappear as fast as the cook can make them. Lady Portarlington has a cocktail size edition of a hot meat pie, which nobody else has yet thought of (have you ever noticed that it is always the same people who think of the new things first?). Of course, it would be Mrs. Ernest Simpson who first thought of the wonderful combination of seeded white grapes with little cubes of Dutch cheese, stuck through with a wooden toothpick. Mrs. Simpson's food is of such a high standard that the intelligent guest fasts before going to dine or to have cocktails with her. Her hot dishes at cocktail parties are famous and are passed around in small quantities at intervals.
(Isn't it interesting that back in 1935, a grape and cheese pick was considered novel? And that it was none other than Wallis Simpson who introduced it to the London swells?!)
Image at top: The iconic "Kings of Hollywood" photo by Slim Aarons. No, Gable, Heflin, Cooper, and Stewart were not at a cocktail party, but if your guests end up having half as much fun at your cocktail party, then you're a heck of a host! (Photo Slim Aarons/Getty Images)