The Cocktail Party, 60s Wisdom from Geneviève Antoine Dariaux
Stephen Tortorici , Editor | Sep 8, 2014
Title: Editor
Topic category: Vodka

I discovered La Geneviève in the early 90s when my friend Suzi showed me her copy of Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions she had received as an amusing gift. What it turned out to be was a window into another era. Along with the experiencing 1960s sweet Whisky and Bourbon-based cocktails, I had now had a completely enlightened understanding of why my mother was the way she was. But aside from that, much of the advice still holds true today. I began trolling for more from Geneviève and found two more volumes; The Men in Your Life and Entertaining with Elegance. The Latter imparts evergreen advice on how to have your ultra-chic cocktail party go off with a minimum of fuss and muss. I did not include the second part outlining how to handle large cocktail parties.

But who was (or is, I’m not sure if she’s still with us) she? Her publisher Harper-Collins wrote, Madame Genevieve Antoine Dariaux spent most of her life in Paris, and now lives in the south of France. Even as a child she preferred to accompany her mother to the dressmaker's rather than go to the movies. Her talent for design and making costume jewelry led her to open her own fashion house, and her success eventually took her to Nina Ricci, where she was the directrice for many years.

And now, Cocktail Party.

For business organizations as well as for the private hostess, the cocktail party is the invention of the century. [1.] This form of mass entertaining has even become so overdone and banal that very chic people make a point of claiming that the never go to one, and if they invite you to their home at 6 P.M., they always say, “Come for a drink,” carefully avoiding that fateful word, “cocktail” (which is, furthermore, very seldom served anymore).

Nevertheless, I give cocktail parties, you give cocktail parties, we give cocktail parties—and we may as well do it with elegance.

There are, generally speaking, just two different kinds of cocktail parties: small ones and big ones, the first being infinitely more elegant than the second, which should be reserved exclusively for publicity and business purposes.

Small Cocktail Parties—or—“Come for a Drink!”

Composed of ten to thirty guests, the intimate cocktail party may be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. The smaller one’s living room, the greater the chances of success of this type of gathering. And if you happen to live in a very spacious dwelling, it is preferable to hold your party in one of the coziest rooms. This is an excellent way to entertain visitors from out of town, newcomers to the community, or any interesting person you would like your friends to meet. You may even invite to this kind of reception an attractive couple you recently met at a dinner party, whereas it would seem somewhat aggressive to have them to dinner on the strength of so slight and recent an acquaintance. In this way the small cocktail party is one of the most useful entertaining methods of sociable people who have a great many friends with whom they wish to maintain social relations.

When there are very few guests, you must at all costs avoid dispersing the centers of interest. Since a cocktail party is essentially a stand-up reception, your guests will move around more easily if there is not too much furniture or too many chairs in the middle of the room.
[2.] You can arrange a few conversational corners for weary or elderly persons, but each should be able to accommodate at least five or six people in order to avoid trapping your prettiest, wittiest guest on an isolated love seat with the weariest, oldest one.

The atmosphere will be more informal if you do not set up a buffet table, but instead place platters of appetizers all around the room on the tables, side tables, piano, etc., and from time to time pass around a tray of hot hors d’oeurves. Generally speaking, the smaller the number of guests, the more they will eat. You will need to provide at least six or eight canapés apiece when there are only twelve of you, whereas with forty or fifty guests the quantity can be reduced to five or six per person, but there should be a wider variety. Before the war, when sweet aperitifs were in fashion, the rule used to be to prepare one tray of sweet tidbits (petit fours, candied fruit, tiny cake squares etc.) for every two or three trays of salted snacks and sandwiches. But tastes have changed, and nowadays one to four would be a more realistic proportion, and at a small party the sweets are often eliminated entirely.

The bar can be set up on a rolling tea cart or an equivalent piece of furniture (even the top of a commode), with all the glasses and bottles needed for drinks, which the host and hostess serves to each arriving guest. With less than twenty-five guests, you should be able to manage without a waiter.
[3.] At the moment, in Europe at least, it is quite sufficient to offer no more than a choice of Scotch, with soda or plain water and ice, or Vodka, tomato or orange juice; in the United States you would add bourbon, and an assortment of soft drinks as well as the favorite of your particular community, along with the hallowed Dry Martini—and if you wish to give me a special treat, the ingredients of a Whisky Sour! Dry Sherry, slightly chilled, is simple to serve as are Dubonnet and even champagne if your are feeling festive and rich. Remember that the general trend today [4.] is toward drier, more straightforward drinks such as sherry and Scotch on the rocks, rather than syrupy aperitifs and complicated mixed cocktails of a few years ago. This has so simplified bar inventories that today, if you are provided with bitters, a few lemons and limes, tiny cocktail onions (which transform a Dry Martini into a Gibson), a little sugar, a jar of olives and one of cherries, in addition to a few bottles of liquor (scotch, bourbon, rye, gin, French vermouth, vodka), you are prepared to fill any cocktail order.

At a small cocktail party it is very chic to offer in addition one personal specialty, [5.] such as a hot buttered rum or mulled wine in the winter, or in the summertime a mint julep, Pimm’s cup, planter’s punch, etc., attractively garnished and served in special glasses or mugs, a frosty pitcher, or a fragrant steaming bowl, as the case may be.

It is difficult to estimate how much your guests will drink, for capacities and habits vary enormously. The average consumption is probably two or three drinks per person,
[6.] and you can expect to get twelve to sixteen glasses from an aperitif bottle, six glasses from a bottle of champagne, and about twenty drinks from a bottle of whisky. Often your liquor dealer will agree to accept for a refund afterward any unopened bottles, and it is always better to have leftover liquor than suddenly run short, which can either cause your guests to leave earlier than you’d hoped, or oblige them to mix their liquor with possible disastrous results! In any case, be sure to have on hand plenty of ice cubes and soda water, plus a pitcher of plain water and one of fruit juice for non-drinkers.

When there is no host to serve as bartender and no professional help, you can ask a good friend to fill this role. If he is not at all experienced in cocktail parties, you will not need to remind him that the time-honored barman’s technique is to make the first drink on the stiff side, with the following rounds somewhat milder.
[7.] Should your volunteer desert his post, it is usually better to call on another, or take over yourself, rather than expect your guests to help themselves.

Don’t forget to have plenty of ashtrays scattered around at strategic spots, along with several cigarette boxes filled with an assortment of cigarettes,
[8.] and matches or a couple of table lighters that really work. You will probably be too busy introducing new arrivals, keeping your guests circulating (but without ever breaking up a genuinely absorbing conversation) and seeing that nobody is stranded or stuck to have time to empty overflowing ashtrays, so use large ones. (But take the time to empty them into a covered receptacle if the ever become offensive to the eye or the nose.) A lighted candle is supposed to be an effective antidote to smoked-filled rooms, while the perfumed kind masks the stake odor at the same time.

The essence of the art of being a perfect cocktail-party hostess can be expressed in a few brief phrases: the ones a hostess pronounces when she greets each guest, and her introductions as she presents them to each other. The first should immediately put each arrival in the relaxed and friendly mood, and the second should contain clue to mutual interesting subject of conversation. [9.] In other words, the principal duty of a cocktail hostess provide her guests with amusing or rewarding social intercourse in addition to refreshments. With more than ten or twelve guests, the mission can be quite preoccupying, especially when many of them are strangers; and if there are more than twenty, it is unlikely that she will find the time to enjoy her own party—particularly if she has the misfortune to be harassed by one of the following problems:

She has invited thirty guests and wonders how many of them will turn up. Usually you can expect three out of four at any average party, and about two out of three at a large one. But the only elegant thing to do is to prepare sufficient food and drink for all of them, even if you eat party leftovers for the rest of the week.

One of the guests has had too much to drink and is becoming aggressive (or loud, or amorous, etc., etc.) Immediate first aid for mild cases it to ply him [11.] with food. But there is just one permanent remedy: ask a good friend to take the person home.

The Wallflower. Take her [12.] and introduce her to a good, kindhearted friend. [13.] But don’t attempt to integrate her into a large group, for this will only intimidate her more.

The guest who arrives to early.

Fifteen minutes early: “How marvelous! We an have a nice chat before the others arrive!”
One hour early—when you are not even dressed yet: send excuses and a drink via your maid or your husband. (But this does not happen too often.)

The guests who never want to go home.

If they are not important to you: kick off your shoes and yawn.
If they are very important: make the most of it. Be witty, vivacious and so delighted by their company that perhaps your husband will get an offer of a better job. And be sure to protest when at last they make a move to go, “Oh, must you really leave so soon?’

The invitations said “From 6 to 8,” but it is already 6:45 and there are only four disappointed arrivals. Perhaps you haven’t invited enough people, or perhaps another, more popular hostess is entertaining on the same evening. Next time you should check the social calendar to make sure that yours is the only party scheduled for that particular day—or at least the most enticing.

But wait until seven before becoming discouraged, because the great majority of cocktail-party guests arrive in a bunch during the middle.

Personally, I have always disliked the formula “5 to 7” or “6 to 8,” for it seems to me ungracious to place a time limit on your hospitality. it is of course unavoidable when you have rented a salon, which must be often cleared by a certain hour to make way for the next party, and this is one of the major disadvantages of entertaining in a hotel or club. Furthermore, if you do not mention a closing time, some guests may have the impression that they are being invited for the entire evening, including a buffet dinner. Nevertheless, I prefer to word my cocktail invitations “Cocktails from six o’clock on,” and if a guest interprets it as meaning “…on until midnight”—see above.

Some observations:

2. I read many years ago advice from Chessy Rayner. When you have a party, see how the guests rearrange your furniture to create conversational groups. This will always reveal the optimal furniture placement in your room.
3. LOL
4. Today, meaning 1965.
5. Mine would be the Southside.
6. Three to five drinks for my guests, actually. My polite society is not so polite.
7. I do not subscribe to this rule. A lot of times this goes in reverse. Always with interesting results.
8. I do not endorse or recommend smoking. However in this day and age of the near legalization of cannabus for recreational use it can be substituted, pending legality. If so, please remember to quadruple your allotment of canapés per person, see above.
9. An example. Introduction: “Reginald, I’d like to introduce you to Alfred Windsor-Mountbatton.” Clue: “I read earlier this month taxidermy is increasing in popularity.”
10. I can imagine the hoards of unpopular cocktail-party hostesses coping with an unwelcome surplus of diced ham.
11. Apparently during the 1960s only men were loud, drunken and amorous when over intoxicated. This did not become more prevalent with women until the 1970s.
12. Apparently during the 1960s only women were wallflowers. This did not become more prevalent with men until the 1970s.
13. Today, this means deploy your nearest gay male friend.
14. If you lack a maid or a husband, entertain at your own risk.

Tags: Geneviève Antoine Dariaux, Cocktail Party
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