Conversation fills the air, spirits fill your glass, and everyone is dressed to impress — welcome to the classic American cocktail party. But how did such a simple social shindig become a staple of cocktail culture? Turns out, we can thank a few independent women, the introduction of Prohibition, and even baby bottles — that’s right, baby bottles.
Let the Party Begin
According to the father of American mixology, Jerry Thomas, people had been gathering for cocktails for years before the cocktail party. But in 1917, everything changed.
Clara Bell Walsh of St. Louis was one of the wealthiest people in the region, if not the country. And she liked to show it by sharing it with others. While most parties occurred in the evenings, Mrs. Walsh decided to throw an afternoon bash with cocktails aplenty. She invited her close friends and kept the festivities brief to just an hour or two.
Rumors spread that the drinks were served out of baby bottles, too. It was just an added novelty to an already unique afternoon party. Mrs. Walsh and her friends weren’t just fun, independent women — they were true pioneers.
Cocktail Parties Go Underground
Just as cocktail parties were growing in popularity in bars and clubs throughout the country, Prohibition threatened to put an end to all of it. Ironically, it had the opposite effect. Instead of meeting at local haunts, patrons flocked to friends’ homes and underground speakeasies.
The cocktail party become an all but essential way for people to get together and get their fix of their favorite spirits. But since there wasn’t another event to get to afterwards, the cocktail parties of the Prohibition era tended to be longer, and wilder, than cocktail parties nowadays.
Be the Host with the Most
Today, cocktail parties are as popular as ever. If you’re interested in hosting one soon, good for you. But here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Keep it short. Plan for your party to last just a couple of hours. You can always meet somewhere afterwards but always keep them wanting more.
- Consider a theme. Cocktail attire is always fun but take inspiration from Mrs. Walsh and her “Baby Parties” to do something even more memorable.
- Don’t forget snacks. Since cocktail parties usually happen before dinner, it’s important to keepThe Cocktail Party: An Old-Fashioned Origin Story
guests nourished — and hydrated.
Stock up your bar cart and hosting essentials with favorites from our shop. And cheers to keeping the cocktail party going.