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New York Times - Mixing Drinks, Adding Class

Her studio apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is just shy of 400 square feet, barely enough room for an Ikea open-shelf bookcase, a chocolate-brown tufted couch, a full-size bed and her brindle-coated Shih Tzu, Charlie.

So when Claudia Argiro, 33, gave a holiday party last Saturday night, she pared down her guest list to about two dozen of her closest friends, hid the TV behind an industrial column wrapped with holiday lights and turned the media console into a bar.

But one thing she had to have was a bartender. “I’m an adult now, living by myself, and this is my sh-bam, my moment,” said Ms. Argiro, who runs a clothing boutique nearby called Charlie and Sam.

She called up Tealicious, a catering company in Queens, which sent over Eric Villani, a 33-year-old bartender, who was stationed in a two-foot-wide triangle in the middle of the room. For the next four hours, Mr. Villani stood there, not to make special cocktails, but to pour a vodka punch or a rum eggnog into clear plastic cups, trimmed with sugar-coated cherries and cinnamon sticks.

His presence did not go unheralded in the apartment, in a new warehouse conversion along the Brooklyn waterfront, although the intimate cluster of guests could have easily served themselves. “In my opinion, if you don’t have a bartender at your party, you’re a loser,” said Dustin Terry, who lives a floor below Ms. Argiro and said his job was to get models and Saudi royalty into hot clubs. “The bartender brings class and sophistication.”

“If you can’t afford to hire a bartender,” he added, “you shouldn’t be having a party.”

That seems to be the consensus of a growing crowd of 30-something New Yorkers who wish to signal they’ve graduated from post-collegiate squalor to young professional coming of age. No matter how small their abodes, they won’t invite friends over for cocktails without the assistance of a bartender — even if there’s barely room for the bartender to stand.

Hired help telegraphs a new maturity and polish, said Marc Levine, who runs Premier Party Servers and Model Bartenders, which cater parties in New York and other cities. “You’re bringing your party to the next level, stepping away from the college kegger,” he said, “and actually entertaining in your New York City apartment.”

And there’s a practical consideration. “Hosts don’t want to have to look after their guests’ needs,” said Matt Solan, a bartender who works many such small locations. “But they also want a level of prestige.”

Mr. Levine estimates that the number of people calling him to book bartenders for extremely small apartments has gone up 20 percent in the last three years. “With the recession, they don’t want to rent an expensive loft space,” he said. Instead, they are having house parties, he said, and hiring bartenders as a way to splurge within their means.