The cocktail is an American invention and has a comparatively modern history. The term is used almost generically now when we apply it to late afternoon parties. Guests may be asked for cocktails and instead served long drinks or a punch, especially when there are a large number of guests, as this makes service much easier.
One punch particularly popular with the men is what I call Old-Fashioneds Wholesale: the recipe is based on an old-fashioned cocktail poured over a block of ice in the punch bowl and served in either punch or cocktail glasses. Another good punch with slightly less authority has a rum and apricot brandy base and has actually been approved by many men as well as women.
If you serve authentic cocktails to a small group, be content with Martinis and Manhattans, both of which can be mixed beforehand and will be the better for chilling in the refrigerator. These cocktails are not shaken so they may be mixed and served in a pitcher, if you like. It is a good idea to have the makings of highballs on hand, as there are always a few who prefer the long drinks. In summer, vodka and gin should be on hand plus the makings for gin-and-tonic (cut fresh limes or bottled lime juice) and Bloody Mary (tomato juice, lemon juice and seasoning. It is also a good idea to have a bottle of sherry for those who prefer this, rather than harder liquor.
In addition, there should be chilled pitchers of tomato juice, orange juice or chilled bottles of a cola drink and ginger ale for those who are on diets or “on the wagon.” For service with the drinks, besides the bowls of popcorn, potato chips, salted nuts, or other crisp salty appetizers, there may be ripe and green olives, small or sliced pickles, and a tray of raw vegetables, perhaps with shrimp impaled on toothpicks, accompanied by a dunking sauce. While savory canapes go well with cocktails, they are a nuisance to make and, according to today’s custom, trays containing several spreads surrounded by crisp crackers are preferred by many hostesses and, I am sure, by the guests, who often like to spread their own.
While hot appetizers are delightful, do not attempt these unless you have help in the kitchen in order that they may be prepared in installments. For special occasions, you may like to elaborate the cocktail party into a simple buffet. Late-comers will appreciate this particularly as the cocktail party often extends beyond the dinner hour. The standard baked ham or boiled tongue or roast turkey, trays of buttered French bread or tiny hot rolls will be all that is really needed, although you may offer as well dainty cookies or a bowl of fruit. There are a few pointers which should be observed in planning a cocktail party for a large group.
Be sure that you have plenty of glasses on hand. Your friends will be more than willing to lend you what you need to supplement your own stock or you may have a party rental service available a great convenience as you can return the glasses unwashed! Small cocktail napkins, either linen or paper, should be in good supply. You should arrange for supplementary ice as you’ll probably need more than the amount that your refrigerator will make at one time. Have plenty of liquor, ginger ale and club soda in reserve.
If you do not have extra help for a large party, ask some of your friends to be responsible for filling empty dishes, and for removing used glasses and replacing them.