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February 12, 2010

RoCK on the cocktail hour


No, Robert of Cross Keys and I did not discuss our dovetailing posts today. It's just, of course, that great minds think alike. Here's RoCK. EL

I go to conferences from time to time, and I’m noticing that the number of people participating in the cocktail hour is dwindling.  Instead, the attendees make a bee-line to the buffet.  Often times they are setting up camp in the dining room an hour before the meal service is even scheduled to begin.   I’m not sure why.  The food is usually something like chicken parm and eight different kinds of pasta.  (These are not AIG conferences.) ... 

At least these conferences still go through the motion of offering a cocktail hour, even if the atmosphere ends up like being at an airport bar in a place like Harrisburg, Penn. around 10 Sunday night.  Most dining establishments, however, have long abandoned the practice.  Now any restaurant will certainly encourage you to have a drink at the bar, but a cocktail hour shouldn’t simply be about biding time with booze.   

There’s a sense of social obligation with the cocktail hour, and maybe that’s why the practice has gone out of favor.  People go out more than ever now, but they do so in a very insular way.  There is very little expectation that when you go out that you’ll interact with those outside of your own party. With a true cocktail hour you are expected to mingle and meet people.  It is not meant to be a chore, but it does require a little bit of effort.  

That effort comes not just from those with drinks in their hands.  It also comes from the host.   In addition to having good drinks and snacks, the cocktail hour needs to be an integral part of the evening.  Cocktails at 6 and dinner at 7 creates the sense that you are going out for the evening, not just for a meal.

A place that still does a cocktail hour, and they do it well, is the Antrim 1844 in Taneytown.   There’s a lot to love about the Antrim.  The food and the atmosphere there are among the best in Maryland, (click here to see some photos the wife took on our recent visit there), but it is the cocktail hour there that is my favorite.

The cocktail hour there is just very special.  The drinks are flowing and the hors d'oeuvres are being passed. (Normally when I’m experiencing something like this I had to buy something off a registry for some couple.)  The best part, however, is that you feel like being social. You want to strike up a conversation with perfect strangers. 

You understand the fun of going out is more than just leaving your house to get something to eat.

(Kathryn Whitney/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 2:52 PM | | Comments (18)


From now on, we shall call it the RoCKtail hour.

I agree, we lost much more than refreshments when The Hour fell out of fashion.

I suspect the cocktail hour was always a lot more fun for extroverts than for us introverts. I'm attending a conference in a couple weeks, and while I'll have to attend a few receptions and spend a few evenings in bars, I'm glad I won't have to do cocktail hours, too.

And while we're lamenting the decline of the cocktail hour - a lovely, civilized practice indeed - may we also mourn the cocktail party...the reason for the creation of the cocktail dress. *sigh*

I threw a cocktail party a while back, and some of my guests actually asked "what does that mean" upon receiving their invitation. I'd like to think the affair introduced them to a new entertaining concept, but I'm afraid they just thought it was a pretentious phrase meaning "you're not getting a full meal, and you really should wear something other than a track suit." What can I say - I enjoyed it, and I not only wore an actual cocktail dress (vintage, even) but I drank a proper Gimlet, too!

Lissa, like you, I'm an introvert. Also like you, if I remember correctly, I'm an INTJ.

polyvert: extraordinary shy till the third cocktail.

Yep, RoCK, we're both INTJs. However, you are civilized and you drink. I'm not, and I can't. You don't want to see me trying to figure out how to relax around a bunch of strangers.

An actual cocktail party, with people standing around with drinks in their hands, politely chewing on petite watercress sandwiches... oh my god. Isn't that how you spell agony? Now happy hour, that's another story.

No watercress sandwiches at the Antrim. I had seared tuna on crisps, artichoke pastries, and a really interesting hand- held polenta that I thought was provolone.

Funny how words can change perceptions.
I think "happy hour" and think young loud drunks drinking Jager Bombs and munching on all the free wings they can stuff down before losing the whole thing into the Porcelain goddess.

Cocktail Hour on the other hand, gentrified, folks dressed to the nines sipping cocktails without getting obnoxious and loud and munching on canapes.

Being horribly introverted, I never go to either, so I guess that's my "Hollywood" image.

I've never had a watercress sandwich, but have always wanted one. They were a favourite of Louis, in _Trumpet of the Swam_.

I think the reason the 'cocktail party' has fallen out of favor is that they are usually pretentious bs. Have some folks over, let them wear what they want and have a well stocked bar and wine and beer. Good company trumps that lovely 'vintage' cocktail dress anyday.

Anytime I hear "cocktail party"
I picture Bette Davis with that cocktail in her hand pronouncing
"...buckle your seat belts..."

RoCK, when I first started my current job, I was sent to an AIG conference in Galveston Texas. Now, I left the human services field and now work in a more "corporate" industry (sorry, have to pay the bills). Well, needless to say, I was blown away by the amount of money AIG must have spent. Cocktail hour with free flowing drinks and appetizers, extravagant dinners, and of course post dinner parties. Plus the hotel and travel accomodations...A week after I left, Hurricane Ike hit Texas, and a few weeks later the economic collapse began, with AIG being in the forefront. Hmmm, timing is everything.

P.S. My brother, who is used to this type of industry gave me great advise before I left. "These kind of conferences never make a career, but they certainly can break a career". After the second night of seeing what saki bombers can do, I understand completely what he meant
(I only had 3...)!

We attended a cocktail party Friday night. We flew to Chicago for a family wedding, and the first event was the cocktail party to introduce the two families. People were all over the map in what they wore. The bride wore a cocktail dress, but the groom wore jeans. Our plane was delayed, so we showed up in our traveling clothes, or we would have missed the whole party. No one seemed to mind.

The great virtue of the cocktail party, to my way of thinking, is that you know it's a limited affair--a couple of hours of socializing with drinks and finger food, then you can go off to another party, have reservations for dinner, or whatever suits your fancy. You are not committing to hours and hours of togetherness.

Yes, what I like about the Antrim cocktail hour is that it is only for an hour. You socialize with others for a short period of time and then you go your own way for dinner.

I love the cocktail hour, but I'm not a big fan of the family style dinner. Well, unless it's a family style dinner with the Sandbox.

Once again, I am in agreement with RoCK!

We did the family-style dining this weekend as well--about 60 people (of all ages) at the wedding rehearsal luncheon. It was great.

I usually attend cocktail parties wearing a lime green speedo and a fez. I'll shotgun a sixpack of PBR and guzzle a 1/2 pt. of Rikaloff. After that it's all a blur.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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