Speakeasy Party Tips and Ideas to Steal
This weekend Mr PaintSewGlueChew and I hosted a joint 50th to celebrate our 50th birthdays. The perfect opportunity to go all out and create the perfect speakeasy party. I am not posting any ‘instructions’ here, as the post is already very long. But if you want details on how I made anything, please feel free to get in touch.
Im also apologising in advance for the ridiculous length of this post. (It may well crash my site). Feel free to skip the words, and just peruse the photos. And don’t forget to drop me a line to let me know what you think.
Last week I posted about our speakeasy invitations, where we set the scene: It’s 1922. Our house, (The 49 club and local gin joint) has been raided by the cops. Using our criminal network, we have managed to set up a new 50 Club in a secret venue. (Spoiler alert. It’s in our house!)
Needless to say, some of our guests didn’t realise that the new venue was our back entry. And many didn’t get my ‘pun’ on us leaving 49 and turning 50. I think I need new friends!
The 49 Club is Closed
Luckily we have a back entrance to the garden, that will serve as the entrance to the new club. So the first thing to do is block off the main entrance to the house. (Because of course it’s been closed by the cops). A 1920s car covers up our car in the driveway. Signs for the old 49 club with closed posters block the gate and doorway. Chalk stencils on the pavement direct guests to the new ‘secret’ venue.
Entrance to the secret 50 Club
The invitation directs our guests to the side road where we have the back entrance to our garden.
We share the passage with our neighbours. Luckily they are very relaxed, and amenable to it becoming an illicit drinking den for the evening.
Our cover story for guests is that the new club will be masquerading as a Temperance Society meeting. An A-frame advertising the meeting masks the venues true purpose.
The year is 1922, and the streets are a dangerous place. Guests have to navigate past a chalk outline of a body and crime scene tape.
The Keystone cops will be kept busy. (They may also share their insignia with Surrey police).
Every speakeasy party needs a secret doorway….
Our back gate is normally just a metal gate. We transformed it into a sleazy underground drinking den with a sheet of plywood painted to look like a speakeasy door.
We added a £10 wireless buzzer so guests arriving late could still get in. The gate was so effective that the following night we had a couple out for a walk ring the buzzer and try and come in for a couple of GnT’s. How sad is it, that this made my night!
And every speakeasy door needs a peephole…
Any self respecting speakeasy entrance needs a peephole. This one was available on amazon for around £25, and was easy to fit.
My son and a friend of his acted as bouncers in peaky blinders hats and braces They are unfortunately camera shy so no pictures.
In The Garden
Inside the garden, continuing the ladies temperance theme, We laid out groups of chairs and tables in clusters.
We put a coffee table with each cluster of chairs. Each table had a selection of old bibles, as well as a book with a hidden compartment for booze and money. I found these at the craft shop, and painted them in suitable lettering.
Each table also has a hardback book made into a bible hiding the food and drink menu for the night. This was my favourite prop of the night.
Around the garden…..
Large cardboard posters painted with Temperance Society Slogans and photos are placed around the fence.
And the eyes of Dr TJ Eckleburg (for any Great Gatsby Fans) stare down at us.
Posters ask guest to leave their Tommy Guns at the door.
I made a selection of ‘gun cases’ filled with plastic blow up guns, that are only a few pounds each on amazon. The boxes are fruit and vegetable boxes – free from Sainsbury. I added some hand made gun labels stained with tea.
A bunch of temperance adverts downloaded and doused in tea then pinned to a cork board, make a great notice board.
And finally in the garden some placards demanding repeal of the prohibition laws.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather on the night.
We borrowed a few garden heaters and a gazebo, from friends. Our guests were able spread out into the garden.
The Speakeasy Bar
The entrance / garden is a temperance ladies society meeting. In the kitchen however, it’s all action.
But we want the inside to look more like a bar. Business at the front. Party in the back.
We splurged with professional mixologists and a temporary cocktail bar. But you could achieve the same without this bar, using a kitchen table or kitchen counter if your budget didnt stretch to this.
The cocktail guys installed these foldable bar units in under an hour.
Fortuitously they are the perfect size for the space between our kitchen and the kitchen table.
This also blocked the kitchen off from our party guests too, so the bar guys could wash glasses and get access to the sink easily.
Decorate decorate decorate.
I added lots of photos of us, and also our ‘partners in crime’ over the years. I tried to get a picture of almost all of our guests on there somewhere.
Booze crates made from cardboard boxes decorated with fake vintage liquor labels make great speakeasy props. We had around 30 dotted around the room.
Serve cocktails in unusual vessels for maximum effect.
Our Speakeasy Party theme had a ladies temperance society vibe. We wanted to make cocktails that were ‘masquerading’ as something else.
Serve cocktails in unusual containers to achieve this effect. Think milk bottles, flower pots, jam jars, tin cans and vintage tea cups.
The charity shop is your friend….
Charity shops are a great place for tea cups.
My daughter and I hunted for months before the party to get 40 mismatched tea cups for our Gee n Tea. (we sold them to the cocktail guys at the end of the party).
And I made labels on jam jars. It was round £20 for 48 jam jars from a craft shop. The tin cans are special cocktail tins at £1 each. They have a non jagged edge specifically for drinking out of. I designed and printed bespoke vodka soup labels to go round them.
Lots of 50 Club logo posters were put up. I found a company on line that prints A2 for £4 a pop, and A1 for £7. Needless to say I went a bit mad as a result!.
Us gangsters like to flash the cash.
So we filled the fireplace with fake $100 bills.
Boxes boxes and more boxes. Plus more posters and some wanted posters using images of our friends that I ‘aged’ in photoshop.
It helps to have friends who like their booze….
Over the last 6 months, I have been collecting gin bottles from friends. I had intended to make funky labels. However I ran out of time. In fact these looked better without any labels, and some christmas tree lights strung in between. Wine crates were scavenged from a local wine shop for a small charity donation.
I like this so much, I may keep it up for a while.
Pretty much on any spare wall got the treatment. I added a few more booze or gambling related posters.
Including around 20 or so wanted posters with our friends as the suspects.
The cocktail bar guys were amazing. They completely entered into the spirit of what we were doing.
They dressed in costume, and didn’t stop making really delicious cocktails all night.
My daughter and her friend took orders, and bussed drinks around.
Food & Drink
One of the giant posters I made was of the signature cocktails. We chose 6, which was quite ambitious, unless you have people mixing for you. I will do another post in the future about the cocktails that we chose, along with downloads to printables of some of the labels and stickers that I made.
As well as the giant posters. I made half a dozen menus ‘hidden’ in the bibles on the coffee tables. These book menus had details of the food we were passing round, and all the drinks, so that guests could order from my daughter and her friend without coming inside. These book menus would be great for a seated dinner or wedding, particularly if it had a literary theme. They are easy to make, and very effective, so I’ll post a separate instruction for them in due course.
Our food was out sourced to another amazing company.
They handed round a selection of canapes including meatballs in a bourbon glaze and mini bowls of food like the house steak pie (with a 50 in the pastry lid). To be honest though, I chose food I thought my guests would like best, so wasn’t a slave to the Speakeasy Party theme.
Obviously having caterers is a bit of a luxury, and not essential for an amazing speakeasy party. Unless budget allows, set up a buffet and let your friends graze at will.
Serve beerwrapped in brown bags.
Brown unbranded baguette bags, with a few inches chopped off the top are the perfect size.
All of the cocktails were very popular. I went with 3 gin based (they used similar mixers to make it easier for the cocktail staff). We had 1 vodka based, 1 tequila based and 1 brandy based.
My favourite was ‘The Floradora’. Served in bespoke vodka soup cans. The Southwest Fizz was also very popular. I provided the cocktails guys with the list of cocktails that I wanted, but the recipes were all theirs.
Our brandy based cocktail was called a ‘smoking gun’.
I made labels to go round the jam jars with the name of the cocktail and a gun pointing upwards. The mixologists infused with smoke before serving.
For pure theatre alone, I loved these. Safer, cheaper and easier than dry ice.
We also served Gin and tonic as ‘Gee n Tea’. Earl grey infused gin served from tea pots into vintage mismatched teacups.
My daughter and her friend also passed round some ‘off menu’ items.
Fruit (skittles) vodka ‘shots’ and salted caramel moonshine shots. Needless to say all went down very well. These were all preprepared and stuck in the freezer, so no effort at all on the night.
We set up a casino in our dining room. Mainly we did this as as way of distributing people through the ground floor in case of bad weather. I didn’t necessarily expect many people to use it. I was wrong.
Our Ingo Maurer light fitting, is usually decorated with hand drawn doodles.
I changed it up by replacing with fake $100 bills and some beautiful playing cards with art deco illustrations.
Bunting was made from gold playing cards and more of the fake money sewn with silver thread.
I bought a giant set of poker chips and gave each person 4-5 chips each.
I found tiny hessian bags on amazon for a few pounds, and decorated them with $ in puffy paint.
Bags of poker chips were handed round to guests once the boys had let everyone in, and the casino was open for business.
I decorated the room with loads of bottles of booze in brown bags.
And a few posters.
I put the instructions for roulette in a prominent spot (though I now see its a bit drunk itself).
The roulette table was very popular.
We also ran a black jack table.
My son and his friend tried to persuade our friends to part with real cash. Unsurprisingly they were not very successful. Not even a tip, despite a well placed and overflowing tip jar!
I delegated our downstairs loo to the gents, and directed the ladies to the bathrooms upstairs. I put signs on each of the loos.
The designs were copied from some fancy invitations I saw on line.
What self respecting bar wouldn’t have its own toiletries. Aldi does look a like Jo Malone scents that I rebranded in each of the toilets.
Setting The Scene
So we had the food, drink and decorations all set to go. I added a soundtrack of 1920s tunes from Spotify. This added great atmosphere when guests first arrived.
One other incredibly effective thing to provide atmosphere, was a video of 1920s dancing cut from movies. I played this on a loop and projected it onto the wall beside the bar. It was quite a convoluted process, so I’ll write a blog post with instructions in due course.
One of my favourite things was the effort everyone made to dress up and get in character.
Every single one of our guests came in fancy dress. The different interpretations led to great costumes.
Dont forget to take plenty of photos…..
I asked one of my friends to take photos for me on the night, and she did an amazing job. She arrived right at the start and took pictures of our guests before they became too inebriated. She’s a fantastic photographer. As a result I have great photos of nearly all of my guests. I managed 3 photos on the night, so its well worth delegating this role.
A Speakeasy Party is a brilliant party theme. Girls can throw on a sparkly frock, or a simple tea dress, while men can go open collar shirt and flat cap, or go to town. The range of outfits at our party was amazing. We even had a cross dressing couple (who kind of stole the show!).
We had friends we have known for 30+ years mingling with newer friends. Fancy dress is a great ice breaker, as its easy to start up a conversation
The 50 Club finally closed its doors at around 3.30am in the morning.
This was such a fun party. I had so much fun both prepping for it and hosting it. Who knows maybe it will resurface in a few years as the 52 club!