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David Burtka on hosting the perfect party for friends

Written by Lance Chung

Photo: George Pimentel

David Burtka knows a thing or two about entertaining. Living in a house fully loaded with everything from contemporary art to an apothecary of oddities, you can bet that a party at his home with husband, actor Neil Patrick Harris, is in no short supply of good fun. With a pedigree in the culinary arts (he is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu), who better to ask than Burtka on the joys of bringing good company together?

Separating the good from the great

A great host goes the extra mile to make a party better. You want to think about what happens before or after, say, a dinner. Is there a different playlist for music? Is there a specific cocktail? What’s the menu going to look like? Will there be entertainment after? It’s planning out the whole evening. For example, you could have a coffee bar at the end of the night or during brunch and let your guests get involved in what they want and how they can make their drink specific to themselves.

Party host essentials

You have to have an easy coffee maker. I like Nespresso because making giant pots of coffee is exhausting and you constantly have to refill it. In terms of other things, I really like having different courses and wine pairings, or different drinks with courses. There’s a great book called What to Drink with What You Eat by the same guys who did the Flavor Bible, and it literally tells you the best pairings for each ingredient. It’s fantastic. I also really like to let people go home with something, whether it’s for them or for their kids. My husband and I built a giant custom apothecary so that, when people are leaving and they sign the guest book, they can pick one of 50 drawers that have something hidden inside. The gifts usually range from tiny little toys to a can of sardines to gift certificates. There are some clunkers, and there are some great ones. It’s always a fun thing to send guests home with something that has a memory tied to it.

Tech at the table

We have a strict policy for our kids. I see so many parents nowadays that just hand their kids an iPad as soon as they sit down. It’s literally cutting them off from reality and how to communicate with people over dinner. That is one of the biggest rules in our house. With our friends, there’s a game that we play where everyone will place their phones at the centre of the table, and whoever reaches for theirs first has to pay for dinner. It’s a great game.

A typical party

We’re art collectors, so we have a whole printout of every single piece in the house that guests can use for an art tour on every single level. When we host at our house, depending on what the event is, the food is themed and usually has table settings to match. I think it’s important to keep things homemade and simple; don’t overdo it.