Mitchell Crosby is one of those people for whom entertaining is second nature. And not just any ol' entertaining. I'm talking about entertaining with Style. I suppose that you would expect this from a man who is one of Charleston's preeminent event planners (JMC Charleston), but there is a reason that Mitchell went into the event planning business. Perhaps it's because he's a native Charlestonian- you know, they especially love the social life- but I think it's also a result of his graciousness and his desire to make people feel special. (That's Mitchell at top. You can just tell that he knows how to mix a great martini.)
I've been thinking of writing a few posts in which people with us their thoughts on entertaining. But what I wanted to make clear was that I wasn't talking about a seated dinner for 16. Personally, I enjoy entertaining like that but I'm also a glutton for punishment. I wanted to do something more along the lines of having people over for drinks. I think that this is the way most people entertain nowadays. It's really quite easy, and there's no excuse not to have people over for some fun. And perhaps if we're armed with some sage tips from the pros, we might actually get over our fears and have people into our homes- and actually enjoy it too!
So, on to Mitchell's thoughts on drinks, food, and the good life:
Do you have a bar cart or drinks tray in your home? Do you let people mix their own drinks, or do you do the honors? Also, do you ever serve a festive cocktail to your guests? Or, do you stick to the basics?
All of my friends know where the bar is in my home. As I think of it as a destination, it must be well stocked for the event at hand. I usually let my guests know if I will make more than "the first one" or if that one will they be on their own! This usually depends on whether or not there are "out of the inner circle" friends there. In that case, I make the drinks.
The stocked bar always has:
- lots of linen napkins as I feel a fresh napkin is as important as a fresh glass
- wonderfully heavy double old fashioned glasses and extra large wine glasses
- lots of ice in a handsome padded bucket with tongs
- nice size wedged fruit (who can squeeze a slice?), tasty stuffed olives
- good vodka, bourbon, blended whiskey, scotch, gin, dry vermouth
- red wine only if I know someone drinks it during cocktails
If one is going to serve a "theme drink" or set the tone for a set style of drink, I usually announce that in the invitation - verbal or written. "Come for Mimosas and Drivers", "Come for Martinis and Manhattans", "Come for Prosecco in the Garden". That sets the expectation and clears the air for anyone who may wish to ask for something else in advance.
Case in point - at a Summer White Party I hosted for a friend's 50th, I chose to have a full bar and "White Cosmos", made with White Cranberry Juice. A guest looked me right in the eye and said "I suppose I will be the designated driver tonight as I ONLY drink champagne". Begrudgingly, I pulled two bottles of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame out of the chiller and placed them with the bartender and informed him to keep them under the bar and serve them in a wine glass to her as not to start a stampede. She drank them both!
What about food? Is there one hors d'oeuvre that you like to serve? Or, do you just put out a bowl of nuts or crackers?
When sitting for cocktails in the living room where we can all reach the coffee table, or standing in the kitchen while cooking, I like educating people about cheese and accoutrements. I take the label from the monger and use a glue stick to place it on a place card and attach it to a bamboo pick so as to identify said cheese. I ask the monger for their recommendations for jams (quince, pear, fig are the expected) and then dried fruits and nuts. I place the cheeses together with what is suggested so that guests will have an opinion about what they are trying. This is nice with certain wine pairings and just fine with cocktails as well.
When in the garden, I tend to offer passed items due to the bugs in the South. Deviled Eggs, Pimento Cheese in Celery Sticks or on Ginger Snaps!
Sunday Brunch cocktails always call for something poured over Cream Cheese - I love to try at the Farmers Market different condiments like Peach Chutney, Green Tomato Relish and such. Also, fresh Charleston Blue Crab and a Louie Sauce over Cream Cheese is divine!
Any other tips?
- NEVER RUN OUT OF WHAT YOU ARE SERVING. These items do not go bad, so why not stock your bar and be ready for the next event?
- Always have good sparkling water on the bar and have it well chilled. If it is hot, I will often offer guests a glass of sparkling just to quench their thirst. If you offer a vodka tonic to someone who has just worked, showered and may be a bit dehydrated, they will get drunk quickly and pay for it the next day.
- Keep the bar tidy. Keep a lovely towel there for spills, have a back up wine tool should yours break, and inspect the glasses ahead of time for lipstick and smudges. A great cocktail starts with a clean glass; not one that might have a bit of dust and a dog hair on it!
In closing, if you are serving dinner, I enjoy after dinner drinks very much. Port, Madeira, Cognacs....dinner is not dinner until you have ascended to withdrawing for the after dinner drinks! That sounds like a line from Doris Duke or Dorothy Parker, but I swear it is not!