Who knows when it happened (post-World Series win? pre-writers' strike?), but the holiday season is rather abruptly upon us, with its glittering mall displays and inflatable lawn Santas and long, long shopping lists. Time for a cocktail. A cocktail party, that is. But what kind of fete to have? Should you go formal, with crystal stemware and candlelight? Or is a trendy, offbeat bash more your speed? What about just inviting the gang over after work? Here are a few ideas to get you started. We asked some of Boston's top barkeeps for their best holiday cocktail recipes, renowned DJs for their playlists, and got tips from party planners. What's left to do? Just pick a date and make it happen.
On cocktail party, served three ways:
MUSIC PLAYLIST - DJ CLAUDE MONEY
Sean Quinn, a.k.a. Claude Money, who spins soul music at the Middlesex Lounge and ZuZu!, advises planning a playlist that reflects your crowd. Most important, he says, "stay loose and funky."
Vince Guaraldi Trio, "O Tannenbaum"
Marvin Gaye, "Purple Snowflakes"
Stevie Wonder, "What Christmas Means to Me"
Clarence Carter, "Back Door Santa"
The Ronettes, "Frosty the Snowman"
Jackson 5, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"
Binky Griptite, "Stoned Soul Christmas"
Ray Charles, "Winter Wonderland"
Bob Marley, "Sound the Trumpet"
Bing Crosby, "Mele Kalikimaka"
TIPS FROM A PRO
Emma Roberts, owner of Capers Catering in Stoneham
For a formal cocktail party, use antique cloth cocktail napkins.
Set up your bar with decanter bottles and use 2-by-3-inch signs to tell you what's in them. It's more interesting than just having the bottles on the bar. You can also display menus for people to make their own signature cocktail.
Use a ton of candles in all shapes and sizes so there are no overhead lights. Overhead lights make everyone look old and wrinkly.
SET THE PERFECT TABLE
Cambria cream tablecloth, Crate & Barrel, $120
Antler candle centerpiece, Pottery Barn, $39
Martini glasses, Bed, Bath & Beyond. $29.99 for set.
Red berries salad plates, Bed, Bath & Beyond, $79.99 for a full dinner set
Birch pillar candles, Target, $5.99, $7.99 and $12.99
Cranberry tree centerpiece, Target, $14.99
Dried leaves vase filler, Target, $2.99/ box
Crackle vase, HomeGoods, $24.99
SIGNATURE DRINK - JACOB MARLEY MANHATTAN
If you demand that guests arrive at your party in Diane von Furstenberg instead of fleece, you'd better be mixing a drink that is just as posh. L'Espalier's Jacob Marley Manhattan calls for some of the finest (read: priciest) ingredients found on liquor store shelves.
1 1/4 oz. Sazerac 18 year rye
1 oz. Licor 43
1 oz. Château de Laubade Bas-Armagnac XO
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain and pour into chilled martini glass. Garnish with a homemade spun sugar peppermint stirrer. (From Erik Johnson of L'Espalier).
MUSIC PLAYLIST - DJ MANNY LEHMAN
Best known for remixing songs from Madonna and Janet Jackson and DJing at massive circuit parties, Manny Lehman suggests staying away from traditional holiday tunes for an after-work soiree.
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, "Ain't Nobody"
Bee Gees, "Night Fever"
Loleatta Holloway, "Love Sensation"
M.F.S.B., "Love is the Message"
Frankie Knuckles, "The Whistle Song"
Lace, "Can't Play Around"
Barry White, "Can't Get Enough of Your Love"
Chaka Khan, "Clouds"
Donna Summer, "Last Dance"
TIPS FROM A PRO
Linda Matzkin, president of Hopple Popple Event Planners in Newton
Keep an after-work party short and sweet. Six o'clock to 8 o'clock is good. People want to come in, have a drink and go home to their families during the holidays.
Make the food readily available from the minute people arrive.
Provide food stations, like a soup station or a hot beverage station.
SET THE PERFECT TABLE
Green tablecloth, Target, $12.99
Black and white placemat, Target, $3.99
Mirror centerpiece HomeGoods, $24.99
Sway martini glass, Crate & Barrel, $9.95 each
Square white plates, Target, $2.95 each
Fortune tealight, Crate & Barrel, $7.90 each
Highball and lowball glasses, Target, $39.99 for 12
Paper napkins, the Paper Annex, $3.99 a pack
White lantern, $15; green lantern, $20, Anthropologie
Black pebble used as a chopstick rest, Target, $7.99 for a bag
For recipes and a bonus playlist, go to boston.com/yourlife/home/stylephile
SIGNATURE DRINK - BELLE DE JOUR
Eastern Standard's Belle de Jour, a drink as gorgeous as Catherine Deneuve in the movie of the name, will impress co-workers with its festive hue and bubbly, sweet taste.
1/2 oz. brandy VSOP
1/2 oz. Benedictine
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. homemade grenadine
3 oz. sparkling wine (such as cava brut)
Combine ingredients over ice and shake just once or twice to mix the ingredients with a touch of melted ice water. Strain into a champagne flute and top with 3 ounces of sparkling wine. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel. (From Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard)
MUSIC PLAYLIST - DJ JUNIOR VASQUEZ
Junior Vasquez, a linchpin of New York nightlife, says "play two songs that the crowd will recognize to one song they may have never heard. And never forget, you must always have lots of Madonna."
Britney Spears, "Gimme More"
Alicia Keys, "No One"
Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"
Madonna "The Beat Goes On"
Noel "Silent Morning"
Samantha Jade, "Eyes on Me"
Jason Walker, "I Can't Get You Off My Mind"
Sia, "Breathe Me"
Afrika Bambaataa, "Planet Rock"
Sunshine Anderson, "Something I Wanna Give You"
TIPS FROM THE PROS
Neal Balkowitsch and Dan Mathieu, co-owners of Max Ultimate Food in Dorchester
Want to look hip? Change the colors of the season. No red or green. Infuse your decorations with a color like frosted white or brown or silver.
Use edible decorations by stacking up containers filled with snacks. Spicy homemade chips or vodka-infused cherry tomatoes. They look decorative, but they are not the typical floral centerpieces.
For the menu, give up the traditional holiday thinking. Do a Moroccan feast because of all the deep flavors you can duplicate. Or Japanese food would be fabulous in a cool minimalist fashion. It's all about shaking it up.
SET THE PERFECT TABLE
Gold shimmer tablecloth, Bed Bath & Beyond $24.99
Ice block tea light candle holder, HomeGoods $7.99
Snake-print salad plate, West Elm, $7
Champagne flutes, West Elm, $8 each
Kate Spade silver candlesticks, Bed, Bath & Beyond, $50 for two
Brown sparkle votives, HomeGoods, $5.99 for a pack of 5
Holiday "crackers," Bed, Bath & Beyond, $12.99 for a box of 10
Silver rope candleholder, West Elm, $14.99
Drinking glasses, Anthropologie, $8 each
Disco ball ornaments,
THE CANDY CANE MARTINI
Kevin Durgin, bartender at the chic District, spends his evenings whipping up cocktails that look just as swank as his Leather District club's decor. This green, glowing libation is easy to make and serves as both breath freshener and party-starter.
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. peppermint schnapps
1 oz. white creme de cacao
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into martini glass. Coat the rim of martini glass with crushed candy cane and serve with a candy-cane stirrer. (From Kevin Durgin of District Restaurant and Lounge)