The Best Christmas Cocktails

Christmas cocktails are arguably the best cocktails. Alas, mixology is not my strong suit. So I asked an expert for his advice! Yusef Austin, AKA The Cocktail Architect, is a Brooklyn-based beverage genius. His emphasis on seasonal ingredients, quality, creativity, and taste generates sophisticated cocktails with a multi-sensory experience. Craft three of his staple Christmas cocktails at home by following the recipes below.

Merry and Bright

Cheerful with a zing.

Ingredients: 2 oz. Local Gin, Hibiscus Tea Mixer (Dried Hibiscus, Cinnamon Stick, Orange Zest, Crushed Cardamom, Cloves) and 3/4 oz. Meyer Lemon Juice

Garnish: Dehydrated Lemon Wheel

Shake and strain into a martini or coupe glass.

The Best Cocktail Recipes for Christmas

Santa, Baby

Christmas spice classic.

Ingredients: 2 oz. Local Whiskey, 1 oz. Chili Infused Honey, 1 oz. Orange + Lemon Juice Mix

Garnish: Orange Flamed Twist & Sphere Ice Cube

Shake and strain into a double rocks glass.

The Best Cocktail Recipes for Christmas

White Christmas

The perfect dessert cocktail.

Ingredients: 2 oz. Vodka, 1/2 oz. Tonka Bean + Vanilla Bean Mixer/Syrup, 1 oz. Chilled Espresso

Garnish: Whipped Cream, Grated Cinnamon

Shake and strain into a vintage cocktail glass.

The Best Cocktail Recipes for Christmas

A massive thank you to Yusef Austin for sharing these Christmas Cocktail Recipes! To learn more about The Cocktail Architect, click here or click here to learn about his virtual mixology classes.

Read more from the Happy Hostess

Sunset at the Beach

If you’re like me, it can be hard to stay in one place for long. When you’re eager for a change of scenery, find the nearest beach, and plan a few special touches to elevate an evening away from home. Celebrate life over a glass of rose and good conversation, watching the sunset at the beach.

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Sunset Vibes

Sunset at the beach is quite possibly one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. I don’t get to the beach as often as I’d like, so it feels really special when I can block out an evening to getaway.

Beach Moment

Plan to arrive to the beach a few hours before sunset. Typically, two to three hours is the perfect amount of time for me. Though, if you want to spend the latter half of the day at the beach, be my guest!

When I go to the beach for a day trip, chairs are definitely my forte. But when I head to the beach for an evening away, I like to keep it as simple and lightweight as possible. I pack a blanket to cozy up on, and set up a little vignette of the following things.

Lifeguard deck at beach

Bubbles & Bites

Wine, rose, and champagne always taste better at the beach! Chill the bottles beforehand, and add them to a little cooler or insulated bag with ice right before leaving. Always opt to bring acrylic wine glasses or plastic cups over glass.

Wine glasses at beach with beach hat, flip flops and sunglasses, on a blanket

I’m a big fan of a charcuterie board. It feels super indulgent, but it’s relatively low maintenance to compose. Plus, what goes better with wine than cheese?

In the morning, prepare the board with a few cheeses, prosciutto, bread or crackers, and jam. Cover the board with tin foil, pop it in the fridge, and take it out right before heading to the beach.

Don’t forget: plates, napkins, cheese knives, hand sanitizer, and garbage bags for trash.

Pro-Tip: Don’t go overboard; less is more for an evening at the beach. Think: easy in, easy out. The simpler, the better!

Cheese board at the beach

Games & Activities

If you’re going to the beach with family or friends, consider packing a few lightweight games to play when you first arrive. It’s an easy way to break the ice, kick off the evening and keep people entertained. Especially if little ones are involved!

A deck of cards, kite, or a game like ring toss are perfect options.

ocean waves crashing on shore during sunset
Photo by Jess Vide on


Most beaches are pretty lenient on allowing visitors to play music, especially in the evening when it’s less crowded. Charge up your portable speaker, and find a few good playlists to set the tone for the evening.

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Music is such a simple way to completely transform the vibe of a space. Plus, it can inspire off-the-cuff moments of singing and dancing, spark a new conversation, or give a little background when the conversation falls as you watch the sunset.

Relax and Enjoy

It’s so important to build in time to recharge and celebrate the small things that life has to offer. What better way to do that than with your feet in the sand, and sunset on the horizon?

For more ideas to elevate special moments, see my blog posts under Happy Hostess.

birds flying under orange clouds
Photo by Jess Vide on

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How-To: Make A Self Serve Bar

When gatherings at home feel too intimate for a bartender, self serve bars are the name of the game. They’re an ideal option for guests to help themselves to their beverage of choice, without overwhelming the host with drink orders. Follow these steps on how-to make a self serve bar that’s just as aesthetically pleasing as it is convenient.

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Select Beverages

The best piece of advice I could give to determine which beverages to include on a bar, is to think in terms of “knowing your audience.” I pose that phrase to clients and myself all the time, because it’s true!

As a host, you can recount occasions with your specific group of guests that remind you how popular Aperol Spritz’s are, or inform a decision to purchase one pack of beer because you know only two people will drink it.

Consider the guests, their go-to drink orders, and your favorite recipes to share and introduce via a welcome drink or signature beverages at the bar.

Standard Bar Guide

Spirits: Vodka, Tequila (I prefer Blanco), Bourbon, Gin, Cognac, White Rum

Mixers: Club Soda, Seltzer, Lime Juice, Cointreau, Bitters, Vermouth

Garnishes: Lime Wedges, Lemon Wedges, Orange Slices, Maraschino Cherries, Mint, Salt & Sugar

Barware: Ice Bucket & Scoop, Bar Spoon, Cocktail Shaker, Strainer, Muddler, Jigger

Glassware: Rocks, Highball, Red Stem, White Stem, Champagne, Martini

There’s a method to the madness! There are about five, five-ounce glasses of wine in one bottle… A 750 ml bottle of liquor will account for about twenty-five, one-ounce shots… And so on and so forth. Pro-Tip: When in doubt, plan for three drinks and three glasses per person for a two hour event.

Create Mini Vignettes

Once your beverages and barware accounted for, the next step on how-to make a self serve bar is all about organizing.

Group like items together that compliment one another in color, texture, and most importantly, use. Functionality is key for a self serve bar to operate like it’s intended to. Guests will be more inclined to ask the host for assistance, or skip the drink altogether, if beverages and barware are too far out of reach.

Choose tableware that coincides well with the event theme and color scheme. My list of Most Loved Sites for Party Supplies is a great resource for unique finds.

Prepare Cocktail Recipe Cards

Everyone appreciates drink recommendations! Even self-proclaimed bartenders.

There are dozens of vehicles for presenting drink recipes to guests. A picnic might call for a chalkboard, while a cocktail party might opt for acrylic signs in stands. Either option would double as decor on a self serve bar.

Here’s a cheap and cheerful way to create cocktail recipe cards...

  • Format a Word document to a 4×6 layout
  • Add the drink name, along with a photo, to the first page, and list the ingredients and instructions on the next page
  • Design each cocktail card with the font and colors of your choice
  • Save as a PDF
  • Email the file to Staples to print each cocktail recipe double sided (picture on the front, ingredients and instructions on the back), on a high-gloss cardstock. Request they laminate each card to protect them from inevitable spills.

I created three cocktail recipe cards for just under $14. Click the Download button below to view some pretty stellar recipes.

Form a Back Bar

The last thing that any host wants to do is restock a bar, especially in the middle of a party.

Use a ledge, table or shelf as a back bar to house extra bottles of club soda, seltzers and mixers. Keep like items together by grouping beverages according to brand, flavor and use. Juices in one spot, sodas in another!

Get Welcome Drinks on Deck

Welcome drinks with an unexpected twist are a fun way to kick off a celebration. For my Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash, mini margaritas in Patron Silver bottles were a must!

Miniature Bottles of Patron Silver with Pink Flamingo Straws inside
Photo by Mel Barlow & Co. Click here to find Pink Flamingo Drink Straws

I also filled an inflatable pool with a variety of spiked seltzers and a metal cooler with beers.

I left tumblers on the bar, each with their own unique design, for guests to choose from when they first arrived. The tumblers doubled in use as guests refilled water bottles from drink dispensers throughout the party, and took them home as gifts upon departure.

Add Surprise and Delight

Lastly, don’t forget to incorporate some form of Surprise and Delight.

Unique drinks in unexpected places can activate a space, and add value to a design-driven concept. I left guests to discover Jello shots stacked up in a retro cooler that was nestled among lawn games.

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Event Decks

Decks provide visual reference for event concepting, design, layout, form and function. They’re an extremely useful tool to curate how an event will look and feel.

What is an Event Deck?

After I’ve surfed through Pinterest, mulled over different designs, and have a skeletal plan for an event, I launch Powerpoint and begin working on a deck.

The deck serves two purposes; representing inspiration and actualized ideas. It flushes out concepts, serves as a hub of information and is ultimately a decision-making platform.

When I build a deck, I like to think in terms of event flow, with a beginning, middle and end. I start by choosing a cover photo that best represents the vibe I’m after.

My Event Deck features tropical concepts, represented by this pool with palm leaves
Photo by Scott Webb on

Finding Inspiration

In the early stages of a deck, the next 10-20 slides are filled with inspiration images ranging from stationery ideas, to welcome moments, decor, activities, food and beverage, and guest gifts.

There could be as many as 3-5 different themes shown in these initial images. Think of this step as a jumping off point to guide you towards a final theme direction that best accomplishes the goals you’re after.

Read more about the importance of defining goals for your event here and the role they play during the planning process.

My Event Deck includes concepts like a beauty bar activation, represented by this image of powdered eyeshadows in pink, blue, orange, and purple
Photo by 𝐕𝐞𝐧𝐮𝐬 𝐇𝐃 𝐌𝐚𝐤𝐞- 𝐮𝐩 & 𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐟𝐮𝐦𝐞 on

Looking at Logistics

As the deck is populated with inspiration, consider the following for each concept shown:

  • How does this support the overarching goals of the event?
  • Is this feasible in accordance with the event budget?
  • What labor will this realistically require for set up, during the event itself and strike?

All of these questions will prompt you to play out scenarios for each design.

Finalizing the Theme

Look for patterns in the inspiration photos that make you most excited, and identify exactly which parts of those images you are drawn to and why. Research the marketplace for the concepts shown, it may become clear that certain themes are out of budget, or lacking in availability.

At this stage, you will have fully flushed out the design, compared pricing to the event budget and confirmed availability. Check the box for due diligence!

Once the theme is selected, deep dive into design. Remove any inspiration images that no longer fit the scope and scale of the event.

It’s totally fine to mix and match inspiration images that showcase different themes. The point is that the deck makes sense to you. It doesn’t need to represent one continuous design plan just yet.

My Event Deck includes flamingo stakes, pictured here, and pink accents with palm leaves
Photo by Linda Eller-Shein on

Pro-Tip: Lean into the design by creating vignettes for each phase of the event. Consider the presentation of everything; treat all vessels, activities, food & beverage, and decor as a decision. Be thorough here, anything within the event environment should be on-brand and represent the theme.

Planning for Purchases

While sourcing materials for the event, add product links and pricing to the notes section of the Powerpoint slide that houses the items you’re considering.

Look for multiple suppliers of those products – don’t just purchase the first one you see. Starting far enough in advance of the event will position you to purchase items when they’re on sale.

When your first purchase has been made, separate the event deck into two sections: Inspiration and Purchased. Reference and compare the two sections against future purchases to stay on theme. This is also when an Inventory List will come into play.

Two nude pool umbrellas
Photo by Dids on

It’s All Coming Together

At this stage, the deck is no longer a shell of a design, but instead a cohesive lookbook of actualized purchases.

Populate your deck in real-time, as purchases are made and orders are confirmed, to account for each piece of the puzzle.

Don’t forget to include stationery, like the save the date!

Pink exterior envelope with my name on it in white script. This was the save the date invitation for my twenty fifth birthday bash
Envelope liner with palm leaves
Save the date invitation with pink flamingos and gold and pink writing

Final Edits

Once all purchases are reflected in the deck, play the presentation on full screen a few times, and organize slides in a cohesive way; mirroring the beginning, middle and end of the event.

It’s super helpful if the items on each slide make up the vignette being produced on the event day. Then, it can be easily translated to a visual checklist of items to account for once you or any staff hired starts to set up.

Final edits solidify the vision and goals for the event, and demonstrate how to properly execute those moments in a turnkey way.

Round beach towels in palm leaves and pink flamingos. Yellow palm leaf pillows
Tropical sun visors in playful patterns like rainbow, mermaid, orange, iridescent and pink and green palm leaves.
"Baby Got Bounce" inflatable beach ball, "Island Vibes" inflatable flyer and inflatable volleyball net for pool

The Completed Deck

Toss the confetti, the deck is complete!

Download the presentation to your phone for quick reference on the event day. This step-by-step guide is such a helpful resource to identify where every item will live, so be sure to share with anyone assisting with set up on the event day.

To view an example of a final event deck, click the Download button below. This deck shows the plans for my twenty fifth birthday celebration that took place over the summer of 2020 (I had a blast with this one). To read more about that party and how it came to fruition, click here.

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A time to practice gratitude, enjoy the company of friends and test your cooking skills.

A Little Background

Choosing to host Friendsgiving was a super easy decision. I had just settled into my first apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and was excited to welcome friends into my new space.

Calendar coordination proved to be quite the task, but once we landed on a weekend, the invitations went out.

Digital white envelope liner with seasonal foliage

Digital Invites FTW

When I’m hosting a personal event, I prefer to send digital invitations for a few reasons, but my number one reason is for convenience.

Digital invites via platforms like Paperless Post offer automated RSVP tracking, enclosure cards, embedded links to external sites, and capabilities to send follow up messages to specific groups of guests (perfect for inquiring about dietary restrictions and food allergies).

A few other reasons I prefer digital invites…

  • Invites can be edited even after they’ve been sent out.
  • Tons of fully customizable and user-friendly design templates.
  • Relatively inexpensive invitation suites compared to traditional printing methods.

Lastly, there are so many aspects of events that are unfortunately unsustainable and not so environmentally-friendly. Opting for digital invites can #savethetrees and reduce waste.

Friendsgiving digital invitation with seasonal foliage boarder and brown and orange writing


Somewhere in the process of dreaming up Friendsgiving and sending out the invitations, I started a Pinterest board.

When I need to narrow down theme options and decide on a color palette, Pinterest is usually the best platform for me to see all of the options, and curate the ideal look and feel that I’m after.

These are some of the pins that sparked the most inspiration.

Over the next few months, I populated an Event Deck with inspiration images, household items that I planned to use, and links to products that I intended to purchase.

It was my Friendsgiving deck that led me to purchase my first set of china, which I still love!

Menu Planning

Menu planning is one of my favorite things to do. I find it so satisfying to surf the web and flip through books to create a menu that people will enjoy, and tell a story that they will remember.

As much as I love to cook, I’m also a big fan of convenience. Spare yourself the time and effort where you can, by relying on other people and places to add to the table (no pun intended).

I lean on local businesses whenever possible; the butcher down the street for meats and cheeses, the bakery with fresh pies and cookies, and local floral boutiques, to provide fresh, seasonal products that guests love.

Friendsgiving Menu

AppetizerCheese Spread from Bedford Cheese ShopSparkling Apple Cider Sangria
First CourseRoasted Butternut Squash Soup
Apple, Cranberry, Walnut Salad
Veuve Clicquot
Main Course & SidesTurkey
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Corn
Candied Yams
Green Beans
Fresh Rolls
Zinfandel, Rose, Assorted Reds
DessertApple Crumb Pie from Martha’s Country Bakery
Ice Cream Sundaes
Chocolate Chip Cookies

The above menu coincided with a fairly length grocery list, as I’m sure you can imagine. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will note that I found it much more turnkey to list the ingredients and quantities needed under the heading of each recipe, for reference when we began to cook.

Event Flow

I only invited a few friends, who were all coming in from out of town and stayed with me for the weekend.

My timeline officially kicked into gear on Saturday morning. Starting with breakfast at home, into shopping around Williamsburg’s boutiques, to visiting the waterfront, and returning home for Friendsgiving festivities to begin.

Photo of me by the water!
Photo by Alex Munteanu

This is a much looser run-of-show than I would compose for a client, or for an event with more moving parts. Still, referencing a framework of to-do’s and next steps kept me on track as the day unfolded. Creating this in advance also helped ensure I wouldn’t forget anything on the day-of.


– Go to Bagel Smith for Bagels
– Cook Quiches
– Assorted Bagels
– (2) Quiches
– Corn Muffins
– Seasonal Fruits
– Mimosas
– Coffee & Tea
AfternoonCheese Plate
– Slice Cheese
– Jams in White Ramekins; Refrigerate
– Wash Grapes; Refrigerate
– Nuts in Italy Bowl, White Vase and White Ramekins on Top Shelf of Bar Cart
– Crackers on Top Shelf of Bar Cart
Bar Cart
– Remove Items from Top Shelf
– Square Blue Ravello Plate to Top Shelf
– Cheese Board to Top Shelf
– Chalkboard Cheese Signs on Cheese Plates
– Menu Sign on Gold Easel
– White Pitcher on Top Shelf (Sangria)
– Straws in Water Glass on Top Shelf (from under sink)
– Cocktail Napkins on Bar
– Plastic Cups on Bar
Bake Cookies
– Snickerdoodles
– Chocolate Chip Cookies
– Store in (2) Shallow Bowls and Cover w/ Tinfoil
Whipped Cream
– Place Bottom of Mixer and Large White Vase in Freezer to Chill
– Make Whipped Cream & Transfer into White Vase; Cover w/ Tinfoil and Store in Fridge
Peel and Chop
– Sweet Potatoes
– Butternut Squash
– Yukon Gold Potatoes
Late AfternoonPrep
– Make Sangria and Move to Fridge to Soak & Chill (White Pitcher)
– Light Festive Candles
– Turn on Music
– Netflix Fireplace on TV
– Set Table
– Prepare Apples for Salad
– Decide Team Captains for Recipes; Cook Away!
Dinner– Place Out Cheese Spread and Sangria Pitcher
– Shift Music to Jazz Playlist
Bon Appetit!– Pour Champagne
– Soup in Bowls; Garnish
– Invite Guests to Dinner
– Toast
– Enjoy First Course
– Clear Soup Bowls; Clear Floral Arrangement; Place Wooden Salad Bowl in Center of Table w/ Wooden Tongs
– Guests to Self-Serve Salad
– Enjoy Second Course
– Put Dinner Rolls in Oven
– Clear Second Course
– Invite Guests to Buffet
– Bon Appetit!
Gold and marble bar cart made cheese board for Friendsgiving appetizers

A Little Reflection

Friendsgiving was the first gathering I hosted (back in 2018), and it was a massive learning experience.

It was a team effort between my friends and I to prep, cook and clean everything, (which was no easy feat in a small apartment without a dishwasher!) but we divided and conquered by designating captains to take the lead on each recipe.

Champagne glass with Friendsgiving dinner in the background

We toasted to health & happiness, played a Thanksgiving-themed trivia game, and shared all that we were thankful for. I’d love the chance to host Friendsgiving again soon… though next time, it might be a potluck.

Friendsgiving place setting, with white coupe china, and roasted butternut squash soup in a bowl