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Bartending for a 125-person party in New York


Kent Wang
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My friend is flying me up to bartend for his birthday party on 26 October at his loft in Brooklyn. There will be about 125 people.

I suppose the responsible thing to do would have been to point him to one of the many eminently more qualified bartenders in the city, but I can't pass up a free trip to the cocktail capital of the world.

I plan to have a limited menu of 6-8 drinks and pre-batch them, so all I have to do is pour, shake and strain.

Currently I have planned for the menu:

Elderflower Sour: gin, St. Germain, lemon juice

Maple Old Fashioned: rye, maple syrup, bitters

The Darb: gin, apricot brandy, dry vermouth, lemon juice

Manhattan

Martini

I want to minimize the amount of different ingredients I have to buy, so currently the only two base spirits are rye and gin. I could probably add rum, but want to avoid tequila as it's expensive and not very versatile. Other than the Manhattan and the Martini, the "special" drinks are definitely on the sweet side, and are those that I know to be hits at cocktail parties I've given at home.

I still need to think of a few other drinks and would appreciate your help.

I've also been asked to include one or two non-alcoholic cocktails, I guess so that the non-drinkers won't feel left out. Any ideas?

I have a bunch of other questions and would appreciate your advice:

With an estimate of 2-3 drinks a person, and each drink being 3 oz of booze, that's 30-45 750mL bottles of liquor. I've done a party of 30 people, but this is a lot bigger. What if I have too many leftovers? Are there liquor stores that would accept returns of unopened bottles -- I know it sounds unlikely. And where should I buy them from? Low prices on 1.75L bottles, and maybe delivery would be nice. The more obscure stuff I can buy from Lenell's and bitters I can bring with me.

Where can I buy fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice? I don't want to be squeezing a bunch of lemons. Does Fairway have them? I could also bring them from Central Market here in Austin.

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I would imagine you're going to have a lot of requests for Margaritas, Cosmopolitans, Mojitos, and simple highball-type things so you may want to consider accomodating at least part of that crowd (or of course offer beer). Expecting people to nurse 3 cocktails over the period of hours that a party lasts may be a stretch, especially if they are friendly and delicious. The bad cases here are either people running out of drink and leaving early, or getting wastey-faced and passing out (or worse) all over the place. If I was planning something along these lines I might scaled it back to 4 batched drinks, say the 3 features you have there plus a Margarita (Sauza's bottom end is something I wouldn't be ashamed to pour at a large party) and be set up with tonic water, coke, cheap bourbon or blended whiskey, maybe rum, etc for the highball crowd. Of course this is sort of from the perspective of if you were just catering and wanted to maximize profit/make some tips. If your goal is to show off your cocktail skills and get people to try new things then of course disregard 3/4 of the above and here are a few suggestions to round out your menu:

Oriental (double the rye and vermouth from the Savoy version)

Twentieth Century

Move Over

Aviation

Silver Lining

Bitter Elder (add another 1/4 oz of St. Germain to the Elder Sour while subbing 1/2 oz Campari for the same volume of gin, even more grapefruity than the Jasmine)

Corpse Reviver

McKinley's Delight (maybe in lieu of Manhattan)

One last word about citrus; if you can get it that has been juiced that day it may or may not work, but if it's any older than 12ish hours I'd go ahead and juice my own. It's a pain in the ass, but hey that's why they're flying you from Texas :cool:

Or you could go the smart and easy route and make some bowls of punch. Not sure if your friends would consider that cheating though, but at least you'd get to enjoy the party more.

Hope this helps.

-Andy

Edit: clarity

Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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One non-professional bartender for 125 people?  Yikes.

My opinion exactly...you're asking for trouble, and people are going to be getting trashed very quickly.

The suggestion of punches is a good idea, along with wine and beer - why make yourself crazy.

As an aside, make sure you have LOTS of ice, plenty of glasses and cocktail napkins, and , oh yeah, another bartender.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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If you're being flown cross-country to bartend, you're likely wanted to bring a cocktailianistic edge to the party, and so it would be easy to do what I've done for my cocktail party menu, which is to redirect standard requests.

I put up a menu board at my bar, just written on a whiteboard, that lists on one side a group of standard cocktails, Margarita, Cosmo, Mojito, etc. The next column over lists variations on those themes that I'd like to suggest, with arrows connecting them to the drinks they "replace". For example, since so many people tend to order rum & coke or margaritas, I offer the Missing Link, a 3:2:1 drink that replaces the tequila in a margarita with Gosling's Black Seal. Friendly and unchallenging, but it opens minds to possibilities and people love it. (also allows you you to forgo buying tequila and still handle margarita requests)

The Bitter Elder mentioned above "replaces" the Cosmo ( with a gin drink!) and I've never had anybody not love the drink when suggested this way.

I'll second the suggestion of the Twentienth Century, a slam-dunk at cocktail parties, and add the Last Word.

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As someone who does this type of thing from time to time, my biggest suggestion is to limit your options: 4 batched drinks with some other booze/vermouth/juice on the bar veer off your menu when you're not slammed. Only a few of the people at your party will order a Manhattan/Martini -- making it on the spot adds a little theater, can cook while you shake up a bunch of batched drinks, and above all is easy as pie.

If you're gonna be serving these drinks quick and in volume, you better have rinse and dump sinks very close by or your life will be hell. This is usually my biggest pet peeve with off-premise work...those tins get gnarly in no time.

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Keep it simple! Premix Cosmos, Margaritas or whatever drinks you have in mind. Limit your well and speed rack to basics (vodka, gin, rum), 2-liter Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and maybe Ginger. Ice, ice and more ice. Just when you think you have enough ice, get more! Also you shouldn't have a problem finding squeezed lemon or lime juice in New York dude. Good luck!

Eat Well,

-jbl

The Postmodern Soapbox - NominalTopic.blogspot.com

Twitter: jbzepol

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One non-professional bartender for 125 people?  Yikes.

Did he say that he wasn't a professional bartender?

Well... the time I met Kent for drinks and we talked about what he did for work, professional bartending didn't come up. So took that as a reasonable indication that he's not a professional bartender.

Regardless, shaking out specialty cocktails in an open bar for 125 people by yourself wouldn't be easy even for an experienced professional bartender.

--

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Oh yeah, and you're going to need an ungodly amount of ice (of course) and hopefully you've got a large shaker that can hold multiple drinks at once. What might turn a potential nightmare in the weeds into something more manageable is pre-dilute the drinks while batching, and keep them in metal or glass containers on ice. That way you can just keep a ton of chilled glasses out and just pour the drinks. 125 people doing wine, beer, and highballs would be a sufficient challenge for one person, if you're wanting to do real cocktails as well I think the advice to have a barback is sound.

Or, again, you can do the smart and easy thing and make punch. The possibilities for shwoing people new flavors is as good if not better, since it's rare nowadays to have the chance to make a huge batch of punch and be able to finish it. You could make as many different ones as you can obtain punchbowls. Small punch cups restricts the flow of booze, and everybody behaves more that night and feels better the next day.

That's probably what I'd do.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I'm not a professional bartender but I will have the assistance of several barbacks.

I will be printing a cocktail menu. People are pretty impressed by the menu itself and rarely do they ever ask for anything off of it.

Andy, thanks for the recipe recommendations. I'll have to try some them out.

I think punches could also help round out the menu. Any recommendations?

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Speaking of my wedding (which was more like 80 people), we had Phil's "Jersey Lightning" punch, and several batched cocktails served by the venue bartenders. I think they were the Tantris Sidecar (shaken/up), Vieux Carree (stirred, rocks), two champagne-topped drinks (Champagne Apricato and Prince of Wales), Last Word (shaken/up), and maybe something else I can't remember, plus wine, etc.

One thing we found that worked very well, especially at the beginning of the party (which was a cocktail party with passed hot and cold hors d'oeuvres rather than a sit-down or buffet dinner) was having the bartenders shake and pour multiple iterations of one cocktail, which would then be circulated on trays around the room by the waitstaff.

Is there going to be any staff? Who is going to be picking up empties and making sure you have enough clean glassware, etc?

--

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Mr. Kinsey raises a good point; unless you've got a restaraunt-style dishwashing setup you're going to have to have at least 500 clean glasses at the get-go. But I assume you knew that already.

For that many people, I'll just do plastic cups. I know it's a real shame but I think people will deal. This crowd is not too hoity-toity anyway.

I have some ideas that could be helpful but I cannot oblidge until you take back your statement that "tequila isn't versatile"

until then.....

OK, I take it back. The tequila and mezcal drinks are my favorites at Death & Co. Last time I did this I had the El Diablo and Margarita, the El Diablo being the biggest hit of the night. But I think I'll keep tequila out this time as I want to minimize the number of spirits, and use rum instead.

It's hard to go wrong with Fish House punch.

The D&Co website lists as cognac, rum (light?), peach brandy, lemon and soda. Could I swap the cognac for more rum, and the peach brandy for Marie Brizard apry?

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It's hard to go wrong with Fish House punch.

The D&Co website lists as cognac, rum (light?), peach brandy, lemon and soda. Could I swap the cognac for more rum, and the peach brandy for Marie Brizard apry?

I would imagine the substitution of Apry wouldn't be terribly offensive but the rum should be of a dark Jamaican or Demerara (ie, English) style for maximum authenticity and flavor, and I donno about nixing the Cognac, it goes so pretty with the rum.

Imbibe! suggests:

1 pint lemon

1 lb Demerara sugar

3 oz Peach Brandy

27 oz Cognac

18 oz Rum

3 qts water

to serve every 12-15 people

As you can see, the brandy is intended to be the dominant liquor here, but I have seen (and bought, and drank, and enjoyed) the Hardy VS Cognac for about $40/1.75L at the Spec's on Smith St. in Houston. Might be an option?

Of course there are other recipes, some even with rye or gin, but many of the old ones use cognac.

-Andy

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I'm not a professional bartender but I will have the assistance of several barbacks.

I will be printing a cocktail menu. People are pretty impressed by the menu itself and rarely do they ever ask for anything off of it.

Andy, thanks for the recipe recommendations. I'll have to try some them out.

I think punches could also help round out the menu. Any recommendations?

Barbacks? Fill the ice, wash glasses, cut fruit, wash my silver, get me more freaking towels, repeat..

Once again.....best of luck

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I made the Fish House Punch this summer for a group of guys from my college days who are now scattered around the country. One of them has a cabin on a bluff above the Mississippi River so we went there and another brought fresh salmon as he flew in from Seattle. Perfect setting for some Fish House Punch (assuming you're not actually in Pennsylvania), and it was a huge hit. I'd think it would be ideal for serving at a party like this, especially if you can get someone else to do the juicing.

I roughly inverted the proportion of rum and cognac, i.e. more rum than cognac, and that seemed to suit us well. I wouldn't go entirely without cognac, though. It adds a depth to the flavor. One word of advice: go easy on the peach brandy and add to taste. I was surprised at how much the peach came through in the punch and was glad I had lowballed and worked my way up.

Steve Morgan

[T]he cocktail was originally intended as a brief drink, a quick aperitif to stimulate appetite and stiffen the flagging gustatory senses, but it has passed into accustomed usage as a drink to be absorbed in considerable quantity despite the admonitions of the judicious. -- Lucius Beebe

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At the risk of thread drift... I've seen a few Fish House Punch recipes recently, and one question always comes to mind when I read them: what exactly is peach brandy? Is it a dry eau-de-vie or a liqueur like the peach equivalent of apricot brandy?

As called for in the original recipe it is a dry distillate of peaches that has been barrel-aged, sort of a peach applejack if you will. Nowadays, as per Imbibe! folks make do with the Peach Brandy liqueur, using 1 oz of it for every 4 oz called for in the original recipe, and adjusting the brandy and rum upwards to fill the void. Supposedly there are some rumblings in the dry aged peach brandy end of things regarding new production, but as of now it is a product not produced anywhere in the world and is thus completely unavailable unless you can find an old bottle--elsewhere on egullet Mr. Wondrich has noted it was last produced in the 1940s.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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One non-professional bartender for 125 people?  Yikes.

Did he say that he wasn't a professional bartender?

Well... the time I met Kent for drinks and we talked about what he did for work, professional bartending didn't come up. So took that as a reasonable indication that he's not a professional bartender.

Regardless, shaking out specialty cocktails in an open bar for 125 people by yourself wouldn't be easy even for an experienced professional bartender.

Sorry, I didn't realize that you knew Kent and thought I'd missed something.

As to the latter comment, I agree!

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