How to Throw a Roaring 20's Speak-Easy Birthday or New Year's Party
What better way to celebrate a big event than by throwing a party, roaring '20s style?! No one partied better than the flappers and dapper men in the underground speak easies, during Prohibition. Why you ask? Well, think about it...alcohol was prohibited from use and sale, so that made the young, wild folks want to do it even more. Speak Easies popped up all over the country in many cities and housed a variety of illegal alcoholic beverages that so many party-going folks craved. They were a place where young men and women (and even old) could go to have a fun time and get a little loosey-goosey without having to worry about getting in trouble for doing so. Many speak easies even had a secret hallway or passage in the back of their buildings facilitated as a means to sneak the customers out, if by happen-chance the police showed up. You can see how a speak easy would make for a great party theme, right?
The first thing to think about is the invitations. How do you want them to look? Do you want to do online or mailed invitations? Who would you invite? You will also want to think about what day and time and the location, as these things are required for invitational purposes. If you want to send out invitations via the Internet, evite.com has a wonderful assortment of cocktail and alcohol themed invitations. Using online invitations is always the simplest and cheapest way to go; however, sending out invitations via the mail adds a classy and unique touch. I also believe that it can add to the preliminary element of the theme that you are trying to create.
Fortunately there is a whole cornucopia of options for invitations, should you choose to make them yourself. There are vendors on Etsy.com that provide wonderful printable templates for a 1920s party, including the alluring flapper invitation (created and sold by lynetteart), pictured below. Lynette gives you the ability to add whatever text you would like to the invitation and then print them from your own printer. Saving time is the objective that is achieved here. Whatever the type of invitation you send, just ensure that you are writing something fun and enticing to grab your friends and family members' attention. For example:
"Come drink & dance the night away at our Roaring '20s Speak Easy Party. The booze will be flowing like milk and honey, honey!"
Decorations - Creating a 1920s Ambiance
Now that you have created and sent the invitations to your friends and loved ones, you may begin planning and purchasing decorations for the party. For obvious reasons, you are going to want to promote an ambiance of a retro bar atmosphere. One idea is to purchase old-looking bottles online or from a thrift store (usually you can find them at a thrift store for pretty cheap). Use your computer, printer, and printer labels to create your own alcoholic beverage stickers. Have the labels say things like, "Prohibition" (like the label pictured to the right), "Flappers' Fizz", or "Capone's Moonshine"...be creative with it. Do your research on the time period and you will find inspiration for alcoholic labels.
If you are having the party at your house or somewhere that has a tub, fill the tub with water and dye it a bright color...you can call it "bathtub gin". I would say dye it yellow, but that might not look very appealling and might have a tendency to scare off your guests...so maybe a nice blue or orange would be a better choice.
Search for flapper inspired or 1920s inspired art online and print it on photo paper. Let the ambiance of the roaring twenties adorn all of the walls. Any Art Deco type prints or (once again) vintage-like alcohol ads would also be perfect. Other pictures you could place as centerpieces on tables or on bars could be of Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, or any other famous gangster of that time period. The Speak-Easies were a bit more upscale bars as opposed to the dive bars, so I suggest decorating the party atmosphere to appear a little less like a hole-in-the-wall and a little more like a classy club. Throw white linen tablecloths on any tables you may have, maybe some linen napkins (if available) with shiny red or black tableware. You could even hang some beads or feather strands from the doorways or entrance-ways to create a flirty flapper appeal.
Another suggestion - get rid of anything that appears too modern. You don't really want any modern day appliances out in the open, unless you are using a television to play old silent films in the background. Play music but hide your modern-day, high-tech stereo system with an antique linen or another tablecloth.
As for what to use for the drinks, use teacups and saucers, as this was the traditional way to serve alcohol at a speak-easy back in the times of the roaring twenties!
Watch old movies through Netflix or youtube (I've posted one below) and find inspiration for your decorations. Be creative! Do your research on the time period and look at websites such as etsy.com for unique vintage decorations (that could be used again at future parties) or partycity.com to find party favors and items that scream (or roar) 1920's!
An Authentic 1920s Menu
For a speak-easy shindig, I recommend serving appetizers and drinks only. You will most likely want this party to occur at night, so people will probably already have had dinner. I pulled the following appetizer recipes from one of my antique cookbooks and SURPRISE - the cookbook itself was published in 1927, so the food is authentic to the 1920s!
Cheese & Olive Canapes:
Beat a cream cheese light with a little sweet cream, or cottage cheese may be prepared in a similar fashion. Slightly salt and add paprika or a little cayenne. Butter square crackers, 1 for a portion, spread with cream cheese, putting it on in a little heap with a fork, then sprinkle with finely chopped olives, plain or stuffed.
Soda Brown Bread:
Mix with sifting 1 pint cornmeal, yellow or white, 1 cup white flour, 1 cup rye flour and a teaspoon salt. Mix again with 1/2 cup molasses, enough sour milk to make a thick batter, and add a teaspoon soda dissolved in a tablespoon warm water, beat well, turn into well greased pans. This amount will make 2 small loaves; bake in a moderate oven for 90 minutes.
You may also want to serve some authentic 1920s desserts, such as a Lady Baltimore Cake:
Sift 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar and cream 1/2 cup butter, then cream the two together. Sift 3 cups pastry flour with 3 teaspoons baking powder 3 times and measure. After creaming butter and sugar, add 1/3 cup cold water and a cup of flour and beat thoroughly. Add 2nd cup flour and beat thoroughly. Then add 3rd cup flour and 2/3 cup water, also 1/2 teaspoon each almond and vanilla extract and beat again. Last of all, fold in the well beaten whites of 4 eggs, with which has been beaten a small pinch of salt. Bake in 3 layers.
So what about drinks you say? Well, I am fairly sure I don't need to give out any recipes for alcoholic beverages...you should know the lot! Serve gin and tonics (refer to the drink as bathtub gin), moonshine (some sort of vodka mix), jack and cokes, etc. Whatever drink you feel would fit the prohibition days, serve it! Ensure that everyone has their very own glass, maybe even give them to your guests as party favors?
Costumes - 1920's Styles
You have sent out your fabulous invitations, gathered and prepared all of your decorations, thought of the music and entertainment, but have you thought of what you want to wear to this 20's extravaganza? The 1920s has a few style of costumes to choose from. For the ladies: the typical flapper - short finger-waved or bobbed wig with a feathered headband, fringey cocktail dress and a sexy pair of heels. If you have a talent or a knack for doing your own hair, try styling your hair with finger waves...there are instructional videos on youtube that you can use in the process. You could even top your look off with a long cigarette holder. Sometimes you can find this accessory at costumes stores, or for a more vintage look - search ebay or etsy! Another option for the ladies - gangster lady. Find some pictures of Bonnie (from the infamous Bonnie & Clyde crime duo) and get inspired by her 1920s look. Or go online to www.buycostumes.com and do a search for gangster lady costume...you'll find some really cute options there. Another option is to go totally unique as a circus performer from the 20's. I found an antique gold sequined circus costume from the 1920s on sale at etsy.com for less than $100! Find yourself a sparkly tutu or shimmery leggings and a feathered tophat and VOILA...1920s circus performer extraordinaire!
For the fellas - I suggest going with the gangster look, all the way! Emulate the style of Al Capone or Clyde...think pin-striped zoot suits with fedora hats. Check out ebay's supply of men's gangster costumes, you can find a great deal! If you want to do something a little different from the majority of men attending this speak-easy party, wear a henley shirt with long trousers and suspenders. Top it off with a hat and maybe a flask and you will have a genuine 20's look, but stand out a bit from the mob of gangsters that will attend this party!
Written and copyrighted © by Kitty the Dreamer (May Canfield), 2012. All Rights Reserved.
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