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Published: Saturday, 10/26/2002

The fine art of the cocktail party

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Martini glass' stem is a pewter figure. From Paula Brown. Martini glass' stem is a pewter figure. From Paula Brown.
BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

“Big Drinks, and Small Talk.”

This catchy title is being used on invitations for a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres shindig Paula and Peter Brown are giving.

The cocktail party is back in a big way, they said.

Whether they're throwing a party at home for a few guests, or at the Toledo Club for a sizeable crowd, as the Browns have opted to do, the cocktail's return is evident not just in the popularity of parties and cocktail hours, but the increasing variety of stylish glassware, bar tools, and fancy drinks.

There are various stories about the birth of the “cocktail.” One legend has it that in colonial times a drink called “cock's ale” was served during cock fights; according to another, an officer in the army of George Washington, who often wore a feather in his hat, made a toast to “the cock's tail!”

Whatever the origin, cocktails, from sour apple martinis to cosmopolitans, are all the rage among educated drinkers.

The Paula Brown shop has ice tongs shaped linke hands and sharks. The Paula Brown shop has ice tongs shaped linke hands and sharks.
BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

“Consumers are looking for that special look - cocktail [ware] has gone from flighty and cheesy to elegant and sophisticated, and the invitation is important, because it sets the tone for the party,” said Mrs. Brown. She and her husband own the Paula Brown Shop, a specialty store in downtown Toledo.

She added that her store will soon carry bar tools detailed with Swarovski crystal, from ice tongs and bottle openers to ice bucket lids.

“People want that glitz,” she added.

Bar tools embroidered with martini glasses, pewter-stemmed glassware, and beaded placemats are just a few of the other trends in accessories for the cocktail.

When planning a cocktail party, think whimsical and unique. advised JJ Kosmider, owner of Urban Living, a specialty story in downtown Perrysburg.

“Martinis are still in, but instead of the wine charms on the glass, now it's the different-colored stems. And the glasses are all different colors, so there's a mix-match of stuff,” she said.

Conventional rules don't always have to apply at today's cocktail parties, Ms. Kosmider added.

“You'll see some serving wine out of short glasses - more of a Tuscan flavor [trend],” said Ms. Kosmider.

To set the mood at cocktail parties, floating candles, vases with bubble-like holders inside that make it appear as if the flower is floating, and other whimsical centerpieces and decorations are popular, she added.

“People are a little more whimsical and innovative. They're having fun instead of planning the big dinner parties, which is expensive. The light appetizer party with cocktails is what is fun - a little bar party is less formal and casual and a lot more economical,” she said.

Henry Coleman, owner and creator of the Web site www.baraccents.com, said having the right bar tools is essential.

“An absolute must is a shaker, the larger the better. Shakers used to come in the 9 to 12-ounce, but we've seen a trend to the 18 to 24-ounce size.

“And typically, the martini glass is now larger than it used to be. Just like you can super-size your Coke, you can super-size your cocktails instead of having lots of little ones,” said Mr. Coleman.

A shaker is a utensil in which the ingredients of a mixed drink are prepared by shaking or stirring. The stainless steel variety is the most popular now.

The cocktail party and happy hour have increased in size.

“Cocktails used to be served in the 1950s at home, either by yourself or with another couple. Now, it's much more of a social thing,” he said. “And there's a much more mature approach to drinking. The cocktail party isn't like the keg party you had in your 20s.”

Another trend, said Mr. Coleman, is serving mixed cocktails instead of straight vodka, for example. Bourbon is increasinly popular, as are flavored vodkas, and serving drinks in double old-fashioned glasses that are a few ounces larger that in years past.

On a tour through Libbey Inc.'s private showroom on North Huron, Jeffrey Joyce, vice president of retail sales for Libbey, said glassware in witty styles has become a great conversation piece.

“There's new glassware with slimmer stems and different-colored bowls - that's one of our newest trends,” said Mr. Joyce, who added that Libbey has also introduced zig-zag stems called the Z-stem, and a line called Shazam, where the martini stem looks like a bolt of lightning. The company's 8-ounce Cosmopolitan glasses come in a variety of options, such as clear, colored, and cobalt.

Think you're ready to throw a cocktail party?

“[Hosts and hostesses] need a general bar kit, because when people want their drink with a slice of lime or a twist of lemon, it's what they want. They are more educated with what they want, and there's an entire set of tools out there,” added Mr. Coleman.



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