How to Host a Happy Hour


HOORAY! It’s Friday. The gang is coming over for cocktails after work to help me celebrate the P&C launch. Am I worried? Not at all. I’ve done this before, and it’s very easy. I know those magazines like InStyle try to encourage the hostess in everyone, but they make it so complicated! I’m here to break it down for you, impart my happy hour knowledge, and show you the brighter side of a simple get-together. With this advice in the pocket of your Sevens, everyone will wonder how you’re so relaxed, collected, and full-of-fun!

First of all, the word “Happy” is in the title of this event, so that is the very mood you are trying to create by hosting your friends for cocktails. You should be the root of the “happy,” happy to be around people you dig, happy to have them in your home, happy that it’s finally time for a Friday cocktail. The other word in the title is “Hour” – 60 minutes, maybe 90 or 120 if you stretch it into another round or two, but it’s really not that long! This is an event for minimal fuss, stress, and even effort if you follow a few guidelines…

  1. Clean Up – Okay, you don’t need to do a white-glove check on all of your surfaces, but do a quick sweep of the kitchen floor and clear the counters of clutter. Make the bed (if you can remember how,) and run the vacuum, but don’t worry too much. Approach this like a triage unit with your highest priority on the bathroom – this is where you absolutely must have a spit-shine. Make it sparkle, and make sure there’s TP and soap. (I know it’s obvious, but you wouldn’t want to overlook it.)
  2. Be On Time – Happy Hour should not start any later than 6:30 or 7PM (if it’s in your home.) You should be coiffed, lipsticked, and rouged by this time. You can put out chips and light candles, etc., while you wait for your fashionably-late friends. The hostess is never fashionably late.
  3. Be Classy – Show your worldly insouciance by putting out a few books or magazines that will be conversation-worthy once people arrive. Nothing pretentious (hide your Paris Review archive,) but a mix current and classic tomes. Vanity Fair, bien sur, WWD Scoop, Blahnik by Bowman, and Michael Roberts’ monograph are all cultured, but not-so-serious choices that I currently have on the coffee table. If you’re a lit-head, don’t be too intimidating…Hey, who put that copy of War and Peace over there?
  4. Be Classy Part II – Be a good host. My mother sometimes asks me: “do you need hostess towels?” And I never say yes, but then I find that I need them. Hostess towels are those artistically adorned rectangular paper towels that you put out in the bathroom for when people wash their hands. In vintage stores you may find some that are fabric with some fun embroidery, but these generally come out around Christmastime. Go with the hostess towels. I know this is a bit adult of me, but do you really want people wiping their hands where you wipe your face? If you don’t have any, simply put out some dinner napkins, but hang them up on the towel bar so people will know they’re supposed to use them.
  5. Be Classy Part III – Ixnay on the lasticpay. This is Happy Hour, not a barbecue with kegs. Leave the plastic cups and paper plates in their bags for another time. In these modern times, you can buy a cocktail glass for $2.00 at Cost Plus World Market. Do so. Happy Hours don’t generally involve more food than a few nibbles, so don’t even put out plates – if you do, put out real ones. I have my grandma’s china cake plates which I love, and you could find your own set of inexpensive china at Goodwill or the same vintage store where you’re going to buy your hostess towels. Paper cocktail napkins are of course, completely fine and can be great fun if you find some odd ones.
  6. Keep it Simple – If you sent out an email stating “cocktails” then that’s what you do. Don’t worry about buying up all kinds of beer, wine, & champagne. Folks will know what to expect. As a non-alcoholic option, go with San Pellegrino. If you’re uncertain of your mixing abilities (I know, people get snobbish about shaking up cocktails, but puhleeze,) then make them ahead and have them ready when people arrive. I have done this many times and found that guests are relieved – they see a big pitcher of a ready-made libation and they know they don’t need to think about it, just grab a glass and drink. If you are mixing, don’t do anything exotic like mojitos or sidecars. Leave the mottled mint to the experts and just go with martinis, or something equally minimal – they get the job done.
  7. Finishing Touches – Light a candle. Or ten. We all love flowers, but they’re pricey. I recommend investing in an orchid or a potted flower (big, pink hydrangeas at Whole Foods are $16.99) that will last you a month or two. Fridays are a good flower day though, since many vendors slash their prices. One near my office sells them for $1.00 a stem and blows out two-dozen roses for only $8.99. Treat yourself if you like – it’s Friday. Put on music – like your reading choices it should be a mix of current and classic. The new Jurassic 5 album is fantastic, but since it’s a sunny day I may choose the tropics of Bossa Nova and go with Elis Regina and Toots Thielemans’ Aquarela do Brasil – one of my favorites.
  8. Enjoy Yourself – It’s your house, your friends, your booze. Enjoy it! Don’t worry about the dishes, and don’t start to *do* dishes while your guests are still there. After an hour or two, everyone will want dinner, so leave the glasses and go eat. Happy Hour is now Friday night, is now the Weekend…go big.