How to Throw a Killer Cocktail Party, New Orleans-Style

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Abigail Gullo: backyard bartender and party-planning whiz.

No city knows how to throw a bash quite like New Orleans does.

And the Big Easy’s bartenders lie at the heart of the city’s nightlife, famed for its legendary hospitality. As head bar chef at SoBou, Abigail Gullo is one of these bartenders, and has a wealth of experience entertaining patrons both behind the bar and in her own backyard. The magic of mismatched vintage punch cups; an emergency Champagne kit; and a recipe for her own group-perfect Dizzy Blonde Negroni: Gullo’s got home entertaining on lock this time of year.

STOCK THE ESSENTIALS

  • According to Gullo, “you can’t go wrong with rum.” Aged rum is endlessly versatile, she notes: It can be served as a delicious digestif, stand in as the base for an Old Fashioned, or shine in a refreshing Rum and Tonic.
  • Don’t forget the non-alcoholic beverages. Gullo’s keen on lemonades because they’re easy to fancify with fresh herbs like basil and sage, or a homemade Earl Grey tea–laced simple syrup.
  • If you’re offering a signature cocktail, arm yourself with a good shaker and a mixing glass for stirred drinks. Gullo suggests hitting the thrift store for vintage one-of-a-kind punch cups. Matched glassware is for anal fools.

THE BIG EVENT: BOOZE IT OR LOSE IT

  • Making a big batch of booze? Gullo warns: Be wary of the sweet, sour and bitter components in a large-format cocktail. Start by adding all of the liquor first, followed by the bitter, sweet or sour ingredients. Then begin with half of the sugar that you’d normally use, slowly adjusting the flavors. Make sure to taste as you go.
  • For a failproof make-ahead drink, Gullo breaks out her vintage soda siphon and pre-batches her Dizzy Blonde Negroni recipe. This old-school approach guarantees each cocktail is well-carbonated, cold and delicious—straight from the spout.

THE PERFECT PARTY FORMULA

  •  Keep some basic numbers in mind for how much alcohol to buy. If you’re making a strong spirit-forward cocktail, plan to have one bottle of booze for every four to five guests, just to be safe. When serving wine, count on buying at least one bottle for every two people.
  •  Don’t forget the ice: You’ll be going through a lot of it, so Gullo’s advice is to use store-bought bagged iced to keep bottles chilled in buckets, and prep your own ice a week or two ahead of time for cocktails. Make space in your freezer for a big bowl and start freezing a few trays of ice each day until the bowl is full.
  •  Always keep a backup bottle of Champagne chilling. The trademark pop of that cork signals instant celebration, and bubbly is ideal for topping off punches or spurring the night into a second—or third—wind.

Dust off your party equipment. Start stocking the bar. Call—or text—your pals: It’s Party Season, the perfect time of year to show off your well-honed hosting skills and bring all your favorite people together.

(Photo courtesy Sara Essex Bradley)

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