Help me throw the cat's meow of speakeasy parties
January 12, 2012 10:21 PM   Subscribe

My roommate and I are hosting a Speakeasy themed party in a few weeks. What can I do to make it kick ass?

My front door has a small window, and we gave everyone a password to get in. We've mailed out themed invitations inviting people to come (and to dress in costume).

I'm going to borrow a friend's blackjack table and I'm planning on making fake money and giving everyone 25 $1's when they come in. I also got a set of 1920's alcohol ad posters for my walls.

What else should we do? Budget is an issue, I definitely need to keep my costs down, but I'm a graphic designer, and pretty good at crafts. What other sort of kick ass stuff can we do at our party? Drinks? Decorations? Games? Help us theme it!
posted by nerdcore to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
G-men should raid the party!
posted by thelonius at 10:24 PM on January 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Mixology, mixology, mixology. Work the cocktails out ahead of time. They should kick ass. Just pick 4 drinks and only make those, perfectly.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:28 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Serve the drinks in teacups.
posted by trip and a half at 10:37 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Luckily for you, prohibition booze was notoriously awful (which means you're in-theme to buy the cheapest shit you can find, but you might want to go one step up from that if you like your friends), and pretty much only served mixed in fancy-pants fizzes and punches and cordials and the like.

Googling "prohibition cocktails" will give you more options than you can shake a stick at. Like Ironmouth said, get really good at a handful and only make those, rather than having a list of 20 that you have to look at every time you need to figure out what's in what.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 10:40 PM on January 12, 2012

I used to go to private mixology nights hosted by a somewhat famous "mixologist" each week they would focus on one type of liquor. They would make thier own bitters and grew mint in window boxes and in general bent your ear about how much attention they put into every drink. They also refused to make certain drinks, during Gin week they wouldn't let me order a Tom Collins. It was generally very annoying.

If it was me I would serve only something like everclear falvored with juniper berries as fake gin with various mixers but that is just me.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:44 PM on January 12, 2012

Fun! I did this once and it was a blast. I played music from a 1920's radio station and also played a silent film in the background I found on Netflix (streaming - they have several). I served a few prohibition cocktails (like the french 75) but REALLY contemplated some variation of bathtub gin...ended up not going that route but I think that's a fun idea to explore (either using the bathtub in some manner or creating a bathtub gin cocktail). It's fun to label your front door something else (boiler room, or what have you).
posted by koselig at 10:48 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I looove Ute Lemper's Berlin Cabaret Songs. Mix that with Jazz (other people will have to give you recommendations but I retain a fondness for Django Reinhardt. Brush up on your Charleston.

Got any ostrich feathers to decorate with? Also, lots of candles and long stands of pearls and insist all photos taken must be in sepia (if you have any framed photos in the rooms you are using you must have them sepia as well. I was recently at a speakeasy themed bar that projected old black and white films, if you have a genuine projector the noise and imperfections definitely add to the atmosphere. Have a little treasure chst of long pearl necklaces, fedoras, boas for anyone that comes underdressed. And be sure to brush up on your slang. Put up a few Temperance posters around, especially outside your door if possible.

Fill your bathtub with ice and bottles of gin. : )
posted by saucysault at 10:48 PM on January 12, 2012

If you want to make a punch, as suggested upthread, I highly recommend fish house punch. It has a long and noble pedigree, dating back to the 18th century, so it was definitely known during the Prohibition era. (Check out the dates on those NYT articles at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry - 1896, 1905, etc.) We made this recipe for New Year's Eve and it was a hit:
1. Squeeze 24 oz of lemon juice into a big bowl.
2. Add 2 oz of white sugar to the bowl. Mix.
3. Add the lemon rinds (or zest) to the mixture. Muddle.
4. Let it sit for 1 hour, then remove rinds.
5. Into the punch bowl, add:
750ml (1 bottle) Smith & Cross Rum
750ml (1 bottle) Salignac VS Cognac
500ml (2/3 bottle) Laird's Apple Brandy
250ml (2/3 bottle) Mathilde PĂȘches Peach Liqueur
Some water; will have to taste to know how much
6. Add big piece of ice to bowl.
7. Ladle and serve.
For the big block of ice, you can take an empty juice or milk carton, fill it with water, then freeze it. Then you just cut off the carton when it's frozen solid.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:02 PM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

In front of your door, set up what looks like a counter. Make sure attendees have 'the password' (yes, this means come up with one), and lift up the counter to let them in.

Atmosphere. ATMOSPHERE. It is ALL about atmosphere. Encourage people to dress with the theme to the best of their ability. If you ask me, it doesn't matter what you're serving (cheap stuff or top-shelf) if it FEELS like a Speakeasy.
posted by Heretical at 11:40 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I favorited a bunch of stuff up up top like serving drinks in tea cups (very authentic!) but let me caution you here about Everclear and mixing drinks in general at parties....

Once back in the day, a friend hosted a party with some type of Everclear punch that was delicious - this was a hardcore group of about 20 real drinkers - and we all pretty much ended up passed out on the lawn in seconds. I kid you not. We all swore to never drink Everclear again.

Then, years later....

I did a White Sangria for a rooftop party at my place in Lower Manhattan, the recipe was a twist on my friend's restaurant's famous sangria - but I used white wine instead of red, tequila, Cointreau, and white peaches and plums + sugar. I did this twice and then banned this DELICIOUS recipe from my repertoire for all time. Here's what happened:

At both parties featuring this fantastic tasting brew, flagrant and public flirting, or outright uncharacteristic infidelity, occurred. I was beside myself all night worrying someone would fall over the edge of the roof. Lastly, I received phone calls from friends on their way home afterward who were "lost" and needed directions home. I lived between Canal and Houston, and in that part of Manhattan, and most of Manhattan, the streets are laid out in a fucking grid. Everyone who called me lived in, or knew well, the neighborhood.

Let me repeat that last part - People who well knew their way home sober or drunk, still lost their way home the two nights I offered this White Sangria libation.


Please plan your drinks accordingly. DO have G-men to raid your party!

PS - Can I attend? This party sounds amazing!


Also, wear 20's inspired outfits, if not the real thing. Thrift shops and church sales are your friend!


Bottoms up!
posted by jbenben at 11:43 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

BTW, if your question title is a reference to this Cat's Meow - you're *hearted.*

Marion Davies house in LA, which Hearst bought/built for her, is down the block from me. I was inside last year for an estate sale. Trivia! I loves it!
posted by jbenben at 11:50 PM on January 12, 2012

Have you thought about adding some sort of murder mystery to your party? Or some intrigue story-line of some sort? I hosted a murder mystery party which had speakeasy feel, but what about a speakeasy party with some murder mystery.
posted by Jaelma24 at 11:52 PM on January 12, 2012

jbenben, I think we need the sangria recipe. For, um, science. Yeah, science.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:50 AM on January 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

posted by Afroblanco at 2:38 AM on January 13, 2012

Serve all alcohol in tea cups, in case of a raid
posted by Mchelly at 7:36 AM on January 13, 2012

Have these two guys show up.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:34 AM on January 13, 2012

How about a Charleston contest? That's how Joan Crawford got her big break.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:38 AM on January 13, 2012

If you want to have a prohibition-era themed party, then you might as well have actual prohibition-era cocktails. One can take the whole verisimilitude thing too far, of course. A real speakeasy would likely have been serving seriously adulterated swill, and a lot of awful make-do concoctions to cover up the taste.

Punch, which had its heyday before the cocktail era, would be right out. Such a thing would never be served in a speakeasy, because if the place were raided it would be impossible to hide any other way than throwing it all away. Sangria was virtually unknown in the United States (outside of Spanish restaurants, which are hardly widespread today) prior to the 1965 World's Fair. So that's out as well.
posted by slkinsey at 9:19 AM on January 13, 2012

There's a reason why alcohol smugglers were called rumrunners. It mixes pretty well with everything you can think of. Just avoid 151 if you're mixing.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 10:52 AM on January 13, 2012

My wife and I did this last year and it was a hit. Repeating some of the points above:
- guests dressed in 20's attire (or their best approximation)
- guests used a password to get in the door
- I made a Pandora station of 20's music (Annette Hanshaw, Billy Murray, etc.)
- my wife made 20's era appetizers and desserts (memail me if you want our menu)
- guests supplied the liquor, but we supplied the 20's era cocktail recipes
- my wife compiled a list of 20's era slang and made copies so the guests could try them out.
- we had a projector playing 20's era movies and short clips from YouTube (Sherlock Jr., early Mickey Mouse, footage of an early football game, and footage of Charles Lindbergh's rickertape parade in New York)

Like I said it was a lot of fun and not too difficult to pull off. Just make sure somebody takes pictures of all the neat costumes.
posted by John Frum at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2012

You can get string with super cheap fake pearl beads on a spool at craft stores.
posted by steinwald at 4:37 PM on January 13, 2012

These are great ideas! I've marked the ones i think I'm going to be able to incorporate as best although really all of them are fantastic. I'm gonna hit the thrift & stores and look for some teacups and strands of pearls. My roommate is going to fill her bathtub with ice and Prohibition Ale.

I'm definitely going to put on the 20's radio station and silent movie.

Sadly, I have no fun actor friends who would be into raiding the party, but I know from talking to guests that we're gonna have an interested mix of gangsters and feds anyway.

Thanks so much for the suggestions so far, feel free to add more if you have them! Jbenben, I'm gonna have to watch that movie in the next week, aren't I?
posted by nerdcore at 11:17 PM on January 13, 2012

Heh, sounds like you need to post a meet-up "G-men only, free booze, apt 101, midnight".
posted by saucysault at 10:09 AM on January 14, 2012

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