Easy and Fun Tips to Upgrade Your 4th of July Celebration

Take your festivities up a notch this year with advice from entertaining experts.

Planning to host a 4th of July party this year? Skip the red white and blue streamers, the cans of Bud Light and bowls of chips and dip and make this year’s party one for the books. While Independence Day may conjure up memories of childhood celebrations -- running through sprinklers, blue and red popsicle tongues and sparklers -- this year, upgrade your party planning and throw a truly epic (and adult!) party.

And what’s a party without delicious food and drink? Rachel De Marte, owner of newly opened Avondale hotspot Pisolino Italian Caffe in Chicago and Event Planner & Stylist at Rachel De Marte Events, strongly emphasizes creating a menu with upfront prep work that can be done in advance so the host can enjoy the party.

“There are so many ways to intentionally select menu items that are low maintenance day-of,” said De Marte. “You build your menu to have most items that can be prepped ahead of time. This often means lots of cold items that get better as they marinate in the fridge, but doesn’t have to. As long as you can prep most the day before, you’re good to go.”

Instead of typical and expected 4th of July fare like hot dogs and hamburgers, De Marte suggests creating an Italian-American feast, combining two popular cuisines. A sample menu might include a fennel and orange salad with cured olives, red onion, honey and olive oil; polpette (beef and pork meatballs with mozzarella and sumo pomodoro), served cocktail size in bamboo bowls or paper boats and prosciutto crudo panini sliced into bite-sized pieces.

DeMarte’s playful ideas for desserts that can be prepped the day before include red white and blue jello shots, mini tiramisu or bomboloni (Italian donuts) with pastry creme and house jam. As far as cocktails, De Marte is seeing guests at Pisolino throwing back the classics like spritzes and negronis and of course, the summer staple of rosé.

“A spritz is so refreshing and easy to make at home - it’s just prosecco, aperol and orange slice. Serve in an awesome glass -- fun straw optional,” said De Marte.

Beyond the menu, De Marte’s tips for a great party focus on the extra details.

“People eat with their eyes first, so your table has to be beautiful, functional and interesting,” she said. “Food should never be flat on a tabletop - you need dimension and height with decor mixed in. Spend the extra money on upscale disposable flatware and serveware. Create a few fun menu signs and of course, custom napkins! Use accents of red, white and blue but don’t raid the party aisle at Jewel and call it a day. Create a cozy and chic environment that people want to stay in.”

Just as important as the tips for what to make are DeMarte’s tips for what not to make.

“Don’t serve too many dips,” she said. “This is not a tailgate. Skip anything with cream cheese and the random chips and salsa, which everyone knows are the ‘Oops I forgot to make something’ filler. Resist the temptation to grab grocery store cookies or cupcakes just because they’re red, white and blue.”

Once the menu and decor are set, it’s time to focus on the ambience. DJ Matt Roan, a renowned Chicago party starter voted Chicago Reader’s best DJ, suggests curating a 4th of July playlist that focuses on the best of all things American.

“[Your music] should span genres and decades and give everyone something to enjoy, from Biggie to the Beach Boys,” Roan said. “I like to play stuff that’s familiar but maybe some deeper cuts to keep things fresh and interesting.”

To create the best -- and most crowd-pleasing playlist -- Roan suggests everything from rock n’ roll pioneers like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis to soul staples like Stevie Wonder, Al Green and the Temptations to funky tunes by Parliament and Earth, Wind and Fire to the hair metal stylings of Poison and Guns n Roses to 90s alternative and rap superstars like Nirvana and a Tribe Called Quest.

He adds, “Don’t forget to add songs by Michael Jackson and Prince, two of America’s all time greatest. But Drake need not apply. There’s no room for Canadians on this American playlist!”

All jokes aside, throwing the perfect 4th of July party doesn’t have to take three weeks of planning and hours slaving over a hot stove. The best parties are laid-back, cozy affairs with some special details. Plan ahead, add in some creative extras and most importantly, make sure to enjoy yourself!