There comes a time in every young dirtbag’s life where they must grow up and throw a proper dinner party. A party where guests behave themselves – at least most of the time – and the level of refinement is better than eating out of paper bags or cardboard boxes, as the conversation flows along with the amount of alcohol consumed. Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally in love with a case of cheap beer and a bag of takeout or delivery pizza and cheap wine, but a little adult time is good every once in a while. And, even though “dinner party” sounds intimidating, it’s actually a pretty simple series of tasks. Here they are:
1. Use a good venue.Good lighting, ample lounging space and seating, and a good kitchen are key elements to a hosting space, but above all, it needs to be clean. Nothing says Peter Pan like a dirty house. I am terrible at cleaning, so I don’t really have room to talk, but even I can be persuaded to clean for a good party. If your place isn’t a good space, or if you hate to clean before or after, consider other locales. Invite a real estate agent who may or may not have access to unused, completely empty real estate (you’re definitely looking at buying the property, of course), or a friend who has their house on the market and wants to show it in a weird way (they can invite potential buyers, of course), or invite yourself over to the shy friend’s house (they need to open up, of course). Also, don’t forget the little things: tiki torches for your luau, paper lamps for your sake dinner, pillows and a low table for your elaborate Ethiopian meal. The setting is half of the meal. Good food and good booze can only go so far if you’re eating in a shithole.
2. Get a good diverse group of people to collaborate with.Putting together a guest list is the most important part. It’s like putting together a football team. You need all types of people, not just 11 quarterbacks. I recently threw a dinner party with an Asian theme, and the people who showed up were so on point with their contributions. The local whiskey distiller brought raw oysters and some rare beers for pre-gaming, a good friend helped my partner with all the sides. The woman who owns a gallery in town brought herself and her very young boyfriend and all that great conversation, and the bartender from downstairs, who moonlights as a high-end wine trader, brought a bottle of Hakutsuru Nishiki Junmai Daiginjo, a sake that blew my mind and led me to what sake could be. Throw in some wonderful neighbors, golfing buddies, and sashimi from the local sushi place, and the meal was amazing. It wasn’t just individual contributions, but all of the parts working together to make the evening flow and vibe, and that comes from the people present, not the courses or the booze. Diverse backgrounds, ages, and talents make a good team (a small disclaimer: make sure that the key members of the team don’t have a problem with someone on the guest list; in a small town you don’t necessarily know who has history with whom). The food and drink can only be as good as the people you’re with, so choose them well.
3. Last, of course, is the food and booze.Pick well-paired, on theme, and properly served alcohol. For my dinner party, I bought three sake sets (1 carafe and four cups) for $7.50 a piece on Amazon. In addition to the crazy expensive sake, we had a magnum of cheap sake that we heated in a crockpot, along with a few other interesting labels. Proper glassware and service temp is super key. Champagne? Get some cheap tulips. If you’re doing whiskey or cocktails, make sure you have ice and proper service vessels. It’s a small things that elevate the experience above what normally happens in a home setting. This stuff doesn’t have to be overly complicated. If you’re doing sliders, consider a blind pairing with beers in paper bags. For the food, cook what you’re good at, or invite a chef and pay them, if you have to. Or do what I did and make the key sides in-house and outsource the main course to a trusted restaurant that does good takeout. Make sure you have proper service equipment: steak knives for steak, enough spoons, plates, condiments, etc. A good party is really just all the small stuff adding up to a good experience.
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.