Zen and the art of the house party

Invite the right people, get enough booze and let it go

Party planning begins with choosing the right ingredients.

Party planning begins with choosing the right ingredients.

Photo by Larry Dalton

Having a house party is an unusually noble and sacrificing declaration that you love your friends. It takes a big person to offer up one’s home—one’s sanctuary—to perfect strangers and close pals alike. However, people do it because the rewards in gratitude alone are worth the headaches. And the stuff you go through just to make your friends happy should be enough to keep the karma column high for years.

For instance, I had a friend who found fried chicken bones behind her record collection the morning after a raucous party. She was happy, she said, because the bones were evidence that her friends had a good time. Good karma for her.

But party hosting isn’t for everyone, especially control freaks. If you’re someone who worries that people won’t get enough to eat or drink, or you fret that your house isn’t clean enough or you’re embarrassed because you could only afford a keg of Meister Brau, don’t throw a party. Being worried about that stuff doesn’t make you a conscientious host—it makes you annoying.

I’ve found that most people would drink beer out of a toilet if it were free. But ironically, free beer doesn’t necessarily make for a good house party. You only need two things: preparation and the Zen of letting go.

People needing people
If you are a believer that a party is an organic living thing that has a beginning, middle and end, then you understand a party is not something you own. Once started, you can’t control how a party turns out anymore than you can control a teenager. You must let it be.

But you can prepare well. And preparation takes on many facets, only one of which is making sure there is enough booze.

The first question you should ask yourself is, “Who am I inviting?” Whether the party is for co-workers, old college buddies or family should determine how you stock up and—more importantly—the tone of the evening. If the affair will be a mix of friends, co-workers and family, invite people who are either social or drink a little bit. There’s nothing worse, or more awkward, than a party that becomes a silent room.

And there’s no bigger cause of a lame party than neighbors. It’s quite a conundrum. On one hand, it’s an absolute must that you warn your neighbors that you are having a party. On the other hand—because this warning typically comes with an invitation that your neighbors “stop by”—disaster could befall your shindig because of the lame uncomfortableness of having people at your party whose only attachment to you is that a sheet of drywall separates your apartments. I’ve seen parties where one neighbor (usually a vice president of marketing who really likes to talk about his work) is passed around, and eventually avoided, by an entire group of people.

The solution: Warn but do not invite, unless you’re already friends. Is this anti-social? Yes. Just remember the most important thing at any party is the mix of people. Strangers are a wild card.

Dude, beer me
The harsh reality of throwing a party is that you’ll have to spend money. Accept that fact. You can’t take a collection at the door because that’s tacky and, well, remember this is about your karma account, not your bank account. Besides, if most of your friends are cool, they’ll bring booze to add to what you have. Just remember: While an ample supply of liquor is not the most important thing for the success of your party, it certainly helps.

But if you’re paranoid about the cost, go to a place like Beverages and More. The folks at BevMo apparently really like to party—at its store on Arden Way, there are quotes on the walls by famous people celebrating booze. One wall reads: “I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine. – Lennon & McCartney.” I have no idea what John or Paul thought about big-box retail outlets, but I know I’m uncomfortable with them … except for BevMo.

BevMo is kind of like heaven for drunks. Row after row you’ll find any kind of liquor, mixer, wine, beer, garnish or party favor you could ever possibly need or want. From the cup that will hold your cocktail to the umbrella that’ll complement it, BevMo’s got it, and for relatively cheap. So get a little bit of everything and get extra of whatever you think people will drink most. That usually means beer, so get beer. This ain’t rocket science.

Letting go
So it’s party day. Relax. You have the right people coming, the neighbors have been warned and you have the liquor. It’s time to give this sucker your own personal stamp of individuality.

Of course, everybody has his or her own way of doing this. I like to put on my favorite tie—a fat mid-’70s blue bicentennial job that has little American flags all over it—and wear a Schlitz hat. You can also make little snacks that reflect what you’re all about. Mine? The white trash special: A toothpick spear with cubes of cheddar cheese, dill pickle and salami served with dipping sauce (French’s yellow mustard).

You may also string Christmas lights all over your house. Or pack the CD player carousel with Marvin Gaye’s Greatest Hits, “Some Girls” by the Rolling Stones or some old honky-tonkin’ Webb Pierce. Just make it upbeat and danceable (if that’s what you’re into).

You have to recognize that the minute the first guest walks in the door, it’s no longer “your” party, it’s just at your house. And if you understand that and have all your favorite people there, that can be the coolest feeling in the world. Now just enjoy it while you can, and save the cleanup for tomorrow.

Calendar - Less filling, tastes great