Stephanie Cain is a journalist, media coach, brand strategist and longtime brand friend! She currently writes for The New York Times, Fortune, and Vinepair, and her byline has also appeared in Hamptons, The Knot, Brides, and many other major publications. She and her husband Vik moonlight as an expert hosts, coordinating everything from large cocktail parties to birthdays for her daughters, Phoenix and Selene.
Eighteen Seventy Eight caught up with Stephanie to talk all things summer hosting including menu building, host gifts, and guest lists.
What’s your idea of the perfect summer get together? Alfresco aperitifs. I’m a big fan of hosting aperitif hour—say, 4pm to 6pm. I love the time of day, because you are transitioning from the busy daytime to the relaxation of the evening, and a cocktail party really helps make that move. I love to serve (and drink) a glass of Champagne or mineral-driven white wine; for cocktails, it’s the right time for Negronis, Port & Tonics, or even a Martini, depending on the mood. I also enjoy making canapes, cheese and charcuterie boards, and other hors d’oeuvres, the typical light bites associated with an aperitif. Further, I’ve found that as people have gotten busier with businesses, families, children, and travel, the 4-6pm time block allows guests to continue on with their evenings, with or without us. To me, the pre-party to the evening is the perfect get-together!
How does your taste in wine shift throughout the seasons? What do you gravitate towards in the warmer months? To be honest, I’m always a bubbles girl—give me an extra brut blanc de blancs Champagne any day of the week, any time of the year. I think wine consumption is changing, though. People realize that you can drink what you want, when you want, regardless of what the thermometer may suggest. Rosè is becoming a top aprés ski wine! I have friends that love chilled reds in the summer. I’m a proponent of “winter whites,” having an ice-cold glass of Sancerre or Italian white from Alto-Adige in chilly weather. As a host, I tend to serve less red in July and August, but I always keep a bottle of Pinot Noir on hand for a guest who may request a glass of red.
How do you personally go about building a menu? Consult my husband—he’s the real chef between us! But really, menu building is tough. I go for crowd-pleasing favorites that loosely fit a theme, whether that’s a punch party with Polynesian-inspired snacks or 1960s Americana with tiny Martinis and pigs in a blanket. Next up, I’m excited for an afternoon “tea party” where we are making Hendrick’s Flora gin cocktails in teacups served with traditional tea sandwiches, scones, and macarons. I do, though, take into account as many dietary restrictions as possible. I serve a really great vegan “caviar” alongside sturgeon caviar and Champagne!
Favorite hosting memories? We’ve had hilarious times, gossip, big bottles of Champagne, and all the regular revelry (and some undressed neighbors visible through the windows—it is New York!), but my favorite to this day is a marriage! You know the friend who is searching for their partner, but no matter how much you rack your brain, you can’t be the matchmaker? Well, two single friends like that actually met during one of our cocktail parties. I wouldn’t have put them together on my own, but they make perfect sense. I distinctly remember them standing in the corner with each other for the entire party. They’ve been inseparable since and just had a baby. Love knowing our party brought two friends amazing happiness beyond our walls.
What advice do you have for building a guest list? Have fun with it! We love to invite our best friends but also wild-cards: someone we just met, a business associate we want to get to know better, a childhood friend who happens to be in town, or a parent from our daughter’s school that we feel would get along with our crew. We tend to host cocktail parties, so we know guests will mix and mingle. I am much more strategic about a guest list for intimate dinner parties with, say, 8 guests. You definitely want people to have a good time and not be forced to spend the evening sitting next to someone who isn’t their cup of tea. I like to keep Real Housewife drama on the screen, so I ensure the people invited will all get along with healthy debates versus flinging wine glasses. It also saves my rugs.
What should and shouldn’t guests bring as a host gift? A gift for the host is appreciated—no matter what it is. That said, I like bringing customized candles from Le Labo or something small and thoughtful. I do have a pet peeve when it comes to gifts though: if you bring a bottle of wine as a present for the host, do not ask to open it and then proceed to drink it. If you want to share a bottle, bring two: one for the party and one as the host gift.
Thank you, Stephanie, for taking the time to speak with us! For more information on Stephanie and her work, visit www.stephaniecain.com