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5 ways to throw a posh virtual cocktail and dinner party, from the owner of the ‘Downton Abbey’ castle

5 ways to throw a posh virtual cocktail and dinner party, from the owner of the ‘Downton Abbey’ castle

  • Lady Fiona Carnarvon lives in the famous Highclere Castle, best known as a filming location for exteriors for the hit show “Downton Abbey.”
  • Highclere is usually open to the public, but as the pandemic swept through the UK, it was forced to close.
  • During this closure, Lady Carnarvon has come up with fun ways to keep people entertained — even if they could no longer travel to visit the massive estate.
  • One thing she came up with was a “Virtual Cocktail Hour” live-streamed on the castle’s Facebook page.
  • It’s become a hit, and she told Business Insider how others can throw their own fun virtual party events.
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Lady Fiona Carnarvon knows how to help pass the time during a pandemic — drinking gin, and lots of it.

But not alone, of course. She and her family’s estate, Highclere Castle, have been hosting virtual cocktail parties on Facebook to make coping with the pandemic a communal effort; a time for all to find joy amid the current hardships.

“The virtual cocktail parties have been really interesting, and probably something we wouldn’t have tried if it hadn’t been for the challenges we faced in such a hard time,” she said. “May gin carry on as something to unite us all.”

Highclere Castle, otherwise known as the filming location for “Downton Abbey,” dates back to at least 748 AD and has been owned by Lady Carnarvon’s family since the 17th century.

The nearly 300-room estate is usually open to the public, but had to close amid the pandemic. And though living in a castle seems like hardly the worst place to quarantine, public visits and tours are the main ways many such homes are maintained. Without tourism, even the aristocracy can face a crunch in revenue.

So for the past three months, Lady Carnarvon has had to adjust. Free virtual cocktail parties replaced regular tours, while the estate’s homemade gin is the gift shop’s new top seller. The estate, which plans to partially reopen in mid-July, also streams weekly on Viking TV and has a weekly podcast and a weekly blog.

But what’s really caught everyone’s attention are the virtual cocktail hours, and in an interview with Business Insider, Lady Carnarvon detailed how to throw the perfect virtual cocktail party and dinner event.

Lady Carnarvon says that during this time of isolation, virtual cocktail parties are a way to safely come together.

Every other week since May, Lady Carnarvon and the Highclere Estate have been going on Facebook Live to host visual cocktail parties. As the world entered a period of isolation, many people were suffering from a dearth of human interaction and missed the social elements that once filled their lives.

Enter “virtual cocktail parties” — also known in the US as Zoom happy hours — which quickly became a great way for people to come together and feel less alone during this historic time.

“I just recommend taking the time to make a cocktail at home when times are tough, giving yourself the time for treats because the joy of sipping a cocktail is really important,” she told Business Insider. “I think there’s been so much mental strife as well as the physical challenge, so I suppose at Highclere, with the same as everybody else thinking, now is the time for a cocktail.”

Before the event, Lady Carnarvon makes sure to send out exciting cocktail recipes so that everyone can be in on the drinking fun.

The main reason for a cocktail party is to enjoy a drink with people you care about. Some of Lady Carnarvon’s favorite drinks include the “archetypal” London Dry Gin, along with Martinis, Honey Bees, Hanky-Pankys, and Negronis.

On the castle’s Facebook page, she posts fun cocktail recipes such as the “The Floradora,” a classic gin cocktail made with raspberry syrup, lime juice, ginger, and soda.

Business Insider previously reported on some of the best cocktail books to buy, with recipes ranging from the Prohibition era to those found in Michelin-starred restaurants. Sending fun recipes out before the cocktail party can also be a fun game that gets everyone involved in the evening.

“I end up trying my husband’s cocktails, too, because he’s always too busy talking,” she said.

She also makes sure to throw her virtual cocktail parties outside, with lots of natural light and music playing in the background.

Lady Carnarvon broadcasts her parties outside in a garden, which provides lots of natural light and a spacious atmosphere. She also has music playing in the background, and, along with her husband, they serve as hosts to bring a cheery atmosphere to the audience.

There are also often elements of surprise to her parties and she revealed that one night, her husband brought out a horse to the garden. “It was a little bit bad, a little bit eccentric, a little bit fun,” she said.

And though not everyone has to be broadcasting outside of their own homes for the party, the host should find some ways to make sure that they maintain a fun atmosphere or personality for the virtual party guests. People should play the music that they love, and the guests should feel comfortable, no matter where in the world they are joining from to attend the party.

“I’ve learned so much about cocktails and drinking and the joy, and remember the pleasure it brings, of sitting down with a delicious cocktail on a Friday evening,” she said.

For dinner parties, Lady Carnarvon says it’s all about planning and preparation.

Dinner parties require more time and effort to pull off, especially when they’re being thrown online; however, this doesn’t mean they are impossible and can be a fun event to pull off.

Lady Carnarvon said that people should think about what they want on their menu, or what they want other guests to try and cook for themselves. A fun idea is to make seasonal dishes and that way, at least everyone at the virtual dinner party can be eating on the same theme.

“It’s about thinking about what you’re going to serve, what you need, what ingredients you need, the glasses, the setup, who you’re going to ask, what time,” she said. “It’s all about the details and how you’re going to share it.”

If anything, at least the host can put a nice vase of fresh flowers next to their computer, dim the lights, and play some jazz or classical music in the background to set the ambiance for others in the call. The goal is to have fun, not necessarily to recreate the exact atmosphere of a dinner party, but to create the longing of wanting to spend time together.

For her dinner parties, she has made sure to attach a theme or a charitable cause to it.

Back in February, Lady Carnarvon threw a dinner party competition where she asked those who wanted to participate to donate money to PBS, the US station that airs “Downton Abbey.” She told people to send in videos and photographs and said somebody ended up turning their dining room into the Titanic.

“It was extraordinary what people did,” she said. “The winning dinner party of six people was flown over to Highclere, They stayed in the vineyard. They had one night with us, along with a dinner party with us. And the winning lady actually came from Canada; she’d gone to such trouble and she’d thrown the party to help raise money for an older people’s home.”

But the most important part of throwing a virtual event during this time is, of course, to have fun.

Normalcy is still far away, even as social distancing measures slowly lift.

And although computer screens cannot recreate the feel of human skin, or clearly relay the sounds of someone laughing, virtual meets, for now, are a safe way to find a sense of that long-lost normalcy.

Perhaps it can even become a normal event, as technology further intertwines itself in our day-to-day lives. Virtual events such as these can be the new “pen pal” system, and people throughout the world can be able to spend time together, sipping a gin cocktail or a cold salted-rim martini.

“I try not to remind people of COVID because I think that’s been in our faces for so long,” Lady Carnarvon said. “I’m trying to step away from it responsively, to enjoy being under the trees without saying, ‘how are you,’ because it’s just always referenced back to that. I think [right now] it’s a little bit about looking forward.” via The Wire https://ift.tt/2Cm9jXO

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