Sure, we are all well aware how great Jay Gatsby is. Really, after all of this time, we get the appeal. He’s rich, and handsome, and secretly dark and tormented. But it’s his lifestyle that’s truly fabulous: The extravagant parties; the sleek rides; the debonair duds; and of course, the overflowing Champagne.
Now that Baz Luhrmann’s anticipated remake has officially exploded—with all of his signature bells and whistles—we can takes cues from the visual feast for a Great Gatsby-inspired shindig of our own. Sure, you may not have a multi-million dollar budget or a sprawling estate, but really, all you need are a few design elements, a nice lawn (or even an accommodating living room), some small plates, people that love to booze and voila. You’re throwin’ down Gatsby style.
Gatsby’s parties always trickled out onto the lawn, and now that days are lingering longer, an alfresco approach adds to the romanticism of the era. Ask guests to wear ’20s-inspired clothes (yes to sequins, suits, and pocket watches of any kind) and add to the opulence with over-the-top lighting elements. Fitzgerald writes, “Caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden.” Replicate the look by dressing your party in paper lanterns and Christmas lights, with a row of tea lights leading up to the door. Also, opt for a cocktail party over a dinner (way less work for you), with a few bistro tables scattered throughout for people to rest their drinks. To add extra fun, hire a college kid to play bartender. Really, what says Gatsby glamour quite like a wait staff?
Gatsby always employed a band at his parties. Set the scene with a Roaring Twenties playlist. Bernadette Seacrest and her Provocateurs bring a seductive swagger to the soiree, as do Blair Crimmins & The Hookers’ gypsy-tinged jingles. Put Laura Mvula’s “That’s Alright” on there somewhere too in between Al Jolson, Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington. Segue to Jay-Z. Let the flapping begin.
While it’s safe to assume that Gatsby likely passed up the h’orderves (forbidden love can stifle the appetite), he certainly served them up with panache. Fitzgerald mentions a buffet stacked with a spread of “spiced hams, glistening h’orderves, salads, pastry pigs and turkeys.” To play off of the theme, serve ample passed appetizers (make a few, cater the rest). Deviled eggs, caviar, small pastries and meat platters were all popular dishes of the time. Since you’re striving for luxury, look for rich dishes that are big on the details—a beautiful bite goes a long way. We could definitely imagine Daisy Buchanan nibbling on one of these elegant apricot-salmon brioche toasts from Sonoma restaurant, the girl & the fig.
Apricot-Cured Salmon, Crème Fraîche, Brioche Toasts
Makes about 24 nibbles
(recipe by girl and the fig’s Sondra Bernstein)
6 slices brioche, ½-inch thick (about ¼ loaf)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ lb. thinly sliced Apricot-Cured Salmon (see below or substitute store bought smoked salmon)
¼ cup crème fraîche
1 ounce American caviar
1 bunch chives, diced
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut each slice of bread in four triangles. Melt the butter in a small pan. Add the brioche toasts to the pan to coat. Place the toasts on a sheet pan and bake for 5-to-7 minutes or until the toasts are golden around the edges. Top each brioche toast with a piece of salmon, a dollop of crème fraîche, a touch of caviar and a pinch of chives.
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup Pernod
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 fennel fronds
1 lb. wild salmon, skin on
Place the apricots in a bowl with ½ cup hot water and the Pernod and rehydrate for 20 minutes. Purée the apricots in a food processor. Mix the purée with the salt, sugar, pepper, and fennel fronds. Cut a piece of cheesecloth large enough to cover the salmon. Place the cheesecloth in a large baking dish and lay the salmon skin-side down on the cheesecloth. Cover the salmon evenly with the apricot-salt mixture and wrap it with the cheesecloth. Place another baking pan over the cheesecloth and weigh it down with at least three pounds of pressure (you can use water jugs, tomato cans, or even books). Refrigerate for 48-to-72 hours. Remove the weights and unwrap the salmon. Remove the excess salt mixture from the salmon and pat dry. Slice very thin to serve.
Whether you have a bartender or not, adding a bar cart stocked with plenty of gin and Champagne, liquors and cordials makes for a nice, nostalgic touch. Go heavy on the gin for Fitzgerald. Gin Rickeys were a favorite of his; though anything infused with Champagne is a nice choice, too. Ernest Hemingway loved his rum, so serve up a tropical sip in his honor. The Ode to Hemingway Cocktail from Charleston’s The Cocktail Club is a daiquiri infused with rum, Luxardo Maraschino, sugar, lime, fresh orange juice and house-made orange bitters, and is finished off with house-made grenadine. Or, ward off the heat like William Faulkner and sip on a refreshing mojito. Writer’s block? Cured!
Next time you’re in Manhattan ambling along in West Village late-night, stop for a sip at Little Branch (20 7th Ave. South). Marked by the graffitied wall out front and a barely noticeable “sign” on the door, it gives the speakeasy legitimacy. After waiting your turn, climb downstairs to a minimal lounge setting (it feels very much like a friend’s basement) where mustachioed bartenders shake craft cocktails with ingredients made in-house. While the options are top-notch, go with the bartender’s choice and let them do their thing. Capped at just a smattering of drinkers at a time (around 40), the space is low-key and ideal for post-concert, pre-dance party ramblings.