Do you love Mad Men? Do the set designs, fashion, culinary delights, and libations of that time delight and excite you? If you share this love with me, break out your cocktail shakers and martini glasses to host an early 1960s-inspired cocktail party with retro hors d’oeuvres, classic cocktails, and period-perfect attire.
Setting a Mid-Century Scene
If you or a friend has a period decorated Mid-Century modern home like those designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or Pierre Koening, it will easily take your guests back in time. Even if you don’t, there are a few simple things you can do to bring this era to your home. Borrow some vintage serving trays from your grandparents or pick some up at your local thrift store. Add a few other household items you would have commonly seen in the home, like rotary phones, bar carts, vintage LIFE magazines, or anything starburst.
Now, we don’t want to advocate smoking, but cigarettes were a big sign of that time. Instead, put out candy cigarettes to help everyone get into mad man (or woman) mood while being a fun photo prop without suggesting that people smoke. You can pick up candy cigarettes through many sellers of vintage candies.
Lastly, set the mood with the right music. For a 60s soundtrack to play throughout the night, go with musical artists of the time like Rosemary Clooney, Frankie Laine, and Ella Fitzgerald. Hopefully after a few drinks, your guests will be inclined to do a few dances of the 60s, such as the Twist or Mashed Potato.
Retro Hors D’oeuvres
For a retro cocktail party food menu, you will want to go with early 60s era classics. Finger foods were a popular party food during that time. Think chips and dip, mixed nuts, and deviled eggs. All items that can be easily eaten with one hand while carrying a drink in the other.
Passed hors d’oeuvres consisting of both small bites of warm and cold foods are exactly the simple kinds of foods you will want for your Mad Men menu. Stuffed mushrooms were a cocktail party staple of the early 60s, and they will be just as popular with your guests today. Add some shrimp cocktail and an assortment of canapés to easily round out the menu.
To delight our friends and lovers of Mid-Century Modern for the night, we served stuffed mushrooms, smoked salmon canapés, deviled eggs, cream cheese stuffed celery, California dip (as known as onion dip) and chips, mixed nuts, mini cheese balls, and Li’l Smokies wrapped in bacon.
Give everything a modern upgrade by using premium ingredients and adding little extras. We added bacon to the top of half our deviled eggs and gourmet macadamia nuts and pistachios to our mixed nuts.
Keeping friends’ food sensitivities and preferences in mind always shows the signs of a gracious host. If you are going to add meat to something that normally does not contain meat, make half of them without. Our vegetarian friends were glad to see that half of our deviled eggs were meat-free and only topped with fresh parsley from the garden. Remember, the vegetarian food always disappears the quickest since everyone eats it. Make sure there’s plenty for all.
With so many people having gluten sensitivities these days, I took our menu a step further, making the whole menu gluten-free. The smoked salmon canapés were served on rounds of cucumber instead of bread. The traditional large cheese ball served with crackers was made into individual mini cheese balls served on picks; I left the crackers at the store.
When guests start to arrive, pass the hors d’oeuvres twice before setting them on the table to let your guests help themselves. This is a great opportunity to say hello to everyone as you make your rounds and to make sure everyone knows where they can put their coats, hats, and purses.
Bacon Wrapped Lit’l Smokies
- 1 pound bacon, cut into thirds
- 1 pound Lit’l Smokies
- 1 stick butter
- 2 cups brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 375F. Cut the bacon into thirds and wrap each piece around one Lit’l Smokie. Place all the wrapped smokies in a single layer in a large baking dish. Melt the stick of butter and 1 cup of the brown sugar over low heat in a saucepan on the stove while constantly stirring until mixed well. Pour the butter and brown sugar mixture over the bacon wrapped smokies. Sprinkle the other cup of brown sugar evenly over the smokies. Bake them for about 20 minutes and then turn the heat up to 400F for about 5 minutes or longer until the bacon becomes crispy. Be careful when you remove these from the oven because they will be hot!
Keep the Focus on the Booze
When it comes to the cocktails, keep them simple. Pick one or two to be your signature cocktails of the night, along with an alcoholic punch, or it will turn into a bartending nightmare. Fantastic classic drinks to serve are martinis, the Old Fashioned, or even the Mai Tai. For an extra kick, add a bottle or two of Scotch.
Set up a self-serve bar on a vintage cart. Add decanters of alcohol, instructions for making the signature drinks, double old-fashioned drink glasses, and plenty of ice in an ice bucket. When it comes to a cocktail party, you can never have too much ice.
I highly recommend serving an alcoholic punch. Not only are punches easy to make, can be made in advance, and are easy to replenish, but they are also a true representative of that time. Once made, guests can help themselves to more, keeping you free to mingle.
Scorpion Bowl Punch
Combine the rum, juices, orgeat syrup, brandy, and ice cubes in a large punch bowl. Stir. To serve, fill a double old-fashioned glass with the crushed ice and pour the drink over the top.
Dress the Era
Almost as important as the cocktails and menu is the attire. Ask your guests to come dressed in Mad Men style to really get the party swinging in a 60s direction. A trip to the thrift store can supply you and your guests with all kinds of vintage clothing accessories. We want to see dresses and suits on all of your party guests, including yourself.
Ladies, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for to wear that amazing vintage cocktail dress that you have hidden in your closet! Do your hair up in a vintage style representative of the time; add some red lipstick and a matching purse, hat, and shoes. Want to go the extra mile? Wear gloves to give your outfit a polished look.
Men, you are going to look best in classic black suits worn with a white shirt and skinny tie. Add a fedora hat to really turn the ladies’ heads. If you need more ideas on how to dress, flip on Mad Men for a few minutes and you’ll be sure to nail the part.
From the décor to the dress and the food to the cocktails, you’ll be able to bring the 60s to your party through these fun planning tips. Your guests will appreciate how authentic you are with all the details and getting to see everyone all dressed up. Now, pour yourself a cocktail and don’t forget the ice!
Photo credits: takomabibelot, author, author, author, and Hanna Nikkanen.