Marc Dillon, bar manager at Wild Ginger McKenzie, shares tips to help make your at-home holiday parties a smashing success.

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Entertaining season has begun! Marc Dillon, bar manager at longtime Seattle institution Wild Ginger’s new location in South Lake Union, draws from years of bartending and restaurant experience to offer pro tips and personal picks to make your at-home holiday parties a smashing success.

Marc Dillon
Marc Dillon

Spice it up

Draw from the Northwest’s bounty for foodie finds that take your drinks and appetizers to the next level. Just a few tweaks with quality ingredients show you’ve got flavor – and flava.

Wild Ginger Sichuan Peppercorn Salt ($10 at Wild Ginger downtown Seattle) Spice up your party with this Sichuan Peppercorn Salt, a key ingredient in Wild Ginger’s most popular dishes. Sprinkle it over candied walnuts for extra zip, atop potatoes for easy tapas of patatas bravas, or to add Asian spin to a Bloody Mary.

Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters ($17-$20 at Total Wine & More and The Bar Bazaar) Aromatic bitters add flavor to mixed drinks, the way seasonings do to food. Scrappy’s are handcrafted in Seattle from organic herbs and spices in 11 different blends. Dillon uses Scrappy’s Lime Bitters in Wild Ginger McKenzie’s gin-based Neil deLemongrasse Tyson cocktail, and Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture to add bite to tequila drinks. At-home bartenders can start with the flagship Lavender Bitters.

Bakery Nouveau Delicious Breads ($3.75-$6.25 at Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle, Capitol Hill and Burien) Give your cheese plate and tapenade a delicious foundation with a fresh loaf from this heralded local bakery. Classic baguette goes with everything, walnut-raisin multigrain pairs perfectly with goat cheese and savory olive fougasse is a meal on its own.

Tools of the trade

Bartenders rely on their tools. These industry necessities up your cocktail game and impress your guests.

Victorinox Channel Knife ($13) Use a simple channel knife to curl citrus peels, which add essence for nuanced flavor. “Without garnish, it looks like a drink in a glass. Add garnish and you have a beautiful cocktail,” says Dillon.

Victorinox Channel Knife
Victorinox Channel Knife

Sphere Ice Molds ($10 for two, Bed Bath & Beyond) Tray ice melts quickly and can water down your bourbon. At Wild Ginger McKenzie, Dillon uses spherical ice cubes instead. Since they have less surface area, they melt slower – and look cool, too.

Recycled Granite Soapstone Whiskey Stones ($16) If you want to get fancy – or need a gift for your host – replace the ice cubes with whiskey stones made from locally recycled granite. Store them in your freezer until it’s time to chill.

Presentation is everything
Set the scene with pretty glassware and an elegant, reusable alternative to paper cocktail napkins – then raise a glass and enjoy.

Starlight coupe glass (Crate & Barrel)
Starlight coupe glass (Crate & Barrel)

Crate & Barrel Starlight Coupe Glass ($15 at Crate & Barrel) Versatile coupe glasses are Dillon’s go-to for everything from champagne to Manhattans and martinis. This retro-chic version has hand-etched stars that sparkle on your holiday table. A deep red cocktail shows off the design and your good taste. Matching pitcher also available.

Home Essentials and Beyond Del Sol Cooling Station Glass Drink Dispenser ($28 at Home Depot) Dillon doesn’t like being stuck on cocktail duty when he hosts. He makes a big batch in advance to pour in a self-serve dispenser like this two-gallon model, so guests can help themselves and he can mingle.

Sur La Table Faded Floral Napkins ($12 for four at Sur La Table, Pike Place Market and Kirkland) Dillon’s mother always used cloth napkins for entertaining. “They make a difference,” he says. This faded watercolor style will come in handy long after the holiday season ends.

Visit Wild Ginger McKenzie at 2202 8th Ave. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 3-10 p.m., Sun. 3-9 p.m. and for happy hour weekdays 3-6 p.m. and Mon.-Sat. 9-10 p.m.