Thursday, February 07, 2008


The last weekend in January, I celebrated what some might call a milestone birthday. I am a lady, so I will refrain from mentioning a number, but suffice it to say that I am officially too old to have an ironic haircut. To commemorate my aging, I did what many a city-dweller who is without the square footage necessary to stuff 35 or 40 of his/her closest friends with food and drink is wont to do, I hosted a party in a bar. Based on the things that really worked about my party, as well as a couple of elements that could have gone better, I developed a guide to hosting a bar party that will be a memorable one for you and your guests. The key issue to keep in mind is that people hang out in bars all the time. You want this to feel different than just another Saturday night in a bar.

1. Screw Evite
I'm sure there was a time when the Evite's snazzy graphic design and open call for cleverness got our party-going hearts a-flutter with anticipation, but the sun went down on those days at about the same time that Enron went under. We don't want to click a link to see the party details, we don't want our response to be available to all invitees, we could care less about the pink background and japanimation-style martini glass you chose as your template. It isn't dignified, honestly. I'm not saying snail mail, that's a bit drastic, but there is much to be said for a well-worded email. Say something nice about how much you look forward to seeing everyone...speak clearly and from the heart. Your guests are much more likely to respond to an email than post on an Evite.

2. Location, location, etc.
This is a tough one. I went to about 5 bars looking for the perfect spot for my party. (Hello Pub Crawl! Get that celebration started early!) I knew that I wanted something that felt festive, but wasn't too loud. I sent out my emails early, before I knew where the event was going to take place, so I knew roughly how many people would be there. Ideally, I was looking for a bar in Brooklyn that had either a private room or a reservable section (necessity for party atmosphere) where 35 people could comfortably hang. I checked Time Out, New York Magazine, and asked my friends.
I ended up choosing Royale Brooklyn, a gorgeous dive/lounge on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. I went with a friend and loved the vibe. I called the manager the next day and he let me reserve three banquettes in the back room for free! He told me the DJ got started at 11PM, so I called the party for 9 so that we might have some time to booze and chat before the party got too raging. Just how raging it would get, I didn't know, which is why I recommend feeling out your bar of choice on the same night that your party will take place. A Thursday is not a Saturday is not a Tuesday, as I would find out.

3. Dinner
Many birthday boys and girls feel compelled to reserve a table at a restaurant for fifteen or thirty of their closest friends. This, in my mind, is a mistake. First of all, your closest friends probably don't all know/like each other. Second, anybody who has ever paid $45 for a green salad knows that splitting a bill fifteen ways is no fun at all. I had a table for seven at Fragole, inviting close neighborhood friends who knew each other. Believe me when I tell you that no one was upset to be left out of dinner. (Side note: If you find yourself at Fragole, and I certainly hope you do, you absolutely must have the Insalata Rustica. The mozzarella is so fresh, it's practically still milk. The grilled calamari is also scrumptious.)

4. Treats
Now, some of you may shake your heads and call me Martha, but I believe that putting out some homemade snacks in an attractive container goes very far for making a bar-party more party, less bar. I went to Pearl River and bought pink and gold Chinese takeout containers (to match the pink and gold bar--I know, I know), and filled them with homemade sweet and salty nut brittle. This brittle is really easy, and everybody loves it, seriously. Then I bought pretzels and this chipotle-lime popcorn and--voila! Bar snacks with class. Bring anything, homemade or not, and it will bring your party together.
I am not a baker, so I asked my friend Melissa to handle the birthday pastries. She showed up with about 1000 teeny tiny chocolate cupcakes with pink buttercream frosting designs on the top. They were delicious and so so cute. If your friends have talent, for chrissake, take advantage of it! That way they get a chance to shine too. Melissa, if you read this, I would love if you could put the recipe in the comments!

5. Activities
Remember being, like, six, and going to a birthday party where there would be all sorts of games planned? Well, what the hell is wrong with that? Now that we're adults, that doesn't mean we're immune to boredom! I brought a polaroid camera, a shit ton of film and a bunch of pens. I made all of my friends take pictures and tape them into a book (It was a blank notebook made out of a Debbie Gibson album cover. Am I your hero or what?) and write messages. Polaroids are really fun. And the messages, especially as the night wore on, are priceless.

6. Plan an after-party destination
Hey, remember how I mentioned how little I knew about a Saturday night vibe at Royale? Well, by about 1AM the place was jammed to the point where a conversation was impossible. This would have been the perfect time to say, "Okay, team, we're falling out to such-and-such down the street! Follow me!" And I could have grabbed the brittle and beat it. That is what we ended up doing, in the end, but about half an hour later than we should have. A lot of people went home. The after-party was a lot of fun anyway, a wonderfully quiet end to a rockin' evening. It's always good to leave your guests wanting more, right? The one person I would say didn't want more was my friend Balki (Emily). She ate seven cupcakes and two cupcake tops. Yum.

Anyone else have some hot tips for a kickass bar party? Anyone at my party who thought it blew?


Melissa said...

Ilana, I had so much fun at your party!! Alan should take a ton of the credit for the baking and making the frosting. He and Annie were responsible for all of the decorating.
The frosting recipe is from Gail Gand on the food network website...

easy buttercream frosting

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

ilana manaster said...

Thanks, Melissa! I think I tracked down the recipe,,FOOD_9936_17427,00.html