Menus & Entertaining

How to host a swanky Speakeasy party

By: Colleen Fisher Tully

Author: Canadian Living

Menus & Entertaining

How to host a swanky Speakeasy party

By: Colleen Fisher Tully
It's 1920 -- prohibition has hit the country and there's nowhere to party. Looks like you'll have to turn your home into a "Speakeasy" for a wild evening of canapés, champagne, Manhattans and jazz music. Why, you'll be the cat's pajamas!

Underground drinking establishments were called Speakeasies, or "speak", because in order to gain entrance you had to speak in a low voice through a small opening in the back door and tell the attendant inside whom it was who sent you to the place.

While the vast majority of speakeasies were dank, dingy places with near-inedible food and bathtub liquors, a few existed that truly were the kind of swanky joints we see in the movies. The finest New York clubs (Twenty One, Stork, Embassy, Simplon, Surf, Yale, and 51 1/2 East Fifty First) all served meals comparable to the best hotels. It's much more fun to mimic the rich and famous, so this will be an exclusive party for classy cats and dames.

Reserve your dining room for formal dining and living room for lounging, enjoying music, sipping cocktails and maybe dancing. If you have a patio or deck space it would also make a great spot for conversation.

Your best bet is to go with black and white with your entire decor: it's classy, easy to coordinate and tuxedo-style was a 1920s staple. Keep in mind Art Deco style too -- squares, triangles and circles.

Use full table linens: tablecloth, overlay, napkins -- placemats are optional. Mix and match black and white as you please to ensure full contrast.

Use your best silver. All of it. Read how to properly build your table from our sister site,

A black and white floral arrangement in a glass vase would make a stunning centrepiece. Your local florist should have all the right materials on hand.

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• Haul out your silver trays, crystal glasses and bowls and anything else from your grandmother. Use these for snack bowls and serving h'ors d'oeuvres.

• Tea lights placed around your home are an easy way to create atmosphere. Don't forget a few flickering flames out on the patio, but make sure they're secure in a votive glass.

• Flapper accessories, feathers and shiny beads, can also be used for decoration. Maintaining black and white is best.

The 1920s was the height of New Orleans and Chicago styles of jazz, sandwiched between the Dixieland sound of the 1900's and the Swing era of the 1930s. Look for any of the following artists for authentic 1920s sound: pianist/bandleader Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, coronetist Bix Beiderbecke, pianist Earl Hines, pianist James P. Johnson, and saxiphonist-clarinetist Sidney Bechet.

Here are a few 1920s-inspired selections from The Canadian Living Test Kitchen:

Gravlax Canapés
Shrimp Canapés
Oysters on the Half Shell
Stuffed Mushroom Caps

Tomato Onion Panade
Smashed Red Potatoes
Broccoli and Cauliflower with Garlic and Oil
Rice Pilaf

Beef Tenderloin with Marinated Walnut Sauce
Chicken Amandine
Rack of Lamb with Mustard Sauce
Magret of Duck with Fig and Port Sauce

Vanilla Rice Pudding
Chocolate Mousse Truffle Cups
Create your own fruit salad

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In truth, any cocktail you create will be á propos -- the majority of today's cocktails were created in the 1920s to mask the strength and bad taste of bathtub liquors and moonshines. Champagne cocktails were also a big hit.

Here are some classics to get you started:
Bourbon Sidecar
Classic Dry Martini
Classic Manhattan
Champagne Cocktail

Use Art Deco style black and white invitations to your classy Speakeasy. Be sure to clarify whether you wish your guests to dress up as flappers and gangsters or not.

Your guests will naturally want to know about the music you're playing. Do a little research and ask a few jazz trivia questions. Your guests will gain a better appreciation of your musical selection plus any music aficionados will get the conversation ball rolling. Award the winner a bottle of premium gin or his or her own Jazz CD.

For a more adventurous group, learn to dance the Charleston together! Download this printable PDF of the Charleston dance steps:

Learn to do the Charleston

You could also turn this into a contest and award a prize to the winner. There's also the Foxtrot, Turkey Trot, Jive, Lindy Hop and Black Bottom.

Another crowd favourite is the costume contest: best Flapper and best Gangster.

For the kids
Little flappers and gangsters would love to learn any of these wacky dance steps of their great-grandparents' era. You could also keep them busy with Art Deco art projects or a modern, kid-friendly movie set in the 1920s. They also might enjoy learning 1920s slang. Click here for a downloadable PDF.

Either hire someone or enlist a family member to take black and white or sepia-toned Polaroid pics and hand them to guests at the end of the night with silver frames. You could also burn copies of your Jazz music selections for each guest.

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Menus & Entertaining

How to host a swanky Speakeasy party