50th Anniversary Cocktail Party - Ideas?

work_in_progress_08September 11, 2008

This message has been cross-posted in the Recipe forum in addition to Entertaining.

I am planning a 50th anniverary party for DM/DF to take place next August. Would like to do an early evening cocktail party as heat/weather never seem to cooperate at this time of year. I've gone down the tent, table, chair rental summer parties. Worked to some extent, but too hot for most guests (including me). Many guests will be in their 70's and I don't want any heat strokes, just a great celebration of an accomplishment not achieved by many these days! Also, want to host in my home (don't like halls, restaurants for these type of parties). Also, I wanted to keep this a bit more formal than an afternoon "swim party".

I think evening in the air conditioning would be much more comfortable for all. I haven't yet completed my guest list, but am expecting it will be approx 50-75 guests. I want to do butlered as well as a buffet of hor d' oeuvers.

One signature cocktail as well as offering wine and beer and a mixer set up.

Thinking of doing a theme of foods served back then (hor d'oeuvre, drinks, etc.), but not sure how popoular cocktail parties were in the 50's? From memory, seems like cocktail parties were usually small gatherings?

Any ideas/recipes/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. TIA.

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Sounds like a great party! I think you are wise to plan it indoors if it will avoid your worrying for a whole year about rain or heat. You can always spill outside a bit if it's lovely.

Are you going to use a caterer? It sounds like you are envisioning a very special event, something more than you (or at least I!) usually do -- butler service, etc. But you did ask for recipes, so I'm not sure how you're leaning. I think it sounds like it is worth using a caterer. As you say, a 50th anniversary is something quite special.

It would be fun to help you brainstorm food ideas, but really, the best advice I can give you is to talk to a few caterers and see what they suggest. They not only have experience to guide you, they also know their own specialties, which are often the hit of the party, and I never would have thought of them myself. Like the French fries in a paper cone we had at our daughter's bat mitzvah party and the little lamb chops at our "annibirthday" party -- I assumed they were too expensive to ask about, but the caterer did them really cheap, so it was lucky he suggested them.

I think your drink plans are perfect. Maybe 2 signature cocktails, one sweet and one not. Sangria is nice in hot weather, too, and easy to make ahead yourself.

I would also look into some live music -- not dancing, but piano, guitar, or flute or something. If you are lucky enough to live near a music school, you can often get students (or even faculty) at a low price. To me, nothing says "special occasion" like live music.

I would get flowers for the guests of honor as well as for decorations.

Your parents might like this idea. For my parents' 40th anniversary, many years ago, I bought a pretty photo album and wrote (secretly) to all their friends and family I could think of and asked them to contribute a memory or anecdote and perhaps a picture or two. It was so much fun to put together, and they were delighted. We had it ready in time for their party, and the guests loved looking at it. Last year, my husband did the same thing for me for my 50th birthday, and I treasure it like no other gift he could have given me. It sure is a lot easier and cheaper to do it now that you can contact people (and they can reply) by e-mail, and you can copy snapshots with a scanner (or even send them in an e-mail). And scrapbook stores sell all kinds of great albums and inserts to make it easy. So maybe that would work for you, too.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 1:06PM
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gellchom - Thanks for the reply.

The indoor party was borne of so many years of late summer parties that have been much too hot for the comfort of guests who are a bit older.

I love to cook and will probably do some of my best appetizer recipes with additions by professional catering. I guess I am most interested in what would have been served back in 1958 as a place to start. If I don't get much in that regard, I will proceed with my own recipes. Unfortunately, I am a control freak about food and usually give the caterer recipes I want done, but don't have time to do myself.

I always enlist help with serving, re-filling bowls, freshening drinks, etc when I host parties. I want the party to have a casual elegance. I like the catering/service people to be a bit "invisible". Even my annual 4th of July party is so much easier with a couple of extra hands. I think it is money well spent as it takes alot of the stress away and enables me to mingle and enjoy the party so to say. I am definitely utilizing help in that regard.

I am looking for some unusual or time-reflective recipes that were served in 1958. My parents had a modest wedding by today's standards. Their receiption has been described as something like a beef and beer to me. LOL While they had a modest wedding, they had attendants, etc. The receptions back in the day seem to have been less elaborate than those of in the past couple of generations.

The lollipop lamb chops are a great idea as they really can be handled as an appetizer. Besides my dad loves lamb.

I love your ideas. I am going to look into some music options. I am a bit limited space-wise for a quartet, so a single flute player would be lovely in the background. I had planned using fresh flowers for decorating and for my parents. I did a 25th and 40th anniversary party for them, dry runs for the 50th!

Sangria is a great idea. I have many summer and winter sangria recipes, so I will dig those out. I am thinking a champagne toast before I serve cake. I am a bit stuck as to the signature drink. Don't want something martini-like as a majority of my parents friends take medicines for cholesterol and the like, so I am not sure how well hard alcohol mixes with different meds. I also worry about guests driving. With lite fare, appetizers and desserts, I don't think strong drinks would be a good idea. I was thinking maybe weak whiskey sours?

The invite including a request for a memory or anecdote is another great idea. I planned on copying my parents' wedding album photos for display on the buffet and throughout the rooms in my home where the party will take place. Perhaps I can go through all my photos and incorporate them into the album and insert the contributions of the guests.

I gave DH a surprise 40th b-day dinner party years ago, and the pics I had copied and enlarged for display were a huge hit. They were displayed in a subtle fashion - on the buffet, in the enclosed porch where the bar was set up, you get the idea. DH b-day party was an intimate dinner party with 10 couples and about 15 family members. DH hates attention so the surprise dinner party was just perfect and was hosted at the home of our closest friends. The party atmosphere was understated and lovely. It was more about great food (we all belong to a gourmet club so we served my husband's favorite meal). I didn't want to go over the top with peripheral decorating as my friends' home is beautifully decorated. I spent a majority of my budget on great food. I guess that is the "feel" I am going for with this party as well.

A special album for keepsake would be wonderful. I will have to enlist the services of my SIL who is a big scrap-booker. She, I'm sure will have some ideas! I will also need to chose a unusual invitation.

Once again, thanks for getting my brain functioning. I know it is a year away, but I like to have things planned to the T. A total list maker am I!

Thank you again.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 3:35PM
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Cocktail parties were very popular in the '50s. You may be able to find old cookbooks at your library that could help you plan a menu. There have even been reprints issued in recent years, such as BH&G's reprint of its mid-50s cookbook, that may be useful. Jane & Michael Stern (of "Roadfood" fame) have written about food trends, too. The best may be a reprint of James Beard's first book, "Hors D'oeuvre And Canapes."

This website has a section on food & drinks by decades and might give you some ideas.

Your party sounds like a wonderful anniversary gift to your parents. Hope you enjoy it as much as your guests.

Here is a link that might be useful: food timeline

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 10:54AM
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You say that you'd like an "evening" party and the guests will be in the 70s age bracket. Some 70 year olds are really tired in the evening. Depending on the health/energy level of your guests, I would really think about an appropriate time for them.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 2:41PM
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Good heavens!! I am in my 70's and my friends and I don't "get tired in the evenings"...we go to the opera, movies, out for dinner, to ball games, and sit at each other's houses and drink wine and chat until midnight.
People in their 70's go on cruises, travel with Elderhostel hike play tennis, audit classes at a nearby community college and are a far cry from doddering old fools who "get tired in the evening" and would find it a strain to attend an early evening cocktail party!
Linda C

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 3:08PM
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I agree with Lindac. My 79-year-old mother and all her friends go out a lot more evenings than I do -- maybe because many are retired, so they can go out on weeknights, too?

In my experience, the people who are REALLY tired in the evenings are the parents of small children! My thirties are a blur ....

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 10:06PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

lolololol! I'm laughing at the mere THOUGHT of Linda fitting into that cubby hole!

Now now, dearie....did we miss our nap today?

Anyway, this surely seems like a great opportunity to have some fun with all of the drama of the late 50s! The cold war, the beginning of the space race, bomb shelters, gaining Alaska and Hawaii into the US (didn't they come kicking and screaming?), great music, etc. could all be fodder for a really fun event.

I have a couple of old cookbooks from that era that I'll have to dig out...I know that there are some drink and canape recipes in them.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 3:30PM
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I'm not sure about having a 50s theme for the FOOD. Don't you remember?

James Lileks's book, The Gallery of Regrettable Food, comes to mind. It's the funniest thing I've ever read.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 9:11PM
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When my son graduated from high school, I also displayed pictures. I used easels and color copied many, many pictures and displayed them around the room. They have always seemed to be a hit at any party that I have attended that did a similar thing. I know that people have already mentioned. I put a few stories, etc with mine.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 3:44PM
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I'd mix it up by serving your more elegant foods but I'd also set up a "50's Food Station"-complete with that area decorated. You can get a bunch of 33 & 45 records on ebay for practically nothing. You can make centerpieces using a clay bot, packed w/styrofoam & place a wooden down in the center & glue two 45 records together on each side of the dowel & make sure to hot glue them into the pot. (mini topiaries if you would) Then place fresh flowers around the bases of the dowel. Tablecoverings could be the back & white big squares, little cups of the mints & salted peanuts (ever present at every party!), and I know if it were me? The craze back then was taking your date to the local soda shop, where a burger & fries was the main feature and a banana split or sunday! You could serve tiny sirloin sliders on tiny rolls, sweet potatoe fries and set up an ice cream bar where they could select their favorite flavor & toppings@ Add a few records hung on the wall around the area and what would really be fun is to hire a piano player-making sure he can play an evening of songs from that year. I bet it would turn into a fun sing-a-long! It would also be novel if in the outdoor area you could get your hands on a 57 convertible-& have it there for photography of the happy couple & guests posing from the ack seat-witha big arrow sign saying "Lover's Lane"

    Bookmark   November 14, 2008 at 12:14AM
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