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Retro Cocktail Party

Created January 10, 2017
Though we can do without the indoor chain-smoking and martini lunches, the swinging ’60s were certainly a good time for throwing a party. Who doesn’t love bouffant hairdos, dapper men in skinny ties and cocktails that pack a serious punch? Here are a few easy, era-inspired tricks to hosting a throwback party that would even put a smile on Don Draper’s face.
woman with red hair, vintage pink dress and wrist tattoo holding an orange cocktail with orange slice in a retro lowball glass

Party Checklist

  • Lowball glasses
  • Champagne glasses
  • Garnishes: green olives, pickles, orange peel, lemons, shaved chocolate, brandied cherries
  • Bucket loaded with ice
  • Frilly toothpicks, small plastic cocktail swords, swizzle sticks
  • Cocktail plates and napkins

The Invitations

Evites are easy, but sending out invitations via snail mail will set the retro tone. Write them by hand in cursive. You remember how to do that, right?

The Dress Code

Encourage guests to dress the part. Guys might wear dress pants, button-down shirts with skinny ties and even a sport coat; gals may opt for pencil skirts and sweater sets. Hit up a vintage store for a few extra pairs of white gloves and costume jewelry for the ladies.

Note: The hostess may want to invest in a vintage apron so as to save her Jackie O sheath from any cocktail sauce mishaps!

The Décor

Elevating an everyday cocktail party to a swanky affair is all in the details. Ditch the plastic party cups and hit up a thrift store or Grandma’s china cabinet for lowball glasses, punch bowls, fondue pots and kitschy tableware. Touches like these are inexpensive and make all the difference in setting a retro tone. (Plus, there’s a good chance some of these items will work their way into your regular dishware rotation.) The Tunes A turntable and a stack of vinyl is ideal for setting the vibe, but if you’ve moved on to more modern technology download the Pandora app and stream swanky tunes from your smartphone. There are also “Mad Men”-inspired podcasts, available for free on iTunes.

The Games

Propose a game of charades (bonus points if you keep it era-specific). If you’ve invited a particularly raucous bunch, you could try the classic hands-free passing of an orange from person to person, or a cheeky game of spin the bottle.

The Cocktails

This is a party, not a full-service bar. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to stock up on everyone’s favorites. Pick a few classic cocktails with similar ingredients, and have tonic and soda water on hand for those who prefer simple mixers. If you can, designate a friend to help craft beverages for the evening.

Old Fashioned

1 sugar cube

3 dashes bitters

1 slice orange

2 ounces brandy*

Soda water

Brandied cherries and orange peel

Muddle 1 sugar cube, bitters and orange in the bottom of a glass. Add a large ice cube and brandy. Top with soda water. Garnish with brandy-soaked cherries and orange peel.

* Swap the brandy with whiskey or bourbon to suit your taste. If you want it sweeter, add a splash of sour mix. Less sweet? Hold back on the sugar. You’re the boss.


2 ½ ounces whiskey

½ ounce sweet vermouth

2 dashes bitters

Brandied cherries

Stir the whiskey, vermouth and bitters over ice. Serve neat in a lowball. Garnish with spiked cherries. Some folks like to add lemon or orange peel for a little extra panache.

Vodka Martini

3 ounces vodka

1 dash dry vermouth

1 whole green olive

Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Add vodka and vermouth. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with green olive. You may also add a drop or two of bitters and lemon, just for kicks.

Classic Champagne Cocktails

2-3 drops bitters

1 sugar cube

1 ounce cognac

4 ounces chilled Champagne

Drop the bitters onto the sugar cube and let them soak in. Place cube in a Champagne flute, add cognac and fill up the glass with Champagne.

Nothing says festive like a punch bowl complete with a floating ice ring. Try this classic punch recipe, swapping out the soda water with Champagne.

Spiked Italian Fruit Punch

The Food

This is a cocktail party, so paying attention to the ratio of alcohol to food is a must. No one wants to end up with a lampshade on his or her head. Look to the classic “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook” for recipes that are as kitschy as they are substantial. You can’t go wrong with cheese spreads and bowls of mixed nuts and Chex mix, but also include heavier apps like cocktail wienies and meatballs. If you’d like, ask guests to bring one of these throwback appetizers to share. What could be more ’60s than a potluck.

Cocktail Parties 101

Classic Betty

Part of the charm of late-night entertaining is its informality. Encourage guests to help themselves to hors d'oeuvres and the bar.

Hydration Station

It’s important to stay hydrated whilst cocktailing. Encourage guests to up their water intake by placing a pretty pitcher filled with ice water near the bar.

Coffee Break

Breaking out the coffee is the most polite way to let your guests know it’s time to head out. Whether it’s decaf or the real deal is up to you.