Unique Ideas for a Cocktail Party at Home
Keep your next get-together casual with a fun little cocktail party! These are all of my best unique ideas for hosting a cocktail party at home. From food and decor to drink ideas and party tips, you’ll find everything you need to keep the party simple, festive, and of course, fun!
I have officially entered my cocktail party era. Don’t get me wrong, hitting up a bar on the weekends is one of my all-time favorite things to do. But I’ve really been leaning in to cozy, at-home gatherings lately and it’s been absolutely lovely.
If the term ‘cocktail party’ feels a little stuffy to you, it’s time to re-think the entire concept. Modern cocktail parties are all about getting together with friends, sipping on some homemade cocktails, and snacking on delicious hors d’oeuvres. Red lipstick and sequins? Optional but highly encouraged.
If you want to hang with friends but want something a bit more casual than a brunch party or small dinner party, this is a great place to start. Here’s some of my favorite ideas to inspire your next get-together!
Create a cocktail menu
It doesn’t need to be said that drinks are the most important part of a cocktail party. So you’ll want to pick a few signature cocktails depending on how many people you’re inviting. You can pick as many cocktails as you like but I usually stick to 2-3 to keep things simple. Here are a few of my favorites that have been a hit at every cocktail party I’ve thrown over the past 8 years!
- French 77 Cocktail with Gin
- Ginger Old Fashioned
- Bourbon Apple Cider Cocktail with Ginger Beer
- Orange Dirty Shirley Cocktail
- Sour Spaghett Cocktail
- Blood Orange Bourbon Aperol Cocktail
- Prickly Pear Vodka Sour
- Sage Greyhound Cocktails
Pick a mix of liquors and flavors to offer different options. Start with the base liquors. I usually do bourbon or rye whiskey, tequila, and gin. Then, add different mixers like grapefruit juice, ginger beer, muddled berries, or rosemary (just for example!) for variety.
Serve snacks & hors d’oeuvres
Snacks are a cocktail party must. If people are going to be drinking, then they’re also going to get hungry, so have a few appetizers and snacks laying around for everyone to munch on. Some of my go-to options are:
- Beef Wellington Bites with Dijon Sauce
- Honey Baked Camembert with Pecans
- Little Smokies in a Blanket with Puff Pastry
- Bacon & Corn Fritters with Chipotle Aioli
- Marinated Mozzarella Balls with Basil & Lemon
- Cranberry Orange Cheese Balls
- Spicy Deviled Eggs with Crispy Shallots
- Savory Palmiers with Parmesan & Everything Spice
Set up a DIY bar
If you and your friends prefer to mix up your own drinks, try setting up a DIY cocktail bar. You can offer multiple options or keep things simple with a gin and tonic bar or DIY old fashioned station. For a home bar, you’ll need:
- A variety of liquor – gin, vodka, bourbon, rum, tequila, etc.
- Mixers – cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, grenadine, etc.
- Sodas – tonic water, club soda, ginger beer, or other sodas
- Fresh fruit – limes, lemons, berries, cocktail cherries
- Fresh herbs – I like basil, mint, and rosemary!
- Bitters – Angostura and other fun options if you have some.
- Tools – jigger, cocktail spoon, glasses, straws, muddler, etc.
Don’t forge the ice! You’ll need plenty of ice for mixing and serving. I would grab at least two or three 7-pound bags, plus or minus a bag depending on how many guests you’re inviting.
Make it a cocktail potluck
Every month, my friends and I have cocktail club where everyone makes a drink to share with the group. It’s not a traditional cocktail party, but it’s so fun and a bit more casual if that’s the vibe you’re going for.
We usually pick themes for inspiration (favorite color, favorite book, etc.) but you can always just have everyone make their favorite drink! Just a tip – I recommend making half cocktails if you have a lot of people. The booze adds up fast!
Add some ambience
The nice part about cocktail parties is that you don’t need a whole lot of decorations since it’s all about the drinks. But, I do like to add a few decorations here or there to set the mood. Here are some super quick and easy ways to turn up the ambience a bit.
- Turn off the big lights and light some candles.
- Place bud vases with flowers or greenery around the house.
- Turn on some light music. If you have a record player, it totally adds to the vibe!
- Pour alcohol in liquor decanters. You can also usually find them in thrift stores.
- Bring out your grandma’s vintage cocktail glasses or serving dishes for garnishes.
- Grab some cute cocktail napkins or cocktail picks.
Offer beer & wine
Since not everyone is a cocktail fan, I’ll usually pick up a 12-pack or a couple bottles of wine. You don’t have to go overboard, but it’s a nice option for friends who want something a bit more mellow. If you don’t have space in the fridge, a cooler or drink bucket a major space-saver. Don’t forget a few bags of ice to keep any beer or white wine chilled!
Set up a water station
It doesn’t need to be said that water is essential if you’re going to be sipping cocktails all night. To keep it easy, set out a big pitcher or a drink dispenser with plenty of cups. If you want to make things a little fancier, try infused waters. Just add sliced fruit to the water for a little extra flavor. Try:
- Strawberries & lime wedges
- Peach slices & raspberries
- Cucumber, lemon wedges, & mint
- Orange slices + blueberries
- Grapefruit slices + rosemary
Make-ahead freezer door cocktails
Freezer door cocktails are my secret superpower for cocktail parties. All you have to do is mix up a few ingredients in a bottle of liquor, pop them in the freezer, and serve. They’re by far my favorite way to serve classic cocktails for a crowd since each bottle has about 8 servings. Try these freezer door old fashioneds or freezer door martinis with lemon bitters!
Host a mixology party
If you want to offer more of an experience, a mixology class is a super fun way to learn how to make craft cocktails at home. You can usually find local mixologists who offer private classes or recruit a bartender friend to lead one. If you can’t find an in-person class, you can always try a virtual one instead! This virtual cocktail class has a bunch of options from margaritas to old fashioneds to negronis.
Mix up pitcher cocktails
Pitcher cocktails are another simple way to batch drinks for a crowd. Just grab a large pitcher or two and make the drinks a couple of hours in advance. Refrigerate the drinks until your friends show up, and you’re all set for a party! These are a few of my favorite batched drinks:
- Rosé sangria with berries & lemon
- Cadillac cranberry margaritas
- Spiked strawberry lemonade
- Watermelon gin fizz with mint
- Blueberry lemon vodka spritz
- Strawberry gin smash with basil
If the cocktails have anything fizzy (soda water, tonic, ginger beer, etc.), wait to add them until the last minute. Otherwise, they’ll lose their fizziness in the fridge!
Pick a theme
Cocktail parties don’t need a theme but you can always have one if you like! It can be a good way to help you choose which cocktails and food to serve. If you want to go all out, try using some themed decorations to add to the vibe or make it a costume party! Here are a few theme ideas:
- Italian apertivo
- Vegas casino night
- Color party (works for snack too!)
- 1920s speakeasy
- Modern disco
Have a non-alcoholic cocktail option
I like to have at least one non-alcoholic cocktail to include my friends who are DD’ing or don’t drink! Luckily, there’s so many cool options on the market for non-alcoholic options these days. You can either make a specific mocktail recipe or replace the liquor in regular cocktail recipes with NA liquor. I like Ritual Zero Proof! Their tequila is great in margaritas. I also love the aperitif alternative for “Aperol” spritzes!
If you want to add an activity to the night, cocktail party games are always a good idea. Any board game or group game you like will work, but these are some of my favorites for a crowd:
- The Resistance
- Cards Against Humanity
If your friends want to bring something, ask them to bring their favorite board game. It takes pressure off of you to plan an extra step and everyone will have a ton of fun playing new games!
Set up a charcuterie board or grazing table
Grazing boards are by far my favorite appetizer for a group. And they’re lovely with cocktails! I usually go with charcuterie and cheese boards but any grazing platter with dips, veggies, chips, or other snacks will keep the appetizers nice and easy. You can also set up an entire table of no-cook finger foods and snacks if you’re inviting a lot of friends over. For a super pretty (but simple) option, try this French cheese board!
If you’re serving a cheese board or charcuterie board, bring it to room temperature about 30 minutes before your guests arrive. Cheeses should be room temp for the best flavor and texture!
Make a playlist
To me, music is essential for setting the mood. But, you don’t want the music to be super loud – this isn’t a house party, after all. Just play some tunes and keep them nice and low so that you and your friends can still chat and mingle. Any kind of mellow music is great for a cocktail party. If you’re a fan of indie music, this playlist is one of my go-tos! I also love this one for a classy, jazzy vibe.
Make personalized drink charms
I made these personalized drink charms for my last party and they were a huge hit! All you need is wine charm rings, rainbow letter beads, and small gold beads. Everyone gets a charm with their name on it so they can keep track of their drink. These work on wine glasses or goblet glasses. If you’re using a glass without a stem, these magnetic drink charms are super cute too! To make these name charms:
- Unhook the wine charm ring and add one gold bead.
- Then, string the letter beads one after another.
- Lastly, add another gold bead and form the wine charm ring back together.
Host a birthday or holiday cocktail party
My cousin hosts a cocktail party on Christmas Eve every year and it’s always a great time! The party is a chance for all the friends to get together before everyone goes off to spend the holidays with their families. Try holiday cocktails like winter sangria, eggnog white Russians, or Norwegian mulled wine. Then, add a Christmas tree charcuterie board and you’re ready to party!
Take it outside
In the summertime, I take pretty much every get-together outdoors. For a more casual cocktail party, take it to the deck, patio, or in the backyard. Go for refreshing cocktails, light appetizers, and fun music to add to the summery mood. If you have any lawn games like ladder golf, cornhole, or giant Jenga, set those out for your friends to use. Or, if you have a firepit, take the cocktail party into the night with s’mores and whiskey drinks!
Don’t forget extra seating! If you don’t have enough chairs for everyone, make it a BYOC (bring your own chair) party. Casual and stress-free!
Happy hour at home
If I’m going to a concert or an event with friends, sometimes I’ll invite them over for a little happy hour at home beforehand! It’s honestly so much easier than trying to find happy hour specials on a weekend. To keep things stress-free, stick to 1-2 make-ahead cocktails and 1-2 easy snacks. Then, just sit back, relax, and sip!
Serve coffee at the end of the night
After a few cocktails, coffee can be a nice way to wrap up the night! If you have a thermos, I would make a small pot of decaf and a small pot of regular so you have options. Then, just set out mugs, half-and-half, sugar, and/or dairy-free creamer so your friends can serve their own coffee. If you want to keep things extra easy, you can also buy or make some cold brew in advance!
Send guests home with a breakfast treat
We all know that carbs are essential after a night of drinking. For a little something extra, send your friends home with a pastry like brown butter banana coffee cake, ricotta lemon poppy seed muffins, or ginger cranberry orange scones! If you have friends staying the night, you can also prep a make-ahead breakfast for the next morning. Try pesto veggie breakfast casserole or pecan brioche French toast casserole!
Cocktail party FAQs
What should I bring to a cocktail party?
Generally, you don’t have to bring anything to a cocktail party unless it’s a potluck situation. But if you want to bring something, a bottle of wine or flowers is my go-to. You can also bring a nice bottle of the hosts’ favorite liquor! Or, ask the host if you can bring anything like a cocktail, appetizer, or ice.
How do you make a cocktail party more interesting?
Cocktail parties are usually all about sipping and mingling, but if you want to add some entertainment, you totally can. Bring in a bartender for a mixology party or add a few cocktail party games throughout the night – these are some of my go-tos!
What should I serve at a cocktail party?
If you’re hosting the party, I would make 2-3 cocktails to keep things simple. Of course, you can always make more if you want to! These are some of my favorite party cocktails. And, I recommend having some appetizers on hand to help soak up the alcohol. If you’re looking for appetizer ideas, make sure to check these recipes out!
What desserts go well with cocktails?
This totally depends on what cocktails you’re serving! So instead of worrying about pairing the flavors together, just go for crowd-pleasing desserts that are easy to eat without utensils. These are some of my favorites:
xo Sara Lynn
Song of the day – Cheek to Cheek by Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga