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How to Host a Great Gatsby Dinner Party

Escape to the 1920s with a magical soirée

Just in time for the holidays, Relais & Châteaux has released their first ever entertaining book, The Art of Entertaining, published by Rizzoli New York. Each chapter features a decadent soirée put on by a Relais & Châteaux hotel, with tips and recipes for hosting your own take on the event at home. The book’s Glenmere Mansion chapter features the hotel’s elegant Great Gatsby Dinner Party. The event allows an intimate group of guests to step back in time to the Gilded Age and experience the glamour of a bygone era. Here, the hotel owner, Alan Stenberg, and executive chef, Gunnar Thompson, reveal how to host an impeccable Great Gatsby Dinner Party of your own.

Owner, Alan Stenberg

How did you come to throw a Great Gatsby Dinner Party at Glenmere?

Glenmere Mansion was built in 1911 in the lower Hudson Valley as the Goelet family “Gilded Age” country estate. During Glenmere’s heyday in the ‘20s and ‘30s, the Goelet’s hosted royalty, celebrities, the social elite and the titans of industry for “English Country Weekends” where large parties gathered for great food and spirits along with hunting and games. The fictional “Gatsby” of Fitzgerald’s famed novel lived in this rarefied period of social history and Glenmere today offers its guests a peek into that fabled past in entertaining. Just after opening 6 years ago, some of our first guests began organizing hotel parties around a “Gatsby” theme with a nod to this wonderful time in history.

What makes a great event?

Having owned and run a hotel now for the last 6 years, Dan and I have discovered the planning of a great event at home on a small scale can work just as well in a hotel setting. Guests need to feel the evening is not too staged or thought out when it comes to making guests feel welcome and relaxed. Let the party evolve and takes its own course.  Set some parameters for the evening but let the guests take the journey and create the magic together. The most memorable events of a party are the spontaneous things that happen when you mix a diverse group of guests together, like when someone got up recently at a dinner party and began singing opera acapella between courses. It was sheer unrehearsed magic!

How did the space influence the event?

Since Glenmere was once a family estate having a Gatsby party at Glenmere is like having a party at your rich uncle’s estate (if we all had one!). The hotel and 150 acres is a cross between Gatsby’s estate on the North Shore of Long Island and “Downton Abbey” of PBS fame. We use the library or terrace overlooking the lake in warm weather for pre-dinner cocktails, a private dining room with one long table for guests and after dinner drinks and music in the living room after the main dining event.

What are your tips for throwing a Great Gatsby party?

Offer fantastic period drinks like interesting martini options and Jazz Age classics like Sazeracs and French 75s. Colorful drink options and a wonderful tasting menu of foods from the period set the stage and reinforce the theme without making the night appear like a costume party.

The best Gatsby parties we have had at Glenmere do not require guests to wear Gatsby attire. The evening is more a nod to the period by offering elegant hospitality from a bygone era. Fantastic foods and spirits reminiscent of the age are enjoyed while a lively jazz combo is playing all the favorites of the Roaring ‘20s.

Photographed by Melanie Acevedo and David Engelhardt

Executive Chef, Gunnar Thompson

What do you suggest serving at a Great Gatsby Dinner party?   

I suggest selecting classic dishes of the 1920s era such as Waldorf Salad, Baked Ham, Stuffed Mushrooms, Game Dishes, Deviled Eggs, and Oysters. A cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres is a must.  Olives, celery and finger food type canapes were traditionally served with cocktails and make for a great way to set the mood for the Gatsby Dinner Party.

What inspired you when creating the menu? 

I put this Great Gatsby Dinner Party menu with the help of historical menus I located from some of the great hotels and restaurants in New York. The Waldorf-Astoria, St. Regis, The Plaza and Delmonico’s have published menus from the time period. Re-reading The Great Gatsby again after many years also gave me some understanding of the type of parties and food that fit the period and tastes of Jay Gatsby’s partygoers. 

Which drinks pair best?  

Champagne is a great addition to any party and this one is no exception. The Glenmere Gatsby cocktail is delicious and a great cocktail for the cocktail hour or throughout your meal.

Do you have general tips for how to seamlessly serve a dinner party?  

Select the items that are “do ahead” items and get those taken care of well in advance of the party. Set yourself up to be able to enjoy the party and not get stuck in front of the stove all evening. At the dinner table, serve the food from decorative platters. This is an elegant way to keep the party in the style of the Gatsby era.