Party Like It’s 1920
Twenty ways you can host the most memorable Roaring Twenties NYE bash
Prohibition kicked off the decade infamously known as the Roaring Twenties. But despite the alcohol ban, human spirits soared as jazz provided a soundtrack to a booming economy in which women were becoming more independent than ever before. There's no better way to celebrate 2020 than with a nod to these jovial times, and to the spirit that has been quintessentially American since before Prohibition: bourbon.
We asked Nicole Stipp, co-owner of Trouble Bar in Louisville, Ky., and board member of the Bourbon Women's Association, to help us compile 20 essential tips to hosting a memorable Roaring Twenties New Year’s Eve party. As a bonus, she threw in some ideas for bourbon tasting events.
Set the Atmosphere
1. NYE is a night of party-hopping. Make sure people come to your door by advertising a free gift to a set number of first guests through the door. Think a coupon for their next drink free; something that will bring them back. Once they're in, they'll be able to see why they should stay.
2. It's important the staff stands apart from guests for many reasons, but you still want them to have fun with the theme. Go for sleek, simple black and let them accessorize with hats, pearls, headbands and gloves.
3. Speakeasies weren't just for drinking. Your guests will Charleston right into 2020 if you hire a jazz band or deejay that will mix in songs by the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Benny Goodman and Bessie Smith. They didn't call it the Jazz Age for nothing.
4. Snacks are essential to keeping hunger at bay and slowing the absorption of alcohol. Whether it makes better sense for your establishment to have a grazing table or a downsized "bar menu," load it with timely favorites like mixed nuts, an olive/cornichon tray, paté, cheese and crackers, and even shrimp cocktail and caviar.
5. Scatter bowls of cheap party favors for guests to complete their ensemble and add to the vibe: strings of "pearl" beads, black feathers to adorn their noggins, and of course chic cigarette holders with boxes of candy cigarettes.
Let the Night Take Flight
7. It's a long night of imbibing. When you're hosting a bourbon tasting, start small. "We like to do one-ounce pours," says Stipp.
6. For a perfect Twenties flight, "do something that pays homage to all of the distilleries that were open before and after Prohibition," suggests Stipp. "Old Forester 1920, Eagle Rare and Evan Williams 100 is a really great flight for this exact occasion."
8. Pay attention to proof. "Proof is really the only hard and fast thing you need to follow when you do a tasting because if you drink something that's 100 proof and then go back to something that's 87, your palate won't really be able to adjust," warns Stipp. Categorize spirits by proof and have guests build their own flights for a personalized experience.
9. Stipp always serves a big glass each of ice and water during tastings. "It's easier for bourbon converts to pick up nuanced flavors with a bit of water and ice to open the whiskey up," she notes.
10. Get next level with a cocktail flight. At Trouble, Stipp recently collaborated with Knob Creek to dabble with three variations of Old Fashioneds, using the same syrup and bitters, plus using Knob Creek’s bourbon, rye and reserve whiskeys.
Mix with Efficiency
11. Offer gateway cocktails. "If you're a bar or restaurant that people don't come to specifically for bourbon, the best entryway is a cocktail," suggests Stipp. Her two go-tos are Old Fashioneds and sours for their palatability. Use two ounces of spirits and fresh citrus. "If blended together correctly, they can make a super sippable drink."
12. "Batched Old Fashioneds are a dream," declares Stipp, who suggests focusing on a brand and including the bourbon for the speediest service. "For parties, we absolutely batch and put things in our speedwell, so maybe it's a two bottle pull instead of five. Big-batch cocktails are always such a great way to expedite service and be able to engage more with party-goers."
13. "Another fun batch approach is to involve bubbly," says Stipp. It is New Year's after all! Just remember the golden rule of using anything carbonated in cocktails: Add any bubbly at the end after shaking.
14. Have a variety of non-alcoholic options available. Just because someone might not be drinking alcohol doesn't mean they don't want to get festive. The market is overflowing these days with NA craft IPAs and stouts, non-alcoholic wine and bubbly that come simply ready to pour. Or get creative and batch a spirit-free cocktail. Just please don't limit your non-imbibing guests to boring seltzer or syrupy soda.
15. Bump up your bubbly. Add a homemade syrup in a glass with Champagne or NA sparkling for a more festive toast during the ball drop. And don't forget the bubbly if you're hosting a dinner pairing. "Champagne cocktails are nice because those bubbles kind of wash everything away between sips," says Stipp.
The Perfect Pair
16. Team up with a local purveyor for quality items that pair well with your cocktails. Stipp and her team at Trouble look toward their local cheesemonger Harvey's Cheese for a spread worth partying over. "They'll try and pull cheeses and dips that would pair well with a bourbon cocktail," says Stipp.
17. Utilize citrus-forward cocktails with food. "Anytime I do food pairings, I try and involve cocktails with as much citrus as possible," says Stipp. "That citrus acts as a palate cleanser, so it's really nice if you're serving heavy dishes or meat with a lot of fat. A whiskey sour can just shoot right through that heaviness."
18. Make everything tie together by finding cocktail inspiration using what you've already got in your kitchen—or on your cheese board. "Usually I'll do a cheese plate for an appetizer and pull some extra dried fruit off to the side, cook it down and make a little syrup," says Stipp, whose favorites include dried figs and apricots.
19. No theme party is complete without a costume contest. Yes, it encourages good costuming, which always makes the party more festive, but it's also the perfect way to bring guests back to your establishment with a prize like a comped bar tab or a gift card/certificate for dinner.
20. Safety is the ultimate goal. “There’s absolutely nothing more important to me than responsible drinking," stresses Stipp. Make sure your staff is comfortable cutting guests off if necessary, and have numbers for taxis available for people who don't Lyft or Uber. "Being dangerously drunk is not the best time for you or anyone," Stipp adds, "and our job in hospitality is to make sure you and everyone around you have the best time possible."