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We’re Hosting a Party, Old Sport! — How to Throw a Gatsby Summer Soiree

June 9, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Food, Music, Summer Fun

So you want to throw a party, old sport? A fabulous soiree that those on the East Egg would envy from across the bay? Now, I’m no Jay Gatsby, but I think we can put something together that’s pretty spectacular.


The ideal way to create a decadent party-going atmosphere would be to find yourself a mansion on the water as close as possible to old money (Newport, Rhode Island, perhaps?). Surround yourself with well-manicured gardens, and extravagant sunset views are a must!

Barring the many years necessary to acquire the funds (and the availability of appropriate historic mansions), it is possible to create an almost-as-good environment in your own home. Dim lighting is a necessity, and tastefully hung strings of white lights can foster an intimate setting. Your daily household clutter will, of course, be hidden away, and simple table cloths will add a feeling of elegance.


Scrounging up an orchestra complete with oboes, trombones and saxophones would be for the best, but a playlist chock-full of speakeasy-flavor jazz music will do the trick as well. Duke Ellington would be a great place to start, but you can also find lengthy 1920s playlists already compiled on music sharing services such as Spotify.


A dress code, of course, will get all attendees in the right mood. If men do not own “white flannels” akin to Nick Carroway’s threads, elegant dress in the form of bowties, fedoras, and pastels of all types will be considered acceptable. Women should plan on sticking to the 1920s flapper style of loose dresses, long pearls, extravagant broaches, and flowered and/or beaded hair pieces. Oh, and shawls! Shawls of all types!

Fortunately, with the recent Gatsby film release, your party has plenty of inspiration. Create a ‘lookbook’ of preferred dress using images from the film adaptation to inform. Brooks Brothers also has created a fabulous line of menswear called (unsurprisingly) “The Great Gatsby Collection”.


A buffet table laden with appetizers is the best way to encourage mingling and social levity. Gatsby himself served pastry pigs (today’s oh-so-delicious pigs in a blanket work just fine), as well as spiced ham and roasted turkey. To maintain an hors-d’oeuvres only rule, you should slice up the meat before rolling and anchoring with a toothpick. Throw a cherry tomato or olive on top for a flashy garnish.

Molded salads (jello, anyone?) were popular in the ‘20s; lemon cakes were served in Gatsby, as was fried chicken. Add in citrus delights where you can — nothing screams 1920s wealth like fresh fruit. I also don’t think any guests would object to a few anachronistic (yet delectable) contemporary dips added to the menu, but that’s up to you as the host.


The most important part of a Prohibition-era party: the drinks. Keep the alcohol flowing and your party is bound to be a smashing success. Gin and whiskey were popular liquors at the time. Champagne aplenty is a must, and fresh orange juice on hand will lead to thirst-quenching mimosas once the party extends to the early morning hours. While Gatsby was partial to lemons and lemonades, I don’t think your guests will object to a little lime included in some of the following drinks.

  • Gin Rickey: A refreshing libation perfect for those warm summer nights. Gin, lime juice, and club soda in a Collins glass will get any party started.
  • Mint Julep: Whiskey, mint and a dash of sugar will make any lady (or gentleman) swoon with pleasure.
  • Highball: This simple drink was popular during the 1920s. Bourbon is the spirit of choice mixed with craft ginger beer right in the highball glass (perfect for speakeasy-level secrecy).
  • The Royal Highball: Popular among the upper-echelons of New York society, this classy beverage demands fresh strawberries, champagne, and Cognac.
  • Sidecar: This gem is made of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, in a 4-2-1 ratio that’s best served in a standard cocktail glass garnished with a lemon rind.

Remember to stock ice in abundance to guarantee maximum drink freshness!


Send out your formal invitations about one week in advance to create an air of exclusivity, but make sure to inform your guests that they are free to bring whomever! Because large parties are really so much more intimate, don’t you think, old sport?



Absolute Ale-literation

July 2, 2012 in Summer Fun

A renaissance is sweeping the nation, turning amber waves of grain to barley, malt, and hops. Brews with names like Mephistopheles Stout and Oberon Ale are delighting enlightened drinkers and reminding us all of the intertwined histories of good spirits and great stories. The days of diluted, yellow fizz seem numbered as American brewers look to literature for inspiration.

Recently, the most notorious beer crafters and consumers converged at the NationalBuildingMuseum in Washington, D.C. to partake in an annual beer summit called SAVOR. In it’s 5th year, the event sold out within 30 minutes. Only a few outsiders were allowed a taste, which varies from tart and earthy to sweet and crisp. Lucky for me, I was one of those few.

The rest of the crowd was comprised of brewers, distributors, and industry experts from across the country. Inside the museum, six massive pillars stretched from floor to ceiling with logos of sponsoring breweries emblazoned in gold lights. There were 15 groups of tables covered in black linens and arranged in squares. Platters of bite-size foods and bottles of rare beer were carefully arranged around their perimeters. One table was devoted entirely to cheese. Atriums on the edges of the museum contained private salons and tastings. Despite the sophisticated atmosphere, the people seemed thoroughly unpretentious and downright giddy to be there – myself included.

I began loving craft beer as an English major at Arizona State University. A classmate took me to a local microbrewery, FourPeaks, where we would discuss Faulkner over glistening amber pint glasses. To this day, I enjoy that classmate’s company and a cold beer on the balcony of our DC apartment.

Like a song can recall a memory – perhaps a high school dance or a roadtrip with a friend – craft beer marks many moments of my last five years. A Super Bock on the beach in Portugal, a rich Kasteel draft in a back-alley Antwerp bar, Guinness after Guinness set to the tune of folk music in Dublin, a pilsner atop a Prague cliff with a new Moravian friend, or a sweet cider at an Oxford pub. The people and adventures all tie into the taste of a finely fermented brew. Thus, wandering the stalls of SAVOR and filling my chalice with a cornucopia of caramelly foams, I felt like I was travelling through time.

Friends and fellow beer connoisseurs graced every table. Although SAVOR is strictly American beers, it reflects the ingenuity that the U.S. is built upon, and a similar fest outside of the states would be difficult to find. Our beer renaissance has flipped the industry on its head and changed the way Americans drink, hopefully forever. Small breweries devote themselves to originality when crafting their beers, unlike the Bud and Miller that remain synonymous with frat parties and football.

For example, CigarCity’s Tocobaga harkens back to the Native American tribes that established the Floridian home of the brewery. Their Kalevipoeg baltic porter was named for the hero of FriedrichReinholdKreutzwald’s epic Estonian poem. Christening a beer is a serious business for brewmasters, who think of it like an author thinks of a title for his or her life’s work. There is always a story behind the name of a craft beer – one that is meant to capture its flavor and the sentimentality of its creator. Often I question if parents put as much thought into naming their children as brewers do their beers.

I bounced from table to table and sipped each unique nectar like a bee at a garden party. When I passed the Flying Dog table, I cheered to Hunter S. Thompson, and raised my glass to Hemingway at Bell’s. Both these writers could not resist too much of a good thing, so I swore to only savor, never sink. The irony of commemorating authors who abused substances with an alcoholic beverage may seem distasteful, but to me it serves as a reminder that craft beer and fiction alike are an escape. Both are ancient and intrinsic to many cultures. They are to be enjoyed, but are meant to be a temporary break from reality, not permanent.

For this reason, I left the party before midnight. I went home to my poet and put to rest another craft beer adventure. Will I return next year? I certainly hope so, but either way, Kalevipoeg is now on my reading list.

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