As a child of the 90s, I was deeply obsessed with the 1970s, much to my mom’s horror. I spent all of my allowance at thrift shops, delighted by the polyester dresses, the enormous enamel lamps, and the wonders of space-age living. One of my favorite second hand purchases were always cookbooks. From the slightly grotesque photography, to the inedible sounding recipes, to the chic hostess tips, I was enamored with the idea of swingin’ 60s and 70s entertaining. Everyone looked so cool in their cigarette pants, eating fluorescent Jell-O and sipping tiki drinks. My parents own boring backyard bbqs were nowhere near as cool as the soirees of the past, and I was determined to have stylish get-togethers as soon as I was grown up.
This idea never truly left me, still influencing my décor aesthetic nearly twenty years later. And although I’ve moved past my fascination with aspics and conversation pits, I do love breaking out those old cookbooks and finding inspiration for my own parties. Recently, I decided to host a weekend cookout, and was just about to settle for the usual burgers-ribs-and beer when I remembered a gorgeous yellow Bakelite deviled egg tray I picked up at a vintage shop. Digging it out, my mind began to spin with ideas—why not have the ideal retro party of my childhood dreams, but with a classier edge?
I poured over the pages of Entertaining Homes, a three-ring binder lifestyle book published in 1973, designed for guiding party throwers on everything from etiquette to canapés to cocktails. I selected a handful of recipes and snagged a few tips, and guess what? My party was a total success! Not only was the (slightly) modified spread delicious, but my friends all loved the kitschy atmosphere.
So, what exactly did I do? I’m glad you asked! Here are my recipes and tips for throwing your very own Swingin’ Summer Soiree.
I didn’t go to great lengths to decorate my pad (they said pad a lot, so I’m saying it now.) I knew that the party would end up being mostly outdoors, so I hit up some thrift shops and party stores, arming myself with several pink flamingo lawn ornaments, some tiki torches, and a few vintage plastic lawn chairs. I grabbed a box of retro-styled swizzle sticks for cocktail hour, some clearance large-bulb string lights, and a straw mat as a make-shift dancefloor. It cost me less than $40 and two hours to transform my backyard into the cover of a Martin Denny record, and you know what? It felt cool back there. I have to admit it.
I wheeled out a three-tiered Ikea cart as a bar, topping it with my collection of vintage barware, the liquor required for my cocktails, and an assortment of maraschino cherries, cocktail olives, and lime wedges. On the second tier, I stocked plastic plates, forks, and napkins, in a dizzying array of pink and orange. The third tier held plastic pitchers of mixers—lemonade, strawberry puree, and sparkling water. A yard sale ceramic mermaid, complete with a light up shell bra, made the perfect centerpiece for the cart and added a touch of authentic trashiness.
I have a record player, but I was too nervous to bring it outdoors. So instead I made a playlist, including the aforementioned Martin Denny, Connie Francis, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, and a sprinkling of Annette Funicello beach party songs.
Vintage recipe books have some gems, and some definite gag-worthy moments. As long as you keep things feeling classic, the taste should be the primary factor—I mean, no one—literally no one—wants to eat savory Jell-O molds. So don’t waste your money on joke dishes, when you can serve some 70s housewife realness by simply modifying classic dishes.
These are ubiquitous appetizers, and it took very little thought for me to decide they’d be a staple snack at my party. I picked up strip steak, marinated it in Worcestershire sauce, minced ginger, smoked salt, pepper, and a splash of bourbon for three hours. While it was marinating, I soaked my skewers, which is essential if you don’t want them to catch on fire. I threaded five inch long servings onto the skewers, baked at 375 for about 18 minutes, and let repose on the counter until serving time.
Just say no to Miracle Whip and sweet gherkins and yes to chili oil and bacon! I boiled two dozen eggs with a splash of vinegar, let them chill overnight, and then got to scooping. Cut the eggs in half, toss the yolks into a bowl, and mix with a cup of sour cream, a cup of mayonnaise, two generous spoonfuls of mustard, celery salt, smoked salt, garlic powder, and a scant teaspoon of sugar. Fill the egg halves, top with crispy cooked bacon and a dash of chili oil. Serve on a sweet Bakelite serving tray.
Fruit and Veggie Trays
Canapés were a classy way to feed friends on the cheap, and I’m no better than our party animal ancestors. But I do have better grocery stores, where I snagged fresh celery, carrots, Honeycrisp apples, broccoli, and grapes. I arranged my haul on giant daisy printed platters, stabbed them with hot pink Hula dancer toothpicks, and set out hummus and Greek yogurt for dipping.
Really, any classic cocktail book will steer you in the right direction. I opted for versatile mixers that would complement liquor or non-alcoholic drinks, going for strawberry puree, lemonade, and sparkling water. I also picked up some vintage sodas at BevMo for an added bit of fun.
Now go! Go forth and throw your own hip party for your jetsetter friends.