Steven Stolman (right, standing, photo by Jerry Rabinowitz) knows a thing or two about throwing parties. The designer and part-time Palm Beacher is the author of Confessions of a Serial Entertainer (Gibbs Smith, $30), which details his classic approach to entertaining. Think: the party scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with cuisine from a 1970s Junior League cookbook. No frills, but plenty of fun.
In an era of Pinterest inspiration, Stolman believes in serving familiar cuisine (like pigs in a blanket and asparagus bites), limiting cocktail parties to two hours (anything longer “gets sloppy,” he says), and hiring a bartender so hosts can enjoy their own gathering. He follows his own advice, and perhaps that’s why the annual “town sweeps” Stolman and husband Rich Wilkie (right, sitting) throw in their Palm Beach condominium are always packed with happy guests—and no food is left uneaten.
“Nothing gives me a greater sense of joy than when the party reaches that critical mass and you actually have to turn up the music because the buzz is so loud,” Stolman says.
Take a page out of Stolman’s book: Below, he shares some of his best party advice from Confessions.
On cocktail party attire
“Don’t be afraid to overdress. No one will ever look down upon you for looking better than everyone else. I’m not suggesting black tie for a picnic, but looking like one has taken some care in putting together an outfit is, as Martha Stewart says, a very good thing.”
“Think about how you look from the waist up, as that’s how people see you at a stand-up cocktail party. Men, think about a natty blazer and a crisp white shirt and a pocket square. Women, consider a beautiful tailored shirt and a dramatic necklace. White shirts highlight one’s smile and eyes. There’s a reason why they are so popular. There is no excuse for not owning a good white shirt. See: Carolina Herrera.”
On stocking the bar
“My advice is to always start with a nice big silver tray and build from there. A basic assortment consists of gin, rum, vodka, Scotch and bourbon. Add to that sweet and dry vermouth. If you want to go further, add Campari and perhaps a good tequila. Cranberry juice really needs to be refrigerated, so I bring it out in small quantities in a clear glass cruet. In a nearby cabinet, I keep club soda, tonic and the inexpensive red and white French table wines that I like to serve for cocktails.
From the above assortment, you can create pretty much any drink, including nonalcoholic mocktails that are pretty without being potent.”
“For glasses, I prefer quantity over quality. While I love our heavy etched crystal double old fashioneds and delicate stemware, it’s the dumb all-purpose bubble wine glasses that get used the most and seem to hold up the best. Splurge for several dozen and you will never worry about having enough for last-minute get-togethers.”
“Now, buy a good sturdy corkscrew, an attractive martini shaker, some kind of simple ice bucket, a metal scoop and, most importantly, a big metal wine chiller that can be filled with ice for larger crowds. I love my silver- plated one that looks like a party the minute I put it out.“
On the hostess gift
“Whatever you do, do not show up with flowers. I have written about it, spoken about it and tweeted ad nauseam. I don’t care if it’s the first black iris of the season or your mother’s prizewinning rose or tulips from the Netherlands—save it for later. What is an awful nuisance the night of a party is a delight the next day, especially with a nice handwritten note.”
On being a good guest
“The best guests are the ones who arrive happy and light up the room. They seem genuinely grateful to be in your home and circulate through the crowd greeting friends and introducing themselves to strangers. They are intuitive and can spot a newcomer and draw them in. They don’t gather in cliques or take themselves on house tours looking to see what’s new. They don’t leave with your new Diptyque room spray in their purse.“
On being a good host
“A good party host must be the ultimate facilitator for people to have a good time. It is a totally unselfish undertaking, so those who need to be the center of attention should probably not entertain, as it won’t be about them. One needs to be adaptable to any deviation from plan, nuanced to adjust any and every element in real time, and unabashedly fearless.”