There lurks in many people a desire to slide into a past they are convinced was full of innocent good cheer. Reaching back into history, they naturally do not pull out a plague or a famine or a Hundred Year War; they pull out a party. They line up for medieval banquets where they down sickly sweet glasses of mead, or ponder a restaurant menu offering a "colonial" dinner, while the waitresses glide between tables wearing ruffled long aprons and mobcaps.

Ah, if they only knew. Few moderns could survive being transported back to an actual medieval banquet, where herbs were strewn on the floor to mask the smell of the unwashed guests, thick chunks of bread served as shared plates and fingers were the utensils of choice. One of the reasons dogs are usually pictured around the table in paintings of the period is that they functioned as canine Hoovers, vacuuming up the bits of bone and meat and gristle that fell or were tossed to the floor.

If manners are the problem in recreating a medieval banquet, menus are the difficulty in being authentically colonial. Here is an ordinary dinner -- not a special event, mind you -- from that era called colonial (or Georgian, depending on which side of the Atlantic you happened to have planted your feet on):

Green Pea Soup; Haunch of Lamb With Cumberland Sauce; Haricot of Mutton; Breast of Veal; Stewed Peas; Saute' of Sweetbreads and Mushrooms; Raised Pie a la Francaise

Second Course: Guinea Fowl; Peas; Omelet Souffle'; Blancmange; Currant and Raspberry Pie; Chantilly Cake; Macaroni; French Beans; Leveret (a very young hare)

The foods were not necessarily presented in that order and guests did not necessarily help themselves to everything -- but still it is bound to daunt the hostess who is trying to provide a touch of the past.

The Victorians weren't much better in offering diet delight menus, and they added an impressive and confusing array of special utensils such as grape shears, asparagus tongs, lemonade sippers, oyster forks, cheese scoops, orange spoons, orange cups and sardine servers to clutter and confuse.

No, if you would like to lighten the winter nights with an evening of nostalgia, consider staging a 1930s cocktail party.

This does not mean inviting the same old people for drinks and serving up white wine and Perrier. It should be a true period piece: Cole Porter songs on the phonograph, interspersed with occasional Billie Holiday blues, and a bartender mixing drinks in an old fashioned cocktail shaker -- drinks with names like kiss-me-quick (two ounces Pernod and a teaspoonful of Cointreau poured over ice, sprinkled with two dashes of Angostura bitters and topped with soda), sidecar (put cracked ice into the cocktail shaker, add one ounce brandy, one half ounce Cointreau and one half ounce lemon juice, shake, strain into a cocktail glass and drop in a maraschino cherry,) gimlet (put ice in a glass, add two ounces of gin and one ounce of lime cordial, stir and strain into a glass, and top with a shot of soda water), green hat (put ice in a glass, add an ounce of gin and an ounce of creme de menthe, stir and add soda water) and, of course, the classic dry martini, served straight up in a stemmed glass with an olive bobbing around. (This consists of one part dry vermouth to three parts gin.)

Since your guests may not have the slightest idea what to order, go through old cocktail recipe books and print up the names of any drinks that strike your fancy -- and their ingredients -- and post the list over the bar.

In addition to basic liquors, you will need to stock up on things like Grenadine syrup, Angostura bitters, cracked ice, jars of green olives and maraschino cherries and sugar syrup, which you can make in advance by dissolving two cups of sugar in one cup of water, simmering for 10 minutes, cooling and storing in the refrigerator.

The cocktail "hour" is 5:30 to 8 p.m. and you should provide plenty of finger foods, which will have to be passed about on trays, since a true cocktail party is so crowded that people can't move; they also have a hard time hearing each other over the babble, and it is these two things that finally gave cocktail parties a reputation for being superficial gatherings. People began to shun them for quiet sit-down dinners where the guests could argue about whether Star Wars was a viable defense program and what was the good of Gramm-Rudman.

But for one evening, at least, Washington can abandon such issues for kiss-me-quicks and cheese straws, and the burning question of the hour can be why Miss Otis Regrets.