How To Host a Cocktail Party

how to host a cocktail party; how to make the perfect cheese plate

Cocktail parties are the best. Unlike dinner parties, there’s no pressure to make a full meal. In fact, all you really need is one great signature cocktail and a few yummy nibbles and you are set.

Thanks to Blue Diamond Almonds, who sponsored our latest fete in Beverly Hills, I was able to put together a Mad Men-themed cocktail party that channeled the glamour of the ’60s, while retaining an effortless yet elegant ease. In fact, it might just have been my favorite party to date!

withsuzyhow to style a bar cart

Check out all the party pics below to get ideas for hosting your own cocktail party without breaking a sweat. 

Behold, the 10 Steps to an Easy & Elegant Cocktail Party….

drink markers

1. Serve a Signature Drink

Nothing says Mad Men like martinis, so we chose a classic: the gimlet. Luckily our lime tree in Palm Springs was flourishing, so we had fresh limes galore for this classic cocktail that combines 4 parts vodka (or gin — your preference!) with 2 parts fresh lime juice, 2 parts club soda and 1 part simple syrup.

We made three pitchers in advance so we didn’t have to play bartender all night. We kept a few bottles of wine, champagne and Pellegrino on hand for those who opted out of a martini, but having a signature drink makes the party more fun and less work (for you).

gimlet cipe

2. Set the Bar High…and the Table Too

I was excited to use my vintage party glasses I’d just scored in Palm Springs the weekend before, as well as darling birdie drink markers which made it easy for people to tell whose drink was whose.


Glassware and dishes are part of the decor, so have fun with it! A few pretty napkins (these are MADHOUSE by Michael Aram), plus vintage-inspired drink stirrers and you are good to go.

Tip: When setting a bar or table, pay attention to balance and height. A few cake plates add height and dimension and cute striped straws in a champagne glass add playful height as well.

setting a bar cart

3. Create Multiple Serving Stations

You don’t need a big space to have different food and beverage stands. I used my dining room table, sofa table, entryway table and vintage bar cart to create multiple food and drink areas in just our living and dining room — that way no one congregates in just one spot and it keeps the party moving. The idea is that people mix and mingle!

how to make a cheese plate; how to make the perfect cheese plate

4. Make the Perfect Cheese Plate

A cheese plate is always a hit, and the upside is it’s totally easy. The trick to a great cheese plate is balance. You want some hard cheeses, some soft cheeses, something with crunch and something sweet and fruity. I always take advantage of the professionals behind the cheese counter at my local grocery store to see what they recommend but don’t be shy in telling them your preferences — if stinky cheeses aren’t your thing, steer clear of blue cheeses (like I did).  I served: DCI Habanero Cheddar, Amadeus Cheese, Unie Kaas Robusto, Fromager D Affinois Guilloteau, and Mitica Drunken Goat Cheese.

Tip: The general rule of thumb is one ounce of cheese per person.

cocktail party

Unwrap all of your cheeses an hour before you plan to serve them and then assemble your plate: You can go from milder to more pungent in clockwise order or simply lay out the cheeses in the way that looks prettiest and most balanced (my route). To add crunch to a cheese plate, add a few nuts to the plate like these Blue Diamond Almonds, and add something sweet like champagne grapes (they feel fancier than regular grapes!).

Serve with a crunchy baguette and crackers (I loveBlue Diamond Almonds Nut-Thins).

Tip: Remember how much I loved these Merci Cookies? I decided to spell out a message to my guests with Blue Diamond Almonds: CHEERS! (Use what you have and get creative.)

cheersblue diamond almonds bar

5. Serve Fun & Easy Snacks Like a Blue Diamond Bar

In addition to a cheese plate, I always like to have good olives and nuts on hand. And since the lovely folks at Blue Diamond Almonds had sent over a great variety of flavors, I wanted everyone to be able to try them. Hence, a Blue Diamond Bar. Simply empty different varieties of your favorite almonds into small bowls and write the flavors on a card or on labels to let guests know which flavor is which. This was a huge hit as everyone LOVED trying the different varieties of Blue Diamond Almonds.

almond bar

The Blueberry almonds were the hit of the party, while my favorites were the Salt ‘N Vinegar almonds (like Salt N Vinegar chips, minus the guilt). Fred Baby liked the fiery Wasabi & Soy almonds the best. But get creative: Instead of a wine and cheese tasting party, have a martini and almond tasting party!

kristen turner of glitter n glue

I also stuffed olives with Blue Diamond Almonds for a quick cocktail appetizer.

almondstuffedolivesnut barpigs in a blanket; how to make pigs in a blanket; healthier pigs in a blanket

6. Make One Great Appetizer

All you really need at a party is one great appetizer. And at a cocktail party, you want it to be something that’s easy to pop in your mouth. Think bite-sized (no utensils required). Since we were going with the theme of a classic cocktail party, pigs in a blanket were the obvious choice. They’re always a hit, as evidenced by there being zero left over! Plus, they’re cute and you can make them in advance. Simply wrap crescent dough around miniature hotdogs and place on a tray lined with parchment paper. Then, pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes, when you’re ready to serve them (I wait about a half an hour after everyone arrives).

gourmet pigs in a blanket recipesmoked salmon on cucumber bites

I also made a second appetizer of sliced English cucumbers topped with smoked salmon and sprinkled with freshly squeezed lemon and freshly ground pepper. You can make them in advance and just pull them out of the refrigerator when you’re ready to serve.

smoked salmon bites; healthy appetizershow to make a cheese plate

7. Play Good Music

Truth be told, I’m horrible at playlists. Luckily music services like Pandora mean even technophobes like me can have good music at parties. Just choose a theme like “Mad Men” or “Cocktail Party” or “French Music” and you’re all set.


8. Do It Up Nicely with Decor…From Your Drawer!

When it comes to decor for a cocktail party, you really don’t need anything special like streamers or balloons, although I always like to add at least one bunch of fresh flowers. It’s all about the barware, glasses and dishes you use and the dress code (you are the decor!).


In this case, I brought my vintage bar cart over from Palm Springs and utilized vintage glassware and barware to add to the Mad Men theme. Other than that, the decor came down to what we wore.

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style me grasie; grasie mercedes; kelly lee kelly golightlygrasie mercedes style me grasie; sheryl luke walk in wonderland; top la bloggers

9. Pick a Theme & Dress Code

As you know, I love a good theme and a cocktail party — and the recent purchase of a 60s vintage dress provided the perfect occasion to have a Mad Men-themed party. Yes, I planned an entire party’s theme just so I could wear a dress (is that weird?).

Sure, you could just have a cocktail party be your theme, but selecting something a little different makes it more special and fun. There’s the feeling of we’re all in this together…cocktails and all.

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10. Create an Eclectic Guest List

Finally, cocktail parties are a great way to shake things up. Invite some of your best friends, but also invite some new friends too. I take great pleasure in introducing people and also reaching out to people who I want to be friends with. That might sound odd, but life is short — why not? I’ve met 90% of my friends in LA through blogging and social media — clearly we all already have something in common, but I always love it when someone comes up to me and says, “You have the most eclectic group of friends.” And I really love it when someone walks in the door and Fred Baby says “Who is that?”

Maybe I’ve only met the person briefly once, but the best way to get to know someone better is to invite them to do something — and parties are a fun something!  It’s great to know the people you know, but remember: Everyone’s a stranger before they’re a friend, so don’t be afraid to mix things up and invite new people into the mix. Ask your friends to bring someone new and then everyone will get to meet someone new. How great is that? A cocktail party can be any size, but I find that 8-12 guests is an ideal number for a cocktail party at home. Any more than that and you don’t get to talk to all of your guests (always a bummer).

charliebearguestlisttop la fashion bloggerscliffhow to make a gimlet; best gimlet recipe

Those are my elements for a great classic cocktail party. Do you have anything you’d like to add? I’m open to suggestions! Feel free to let me know in the comments… And a huge thank you to Blue Diamond Almonds for making our cocktail party possible and all of our friends, old and new, for making it memorable!

{Pictured above in order: Suzy, Kristen, Jayden, Grasie, Taye, Amelia, Sheryl, Roxy, Caroline, Jenny, Jamie, Beth; Not pictured: Marina}

Art direction + styling by Kelly Lee for Kelly Golightly

Photography by Fred Baby

* This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds. Get Your Good Going with Blue Diamond Almonds and enter for a chance to win your ultimate summer party on Facebook!

blue diamond almonds

 All words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies that make Kelly Golightly & fun posts like these possible. 

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6 thoughts on “How To Host a Cocktail Party

  1. Corin Onorato

    Just stumbled across this and I looooove what you did with the vintage beverage cart! I just had a similar find and I can NOT wait to use it! Also, where did you get your fabulous dress?!


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