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A Tres Chic Cocktail Party

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An effortless French cocktail party menu that’s guaranteed to make your guests proclaim c’est magnifique

France during l’heure de l’apéritif is something special: Packed cafés bright with conversation and golden light. Bottles and glasses and small bites littered across tables. Friends and lovers and friends who might become lovers meeting to celebrate the start of the night. But this early-evening practice of drinks and snacks doesn’t have to mean a night out on the town. In fact, French apéritif culture can be just as magical at home.

The key to throwing cocktail hour the French way is to keep the preparations simple and to put in the bulk of the effort long before the doorbell rings.

Start with the bar. Apéritif cocktails rely on the quality and complexity of the bottles themselves, not the bartender’s skill set.  For La Pomme Rouge, two French classics—Calvados (French apple brandy) and Lillet Rouge (an apéritif wine)—are shaken over ice with lemon and topped with chilled sparkling wine. It’s an easy, nuanced cocktail that reads extra elegant if you have some vintage coupe glasses lying around. The Not Not Martini is a lesson in batching. A few hours ahead of time (or even the day before), grab a pitcher and combine base. Set it on the bar alongside a bowl of ice and platters of garnishes for a sharp turn on a gin martini, stirred not shaken.

Now, snacks. Apéritifs, from the Latin verb aperire, are meant “to open” the appetite, and in France, that means they are accompanied by a bite to share. It can be something small served on its own (don’t miss the Seedy Herbed Walnuts or the Marinated Olives and Salami), or a combination of bites to form something larger and more sustaining to get you through the rest of the evening (Le Grand Ranch and the Lardon-Fig Twists turn it into more of a meal).The key, again, is to keep the selection simple and easy to eat while standing and juggling cocktail glasses and banter.

The final element of a French cocktail party is leaning into the inherent ease of the ritual itself. L’heure de l’apéritif is more than a simple drink and snack. It’s a gathering together, a small and contained daily celebration to mark the end of work and the start of play or a more amped-up celebration when the occasion calls for it—say, on New Year’s Eve. Break out the extra bottle of bubbly, and toast the guests you’ve welcomed into your home.

Menu Timeline

Up To 1 Week Ahead

  • Make sure you have all nonperishable ingredients and booze in your pantry.

Up To 2 Days Ahead

  • Buy all perishable ingredients.
  • Make the dip for Le Grand Ranch.

Up To 1 Day Ahead

  • Check to see if you have enough ice.
  • Choose all serving dishes/glassware. If you have space, set the servingware on the table/bar.
  • Prepare the Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Dip.
  • Make the Seedy Herbed Walnuts.

A Few Hours Ahead

  • Combine the gin, fino sherry, dry vermouth, and orange liqueur in a pitcher or large mixing glass for a large batch of the Not Not Martinis. Do not add ice until serving.
  • Combine the Calvados, Lillet Rouge, and lemon juice in a pitcher or large mixing glass to assemble a large batch of La Pomme Rouge. Do not add ice or sparkling wine until serving.
  • Prepare the shrimp and vegetables for Le Grand Ranch.
  • Boil the eggs and make the mayo spread for the Eggs Cornichon.
  • Prepare and chill the Lardon-Fig Twists.

Just Before Guests Arrive

  • Assemble the Eggs Cornichon.
  • Make the Marinated Olives and Salami.
  • Bake off the first batch of the Lardon-Fig Twists.
  • Plate everything on serving dishes.

As Guests Arrive

  • Mix the first batches of cocktails, hand them out—and make sure to include one for yourself.

The Menu

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