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Unveiling the Unexpected: The Surprising Origins of the First Recorded Cocktail Party

The first recorded cocktail party: Revealing the Surprising Origins

The fascinating origins of cocktails

The art of mixing spirits with other flavors to create delightful concoctions known as cocktails has captivated drinkers for centuries. However, the true origins of this imbibing style remain shrouded in mystery. Various theories attempt to explain the birth of cocktails, but none can claim complete certainty. According to The Feast podcast, one story suggests that an early American revolutionary added feathers from her loyalist neighbor’s stolen chicken to her glass, creating the first “cocktail. Another theory traces the word “cocktail” to New Orleans and the French term “coquetier.” The Oxford English Dictionary even mentions its original use as a term for a non-thoroughbred horse, which later expanded to include alcoholic spirits mixed with other ingredients. However, as Difford’s Guide explains, the question of the cocktail’s origin remains unsettled.

Unraveling the mystery of cocktail parties

While enjoying a cocktail alone can be a delightful experience, sharing it with friends in a lively gathering adds an extra layer of enjoyment. Enter the cocktail party, an event that has become synonymous with socializing and indulging in refreshing libations. The origins of cocktail parties, much like their liquid counterparts, have been the subject of debate. However, one particular gathering often stands out as the possible first cocktail party.

The First Cocktail Party: A Surprising Revelation

Contrary to popular belief, the first cocktail party did not take place in London or New York, as many might assume. Rather, it took place in the vibrant city of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1917, Mrs. Julius S. Walsh, Jr., a well-known socialite and leader in civic activities, hosted a private affair that marked the birth of the cocktail party phenomenon. The event was held at 4510 Lindell Boulevard, a grand home that served as the backdrop for this historic gathering.

The hostess and her illustrious background

Mrs. Clara Bell Walsh, formerly known as Clara Bell, was a native of Lexington, Kentucky, and came from a prominent and wealthy family. Her marriage to Julius Walsh, president of the Terminal Railway Co. and the Mississippi Valley Trust Co. was considered a momentous occasion in Lexington society. The couple’s opulent lifestyle led them to reside at the Plaza Hotel in New York, although they continued to spend considerable time in St. Louis, especially when hosting extravagant parties.

A Sunday brunch with a twist

The Tacoma Times reported that Clara Bell Walsh’s cocktail party was held on a Sunday in April 1917. The 50 or so guests arrived at noon, some coming straight from church or after participating in a “motor promenade of the boulevards. This early cocktail party had a unique twist: instead of sitting, partygoers stood while enjoying their drinks and socializing. However, chairs were provided for those who preferred a more relaxed experience. Clara Bell Walsh’s foresight extended to hiring a bartender to prepare a variety of classic mixed drinks behind the mansion’s mahogany bar. The menu included popular choices like the Bronx and Clover Leaf cocktails, with mentions of a Sazerac, High Balls, Gin Fizzes, and a select few opting for Martinis and Manhattans.

A Legacy and Influence

The impact of Clara Bell Walsh’s inaugural cocktail party reverberated far beyond that historic Sunday in April. The event inspired countless imitators and solidified the concept of the cocktail party as a social phenomenon. Clara Bell Walsh herself continued to live an unconventional life, divorcing her husband and living at the Plaza Hotel, where she hosted legendary parties and defied social norms. Her death in 1957 was commemorated by the New York Times, underscoring her lasting influence and reputation as a social celebrity in St. Louis.

Unveiling the Unexpected Origins

The revelation of the first recorded cocktail party challenges preconceived notions about its origins. While London and New York may be known for their vibrant cocktail scenes, it was in St. Louis, Missouri, that Clara Bell Walsh orchestrated a groundbreaking social gathering that would shape the future of socializing and mixology. Today, as we raise our glasses to toast and celebrate, we can trace the roots of this cherished tradition back to that fateful Sunday in April 1917, when Clara Bell Walsh welcomed her close friends to the very first cocktail party.


Where and when was the first recorded cocktail party held?

The first recorded cocktail party was held in St. Louis, Missouri in April 1917 at the home of Mrs. Julius S. Walsh, Jr. at 4510 Lindell Boulevard.

Who gave the first cocktail party?

The hostess of the first cocktail party was Mrs. Julius S. Walsh, Jr. also known as Clara Bell Walsh. She was a prominent figure in social activities and came from an influential family.

What was the significance of the first cocktail party?

The first cocktail party marked the beginning of a social phenomenon that would become synonymous with gatherings where guests could enjoy mixed drinks and engage in lively conversation.

What drinks were served at the first cocktail party?

The menu at the first cocktail party included a variety of classic mixed drinks such as Bronx and Clover Leaf cocktails, Sazeracs, High Balls, Gin Fizzes, Martinis, and Manhattans.

Did the first cocktail party influence future social events?

Yes, the first cocktail party had a lasting impact and inspired many imitators. It helped establish cocktail parties as a popular form of socializing and celebration.

How did the first cocktail party defy expectations?

The first cocktail party challenged expectations by being held in St. Louis, Missouri, rather than in more commonly associated cities such as London or New York. It also introduced the concept of standing and socializing while enjoying cocktails, a departure from traditional seated gatherings.

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