How to Throw a 1920's Party

Five Simple Steps and Ingredients to a Killer Party

The recipe for the perfect 1920’s party starts with one word: Decadence. After the boom and explosion of prosperity following the end of World War I, there was an obvious cause for celebration.

a classy 1920s party complete with flappers and balloonsWe aren't sure if this is a typical thing to happen at a 1920's party but damned if it doesn't just reek of elegance

World War I and its Impact on the 1920's Party Scene

The Paris Peace Conference made way for the Treaty of Versailles which allowed France, Britain, and the United States a temporary sigh of relief and ring in an era of revelry and opulence.

It was as if the entire offensive said, “Well, that’s over, and now it’s time to throw a massive, over-the-top, party for the next ten years.”

It being a century later down the line, thanks to some situational irony, we know that the Treaty of Versailles was really only a band-aid for the growing tensions in Eastern Europe not to mention the impending depression looming on the horizon, but for the 1920's everything seemed rosy.

The treaty of Versailles announcement in a newspaper

Thus, the Roaring Twenties set the tempo for an age of abundance, and where there was plenty, there was a party.

Rich, fine foods and delicacies, a never-ending flow of champagne and booze (underground and bootlegged – for those suffering through America’s dry, prohibition days), entertainment - the more extravagant, the better - and the appearance of the who’s who of music, stage, film, writing, and even royalty all played a role in a Gatsby era party’s success.

Though the importance of each mirthful element could be debated, the end goal was always a soiree of pleasure fit for Dionysus himself.

So, how do you throw an epic 1920’s party? Easy. You follow these five simple steps.

1920's Party Planning Step 1:
The Tunes!

two individuals in gatsby era dress enjoying a leisurely but still extravagant bash

To throw a successful 1920’s shindig, the most astute host knows that the music served up must be as intoxicating as the liquor.

With its stimulating rhythms and unpredictable nature, Jazz – primarily modern and Harlem-inspired- will set the perfect tone and environment for the following dancing and debauchery.

Jazz, described by the notable conductor and violinist, Paul Whiteman referred to as “The King of Jazz”, (even by jazz greats such as Duke Ellington) deemed Jazz “the folk music of the machine age.”

Not only was it popular, it was literally everywhere.

Black and white.

Old and young.

Rich and poor.

Everyone involved in the social scene in the '20s was into jazz.

 In many ways, Jazz, and dances set to the genre like the Charleston and the Black Bottom helped bridge cultural gaps.

If you desire a true-to-the-name 1920's Jazz party, it should reflect this point of view as much as possible.

1920's Party Planning  Step 2:

Mind the Guest List

 Remember, drama is best in small portions, along with notoriety and obscenity, are the glue that holds the most memorable fetes together, setting them above the rest.

The optimal party is one where you can rub shoulders with the most interesting and eccentric characters of an age.

Without notable poets, dancers, writers, artists, and film stars, your party will lack the panache it (and you) deserve(s).

In the 1920’s, the guest list was as essential as the menu.

a haphazard 1920's style party complete with trombonist in the charleston kick line and a clarinet playerA Charleston kick line including the band playing the tune.

So, if you happen to be in control of the invitations, keep in mind that exclusivity is king, and it is no easy task to create harmony and balance when chaos is expected.

For the perfect guest recipe, curate both wisely and try to think out of the box.

1920's Party Planning Step 3:
The Food

Prepare the start of the feast with the important details: the drinks.

Remember, each cocktail, where appropriate, should be dressed as decadently as the guests.

1920's cocktails were extravagent, not only to mask the abhorrent taste of the illegally created alcohol but also to match the costume of the eraAn appropriately elegant drink for a 1920's party

Back in the 1920's era, prohibition was in effect so the term "bathtub gin" became a popular slang term when referring to the illegal sale of alcohol.

The term is actually a misnomer, due not only to the fact that the alcohol in question did not have to be gin, but also alcohol cannot be created in an open container such as a bathtub, because alcohol has to be distilled in a closed loop system.

This verbal phenomenon likely occurred due to the fact that the alcohol after it was distilled THEN was placed in a bathtub in order to be mixed with ingredients that would mask the unpleasant taste of the alcohol.

But regardless of the accuracy of the term, here are a couple "bathtub gin" cocktails you could serve at your party:

The Royal Hawaiian: originally known as the Princess Kaiulani, is a drink utilizing  gin, orgeat (almond liqueur), lemon juice, and pineapple juice. This was renamed when the Royal Hawaiian Hotel adopted it as it's signature drink in the 1950's despite its origins in the 1920's. It was eventually replaced by the Mai Tai.

a popular 1920's era cocktail called the royal HawaiianThe Royal Hawaiian

The Mimosa: Originally called the "Buck's Fizz" We are probably all familiar with the newer name and ingredients of this classic drink but those of us who are not brunch eaters may not be familiar with this staple. 

A combination of equal parts champagne and orange juice (simple no?) provides a drink that is as easy to make as it is elegant.

This drink makes perfect sense in the 1920's party theme due to the popularity and high-falutin' style of champagne rampant during the '20s.

the mimosa has it's origins set in the early 1920sMimosas are a perfect cocktail for any 1920's themed brunch - or dinner - or breakfast.

The El Presidente: When prohibition came into effect at the beginning of the decade, the common alcohol consumer who lived in close proximity to other countries was presented with a strange situation.

Contrary to popular belief, the consumption of alcohol was not illegal, merely the production and trade. This led to alcohols from neighboring countries very popular, this drink is a perfect example of that.

People who went to Cuba to drink rum eventually brought the rum back to bartenders in America and now we have this warming cocktail to show for it.

A combination of white rum, dry vermouth, orange curacao(can also substitute triple sec), and a dash of grenadine then garnished with an orange peel strip are what make this drink what it is.

the el presidente is a drink that originated in 1920's era cuba and then made it's way back to the statesThe El Presidente

As for the food, it must be rich and showy and highly delectable.

“On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.”

This description taken from the narrator of The Great Gatsby offers an example of the perfect spread – the table is packed with goodies.

Think of the fanciest hors d'oeuvres or fruit board you’ve ever had. Now be sure to have enough to fill a banquet hall. Shrimp cocktails, pastry pigs, tea sandwiches and cakes, jellied treats. It must scream excess to be a successful 1920's party.

1920's Party Planning Step 4:
Decking the Halls

Without a luxurious and thoroughly awe-inspiring environment boasting of overabundance and riches your party will lack the glitz and allure of a true Gatsby-era party.

When I think of 1920’s party décor, I think of towers of Champagne, custom placards, candles, waiters bustling about, and fresh, blooming. flowers on every mantelpiece and long table.

In detailed illustrations of true 1920’s parties, you also see colorful streamers, party hats, and party balloons.

If you have one on hand, it’s also best if you throw your party in a mansion with an illustrious staircase and high ceilings.

a 1920's style mansion perfect for your partyWe are all sure to have one of these laying around right?

If not, throw out more balloons, serve stiffer drinks and hope for the best.

1920's Party Planning Step 5:
Giving Them Something To Talk About

Expected as a key ingredient to serve as the cherry on top of any 1920’s gala, is a certain amount of impropriety.

Bawdy jokes, nursery rhymes told with a sexually deviant slant, offensive language – there must always be an element of rebellion in the mix.

Games like charades or bridge and dance contests can quickly amp up the dullest party.

The more outrageous the activities, the better. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to break out into song or dance and create a spectacle out of these lavish dinner parties.

So, in closing, if you have Jazz music, interesting patrons, delicious food and drinks, festive décor, and exciting entertainment, you’ve created the perfect environment for any 1920’s partygoer’s most extravagant dreams.

Don’t forget to check the society pages tomorrow.

a gatsby style party is really what you should strive to complete the feeling of