When I was 22 or so, I imagined that in my future adult life in the 21st century – right about now – I would be living the kind of technologically advanced, sophisticated city life that would make the characters in LA Law look like the Beverly Hillbillies. Funny, then, that at the time I looked to the future for civilisation, whereas now I’m in the future, I sometimes find myself looking backwards for it.
Why? Because at times, it feels as though everything is too big, too fast, too much. Supersized and on-demand has rudely shoved perfectly formed and in-good-time to one side. In the main, this is well and good. Bring on the tech, the new and the progressive! But aside from invention, let us not forget revival, because some things were pretty good the first time round and deserve another crack of the whip.
Making time for a martini
One of these things is the cocktail hour. The one we see in old films – civilisation and sophistication, preserved in black and white and perfect RP accents, complete with clinking glasses and lively chat. Wouldn’t you rather – just sometimes – enjoy that, rather than dash in from work exhaustedly, and down half a glass of Picpoul while slumped against the fridge?
If anything in life is worth reviving, that hallowed hour surely is. Imagine just one hour a week, to start at least, when the best glasses make an appearance, the spirits are mixed with reverence, the sounds are soothing, and the ambience urbane. It used to be that certain social classes were able to take the cocktail hour for granted – as a birthright, as an essential part of their version of modern life. A bar set (ice tongs, long spoon, strainer, jigger and shaker, at the very least) was as vital as a set of saucepans. A cocktail cabinet, tray or trolley was rarely de trop. The availability of cocktail bitters, vermouth and obscure liqueurs was a given. This, if you ask me, is civilisation.
Thoroughly modern medicine
Lack of equipment or time shouldn’t defeat us in the modern day. We don’t have to wear Mad Men-style garb and start smoking to make this work (I mean, do dress for the occasion if you like). The cocktail hour in its modern-day iteration is, I think, a state of mind. Its value is not merely in a perfectly mixed gin martini, but in the time out it affords us. It’s in the ceremony of mixing a drink that requires thought and measure; it’s in the silencing of phones and screens in favour of conversation or ruminative quiet. It’s in allowing ourselves pleasure: perfectly formed enjoyment that’s less about speed and size and more about measure. Modern life is far from rubbish, but sometimes we need an antidote, and perhaps this is it.
I was entertained and heartened recently to stumble upon the 1933 film Cocktail Hour. The film’s lead character, successful and independently wealthy artist Cynthia Warren (played by Bebe Daniels) eschews the very idea that women are destined for marriage and motherhood alone. As she hosts a cocktail party, she airily explains to her guests that, rather than aspiring to a baby and a husband, she’d rather have her cocktail hour. I’m not sure what Bebe Daniels was drinking in that scene, but to quote another film, I’ll have what she’s having. I’d like to think her choice of libation was something ballsy yet classic. And for that reason, to the right is something else worth reviving: the mighty Sazerac. Cheers.
JOE GUNNER’S CLASSIC SAZERAC
According to Joe Gunner of The Portobello Star, the Sazerac is thought of as possibly THE first cocktail ever invented. Louisiana apothecarist Antoine Amédée Peychaud sold his bitters for medicinal values, yet mixing them with alcohol (in this case, rye whiskey) was deemed safer than using the water of the day. The name was given to the drink in 1850 at Sewell Taylor’s Sazerac Coffee House, possibly home to America?s first cocktail?s first cocktail hour. Santé!
- Splash of absinthe
- 50ml Sazerac rye (or any other good rye)
- 10ml sugar syrup
- 4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- Lemon twist to garnish
Add the absinthe to your glass and swirl it around, so that it coats the inside of the glass, before discarding the excess. Joe suggests a finely chilled martini glass for Sazeracs, but an old-fashioned tumbler is traditional. What’s important, apparently, is that the drink needs to breathe. In a mixing glass pour the sugar syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters and rye whiskey, plus ice. Stir until chilled, then strain the drink into the glass. Twist the lemon zest over the top of the drink so the essential oils spritz the top of the cocktail and rub the zest around the rim of the glass.
@ginandting. Image: Conde Nast archive.