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Festive in five – Instant cocktail party

Celebrity lifestyle designer Christopher Lowell was kind enough to share with us some fabulous ideas for pulling together a quick, inexpensive New Year’s Eve party. These tips can actually apply to any party, anytime of the year. These ideas for cocktails, decorations and food are particularly wonderful if you are on a budget. It will cost less than $150 for twenty guests. You can find out more from Christopher on his website at, or watch him on his popular TV show “It’s Christopher Lowell” on the Discovery Channel. His innovative ideas for interior design, party planning and entertaining are some of the best in the business.

“Between a lackluster economy, a stalled home market, gas inflation, wartime, global warming …enough already,” says Christopher Lowell. “There’s a reason retail spending is down. This year more then ever, there’s a deeper shared consciousness out there among today’s hyper-taskers. Were tired of spending to impress. We’ve already got stress fatigue and more then ever, blatant excess has become very un-cool.”  

Many folks are skipping the big orchestrated bashes.

“Instead easy, spontaneous parties that are festive and don’t take much time or money to pull off, get people together in a less informal way. A few simple ingredient and self-serve grazing stations throughout the home is the ticket for this New Year’s Eve,” explains Christopher. “The easiest is the stand-up martini cocktail party.”

Christopher recommends setting up four martini stations throughout the home. Each station can be created within two square feet. On a buffet, on a kitchen counter, on a draped folding table or hall table, each station’s theme begins using the actual cocktail as the inspiration.

Each set-up begins with three clear glass containers each. These will be clustered together at each station ready to be filled with food and decorations appropriate to each martini.

The first container is a tall and narrow cylinder (between 17 and 20 inches tall). The next container he recommends is about 8 inches by 12 inches. The last container is low and wide (about 12 inches wide and 7-8 inches deep). Two individual martini shakers, an ice bucket and a clear pitcher to hold the martini mixture creates the structure for each setting.

Note: When the party is over, they simply go back into your entertaining wardrobe for another event.

Here are some of Christopher’s foolproof favorites, with drinks from the ‘must-have’ guide called The Martini Book,” by Sally Ann Berk.

Pomegranate Martini Bar

Cocktail mix:
4 parts Vodka
2 parts triple sec
1 part fresh limejuice
2 parts pomegranate juice

Note: Premix all martinis in the glass pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and store up to a week in advance until party time. Place several individual martini shakers (that are available in festive holiday colors) next to a big silver bucket filled with ice along with orange and lemon peel garnishes.

Tall container: Fill the cylinder with silver Christmas balls and fresh or dried pomegranates with a few sprigs of holly as the focal point.
Medium container: Fill with limes and lemons.
Wide container: Fill with herb roasted nuts.

Nut recipe:
Store bought mixed nuts are spread on a cookie sheet. Add three tablespoons of olive oil, teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary and a teaspoon of thyme. Roast in a 400-degree oven for 7-8 minutes. The nuts can be made up to four days in advance and stored covered at room temperature.

Accompanying food:
Serve nuts with bowls a simple cheese platter (a hard cheese, a soft cheese and a “stinky” cheese). Accompany with herb shortbread wafers or crackers of choice.

The Dirty Martini Bar

Cocktail mix:
6 parts gin
2 parts dry vermouth
1 part olive brine (from olive jar)
Garnish: Cocktail olives

Tall cylinder: Tomatoes and silver Christmas balls.
Medium container: Gourmet olive assortment mixed with cherry tomatoes.
Low, wide container: Fill with store bought creamy dressing.

Serve a vegetable crudités platter.

The Shrimp Martini Bar

Cocktail mix:
6 parts vodka
2 parts vermouth
Several dashes of tobasco to taste
Garnish: Float a single large cooked shrimp in the glass as an edible garnish

Tall cylinder: Silver Christmas balls and whole lemons.
Medium container: Large bunch of fresh basil and chive.
Low, wide container: Pre-cut lime and lemon wedges for martini and seafood garnish.

Serve with platters of shrimp (and other seafood if you choose) and lemon wedges. Here the glass containers can be filled with lemons, limes and cherry tomatoes for an instant centerpiece.

The Chocolate Martini Bar

Cocktail mix:
1 part chocolate liqueur
6 parts vodka
Garnish: With potato peeler shave chocolate off a semi-sweet bar to create chocolate curls for garnish

Tall container: Silver Christmas balls and store bought chocolates (the gift box variety).
Medium container: Three sizes of pretzels (matchstick, twisted and large stick) for dipping in chocolate.
Low, wide container: Fill with cut up fresh strawberries (for dipping in chocolate).

Chocolate fondue: Fondue sets available at stores like Crate & Barrel. Fondue mix can be bought ready-made or use your favorite recipe. Use Chinese bamboo skewers for dipping.

“What’s great,” says Christopher, “is that these martini bars can be set up in minutes and the pitchers can be mixed well in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Because it’s all premixed, no fancy expensive booze is required. The food is no-cook; simply arrange and serve. And everything is ready at a moments notice. Add a bit of music and you’re good to go.”

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