Tips for planning your next online happy hour during the coronavirus shutdown

By Linnea CovingtonSpecial to The Denver Post

Even though Becca Wilson worked in her Denver home and constantly chatted on email and instant messaging throughout the day, she still wanted to enjoy happy hour with her coworkers after her shift was done. Thanks to the latest virtual meet-up trend, she can.

“It was nice to all get together and chat so we could connect in real time,” said Wilson, who used the platform BlueJeans Network to connect. “We talked about shows we’ve been binge-watching, gave each other a hard time for our quarantine looks, let our kids and pets say hello and just laughed and had cocktails virtually with each other.”

The digital happy hour was scheduled for one hour right after a recent workday, but, Wilson said, they had so much fun it lasted an extra 30 minutes

With these tips, plan your next happy hour and live a little outside the bubble.

Set up a place

There are many digital platforms to host a happy hour where you can see the faces and talk live with the participants, the aforementioned BlueJeans Network among them. One of the most popular is Zoom, which offers a free virtual meeting space large enough to host dozens of people who can be seen in grid form. However, Zoom has been the subject of recent security concerns regarding hackers and people “Zoom-bombing” meetings.

That’s because Zoom meetings are open to anyone with the link, so if you post on social media anyone who sees and wants to use the link can. There’s an option to make the meeting private with a password that the host can share with those they wish to be part of the happy hour. Another way to make sure your group is secure is to go to the host controls at the bottom of the screen and under “Who can share?” choose the “Only Host” option. That way no one can take over the main screen.

Google Hangouts is also popular. As long as you have Google Chrome, you can host one by creating a space and link to share with friends. House Party is a free app that can be download on smartphones or computers. This option comes with built-in games like charades, draw-it-out and basic trivia, or plenty of in-app purchases such as Game of Thrones trivia, adding a layer of whimsy and entertainment to the event.

There’s also Facetime, but that is restricted to one-on-one virtual chats.

Get dressed up

Most of us have forgone makeup, hairspray and clothes that properly fit. Pull yourself out of the yoga pants and sweats and into something cute, if just to feel normal again. Want to try out a new shade of lipstick? Now is the time.

For Michelle Baldwin, who hosts themed movie parties at Alamo Drafthouse, getting glammed up and dressing the part was her normal routine. Now, virtual happy hour gives her a good outlet to do it again.

“Some of the groups come up with a theme like what outfit to wear or everybody has the same kind of cocktail,” Baldwin said. “The Handsome Little Devils (a Vaudeville troupe) have started doing quizzes and little performances as part of theirs, and some of my vintage groups add moments where people can be in the spotlight and talk about what they’re wearing.”

Stapleton resident Andra Zeppelin and her friends dressed up as gangsters for a recent virtual happy hour. Another time they all wore masks, from a Hello Kitty one to a face mask from a beauty regimen.

Get the same drink to cheer with

Opening a bottle of wine or beer certainly will do during a virtual happy hour, but why not up the ante and get everyone drinking the same thing? Or libations from the same establishment? Not only does this support Denver’s restaurants and bars, but it also gives drinkers a chance to sip on something really good that they normally wouldn’t find in their own liquor cabinet.

Many venues around the metro area have cocktails to go, and some even put together kits so customers can mix at home. At Bar Helix in RiNo, owner Kendra Anderson offers Aperol spritz sets to take out, as well as bottles filled with her classic and twisted Negroni cocktails, complete with perfect spheres of ice and an orange peel garnish on the side. Linger in LoHi serves a Family Jones gin and tonic kit as well as 32-ounce mai tais and other single-serving cocktails.

At Brazen in Berkeley, there are large-format cocktails available including sangria, margaritas and Smoke Signals, which has mezcal, Aperol, Bonal and Chartreuse. All are in 32-ounce containers, so you can pour one drink out over ice and save the rest for the next happy hour … or not. Work & Class in RiNo also has big drinks to go, serving four at a time. They range from $20 to $28 and include a barrel-aged Old Fashioned, gin rickey and mojitos. For smaller portions, order a $10 to-go cocktail from LoHi’s Bindery for curbside pick up.

Or keep life even easier with a pre-made cocktail in a can. Cocktail Squad out of Boulder sells 12-ounce tipples such as Bourbon Smash, Whiskey Sour and Greyhound, found at many liquor stores around town. At Il Posto in RiNo, the staff started canning Boulevardier, a drink that subs whiskey for the gin in a negroni, that you can pick up to go. Just make sure to bring an ID when sourcing these tasty drinks; we may be in a pandemic, but liquor laws still apply.

Easy cocktails to make at home

Don’t have a full bar at home? That doesn’t mean you can’t whip something up tasty. Yes, simple drinks such as the vodka-soda, gin and tonic or bourbon and coke are easy, but there are plenty of other good ones to try, too.

Emily Horn at Room for Milly in LoHi suggests giving the three-ingredient Cuba Libre a go. All you need is 2 ounces of white or gold rum, 4 ounces of cola and the juice of one lime. Add all ingredients into a highball glass; stir gently and then add ice.

“With the warm weather coming, the Cuba Libre is a great happy hour choice,” Horn said.

Brandon Anamier of Sunday Vinyl downtown likes to turn classic drinks into a sour. One of his favorites to play with is the Negroni, a drink that’s equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and gin. Make a small one, about 1/2 ounce of each liquor and set aside. Then take 3/4 ounce lemon juice, 1/2 ounce simple syrup and one egg white. Combine the mixture with the tiny Negroni, pour into a shaker with ice and vigorously shake. Discard dirty ice and shake again without it for 20 seconds, and then strain into a pretty glass.

“I call these Inception Cocktails because it is a cocktail within a cocktail,” Anamier said, adding this method can work with just about any drink. “You can basically make a whole world of cocktails that are easy to make and great for toasting, in person, or virtually while we’re all sheltering in place.”

Practice good etiquette

Virtual happy hours can be between you and your best friend or with a group of 20 people. While a small group proves easy to manage, it gets a little tricky with a whole lot of people (10 guests is a good cap). Some platforms like Zoom and House Party have a “raised hand” option; that way, everyone knows you want to say something. There are also ways to mute yourself when, for example, your kids decide to sing their renditions of the “Frozen” soundtrack at top volume. If you started the happy hour, there’s also the ability to mute other people, a good tool if your wound-up friend had one too many drinks.

Remember, overall everyone is there to have fun, let off a little steam and connect with other people. So listen, don’t bogart the conversation and maintain some sort of decorum as you toast to another day in quarantine.

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