Entertaining, Tips, Timesavers & Troubleshooters

The Newport Summer Cocktail Party – 12 “Pardee Tips”

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Let’s talk about something near and dear to a Newporter’s heart: The Cocktail Party. It wouldn’t be a summer in Newport without them! Over the years, having given and attended my fair share of cocktail parties and events, I have amassed quite a few ideas and thoughts on the subject, and I’m happy to share them with you. After all, with a name like Pardee, I’d best know how to design a good party.

First, my entertaining philosophy: for a very few halcyon hours you provide guests the opportunity to step out of their everyday world, put their cares aside, be tended to and then depart with a memory, a “souvenir of life”. What could be more fulfilling.

In order to help achieve cocktail party bliss, here are my 12 Pardee Party Tips for entertaining Newport-Summer-Style:

1. Location, location, location – Newport is in no short supply of gorgeous venues for parties.

Cocktail Parties
Photo Credit: Nicholas Mele

Recently, in an interview with The Salonniere, I was asked about my dream party location. Answer: The small, exquisite (and seldom made available) Chinese Tea House at Marble House.

Chinese Tea House
Photo Credit: Alexander Nesbitt

Balancing on the cliff’s edge, its view sweeps up the mansion-studded coastline.

Chinese Tea House
Photo Credit: Alexander Nesbitt

2. Theme – I’m a big fan! A theme insures a level of anticipation for the guest as soon as the invitation is received and provides the host a focus around which to organize. A theme also answers my husband’s  often-asked question -“what’s the occasion?”

For example – the last party I hosted had a “Bellinis and Blossoms in the Garden” theme during the Newport Flower Show in June. Many donned colorful dresses, hats and flowered ensembles. Gorgeous! (More images here.)

3. Eclectic Guest List – We all enjoy a scintillating conversation at a cocktail party – meeting, connecting, sharing. When planning your guest list, take a few extra minutes and be creative. Of course you have your go-to guests, but how about adding some new, fascinating people whom you have recently met…why not?

Chinese Tea House
Photo Credit: Alexander Nesbitt

A Newport party trademark: generations in attendance. At a recent party I attended, there were four generations represented. That is not unusual and one of many Newport traditions that I love.

4. House Guests – It wouldn’t be summer in Newport without cocktail parties and house guests! Mix. Combine. Enjoy!

5. A Selection of Good Wines and Champagnes

Photo Credit: Carrie Rodman
Photo Credit: Nicholas Mele

Reminder: consider a signature non-alcoholic beverage. Years ago I designed a “Papillon”…San Pellegrino dressed up with 7 dashes of bitters and a big squeeze of lime. And for a festive touch, perhaps a slice of watermelon on the glass’s rim.

Photo Credit: Nicholas Mele
Photo Credit: Nicholas Mele

6. Reliably Yummy Food – My recommendation: unfussy hors d’oeuvres. Some passed, some stationary. And for so many practical reasons, I always specify one-bite, pop-in-the-mouth hors d’oeuvres – no dripping on your dress, crumbling on the hostess’s rug or smearing your lipstick.

Artfully arranged charcuterie
Photo Credit: Nicholas Mele
Photo Credit: Nicholas Mele
Photo Credit: Nicholas Mele

FYI, Newport Fun Fact: the choice in Newport for years (though not mine) has been “Newport caviar”…a toast round spread with crunchy peanut butter and topped with crumbled bacon.

7. Brightly-Colored Attire – clothes, accessories and jewelry…it is summer in Newport, after all!

8. Luscious Flowers – But not overdone; my favorites are smaller arrangements, and more of them, in monochromatic colors.

Luscious Flowers
Photo Credit: Alexander Nesbitt

9. Space Allotment – Be mindful of this detail – a space that’s too large for the number of guests can cause them to feel “adrift” and uncomfortable.

A couple of thoughts regarding outdoor cocktail parties:

10. Citronella Candles – During the summer months in Newport, the mosquitoes can be quite challenging. Citronella candles are an absolute must.

11. Flattering Lighting – Guests want to look their best. Downlighting, uplighting and harsh outdoor lighting can be quite the contrary. Let ambient light and candlelight carry the night; it’s also romantic!

Chinese Tea House
Photo Credit: Alexander Nesbitt

12. Valet Parking – As mentioned, parties in Newport tend to be a mix of ages and generations; valet parking adds ease to the experience.

I welcome hearing about your party tips! Please feel free to share them below…and send this post to a favorite friend.  Happy Party Planning!

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

8 thoughts on “The Newport Summer Cocktail Party – 12 “Pardee Tips”

  1. Good Monday Morning Bettie- This was another wonderful blog. I also noticed but did not need to be mentioned, something you and I both seem to do. My friends always question me if this particular happening was by chance or a planned event. Strangely on most occasions this is just by chance. What is this , you wonder? Well it is coordinating my outfit for that particular evening, around t he color scheme and venue of the party, as you did so nicely @ the cocktail party @ The Chinese House . These are terrific unique blogs . Love MJK

    1. Such fun to hear from you, Mary. And how I, too, adore to dress for a party! Here, the attire request was red, one of my favorite colors, so I was very happy. And my friend in the picture with me was also in red, and her husband was in a red plaid kilt. How about that for dressing for the occasion?

  2. Greetings Bettie!
    I love your cocktail party article and would love to add this thought. I think the guests of the party love to have the choice of which bar they will go to. Having two or three bars in separate areas around the party make it easier for the guests. The bars should be in places where there are no bottlenecks nor in tight areas where people must be squeezed in or must stay in long lines waiting for their drinks.
    Also, I love when there are small cocktail tables to be able to sit around and visit with your friends.
    I’m looking forward to your next fabulous article!
    Much love, Dee Cushing

    1. You are so correct, dear Dee, about well-positioned bars; it’s also another way to direct your traffic flow, because guests will always head where the bar is located. Small cocktail tables are a gracious gesture also. But you’ve been entertaining in Newport for a long time and understand these subtle details. xo Bettie

  3. Dear Betty,
    As usual, you’ve knocked it out of the park! Your blogs are so interesting, beautiful, & glamorous. Really loved the tips you give for parties since we all could use this advice…and yours has really
    notched it up for us! Loved the fact you had light music in the background with just 2 or 3 instruments in the Tea House.
    Keep up the good work bringing us into your chic world!
    Love, Jane

    1. So glad to have you a part of this chic Newport world too, Jane. Thanks for your kind words about my work and see you soon at the next party. xo Bettie

  4. Dearest BettieLove:

    Simply adored this blog, as I have all your others. Having been at many of your exquisite parties, and to the many Newport festivities to which you have graciously taken “the tribe,” I can attest to the fact that you practice everything you suggest here, all to perfection. The best thing that can happen to a person is to be invited to a Pardee pardee. The one at the Tea House was divine, and then some. Wonderful pictures.
    Big hugs, Mariette

    1. The Tea House was one of my all time favorite parties…and I’m so glad you and Edward were with us…as always, in red.
      See you anon, xox Bettie

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