Spring brings new life, warmer weather, fresh air and, in Louisville, an excuse to throw a party or two! The Kentucky Derby aside, where it feels like all of Louisville goes on a bourbon-fueled sabbatical, spring presents many occasions to entertain, including Mother’s Day, graduation parties or just a chance to catch up with friends after a long winter.
I love to host parties, and I especially love to host a party with a good theme. My husband and I own and operate a vintage tea room, the Old Capitol Tea Room, out of our 104-year-old historic home in downtown Corydon, Ind. My theatre background and Bellarmine fine arts degree have both been big assets in coming up with creative ideas for our themed tea parties. We love to create a unique atmosphere for our guests by way of decor, music, food and drink—and you can too.
Attach a theme that lets your guests know they are in for an exciting time, and not just a veggie-tray-and-cheese-cube get-together. If you are throwing a Derby party, have fun with it. Maybe it’s a 1970s Derby party! There are endless fun possibilities with clothes, hairstyles and music. Put a twist on your event. Who says costume parties are just for Halloween?
Use your party as an excuse to dress up. The one thing I hear over and over from the ladies who attend our tea parties is that they love the chance to dress up—to bring out that one special dress hanging in the closet that they never have occasion to wear. As a huge vintage enthusiast, I love to pick up a unique statement piece from that local treasure, The Nitty Gritty, and wear it to a party. When I throw a party, I make sure to add a surprise accessory, like a 1950s hat, or have fun in a hostess gown, à la Joan Crawford. You’re the host after all. Wear something you feel good in, so you can move about the party with ease as you mingle with guests.
Think about the music. Don’t just turn on the current radio hits—set the atmosphere with theme-appropriate tunes. I am particularly fond of up-tempo 1920s and 1930s music for our afternoon tea parties, and I think 1950s Mad Men-esque big band and lounge music are great for cocktails or a summer BBQ get-together. Maybe a Parisian 1960s pop station mixed with Django Reinhardt for some background during a graduation party. With a mixed group of friends and family circulating for an event like a graduation, you want something fun, lighthearted and special.
Get creative with your décor. You don’t have to spend a fortune, and if you repurpose, you have a great conversation piece. For example, the tea trays I use in our tea room are vintage plates that I have glued onto candlesticks or sherbet glasses found in thrift stores. They are statement pieces for displaying appetizers and are super-easy to make. Make your set-up easy for your guests and think about whether they will have a place to sit and eat or whether they need to be mobile. If seating is limited, look for entertaining sets—plates that have a notch to hold a drink while still allowing room for appetizers.
Let’s talk appetizers. These will vary depending on what kind of party you are having, but typically you want an easy-to-eat, non-messy app that can be eaten in one or two bites, such as mini sandwiches. A Caprese salad on a kabob is refreshing, easy to make and looks great on a plate. Always have something light in terms of dessert, in a lemon or vanilla flavor, as well as something rich, like a dark chocolate, for those with a sweet tooth.
Add details to your drinks. You have lots of options—tea, cocktails, seltzer waters and so on—but I encourage you to think of details to add. Maybe you have an herb station for your drinks, both alcoholic and non-, for instance. A sprig of rosemary, lavender or mint, cucumber wheels, or lemon verbena leaves add nice touches of color at a bar and taste lovely in a drink, whether it’s bourbon, tea or plain water.
To sum up: Have fun! If you’re not having fun, no one else is either. Be creative and know you can always take a theme one step further. The little details—attire, music, the aesthetics of the décor, place settings, food and drink—will all add up to one great party.
By Carrie Cooke ’09
Carrie Cooke Ketterman is a 2009 graduate of Bellarmine who majored in art with an emphasis in painting and minored in performing arts. She is a freelance artist and owner/operator of the Old Capitol Tea Room in Corydon. Still very involved in the performing arts, she regularly appears onstage in the Metro Louisville area. She is also the lead singer for a 1920s-based band, The Tin Pan Alleycats, and a 1950s band, Rosie and the Rockabillies. For more information on the Old Capitol Tea Room, please visit its Facebook page.