That glorious, design-decadent era
that celebrated the cocktail as a symbol of exuberance,
saw the emancipation of women
& some of the wildest partying of the century.
Men returning from the war came back to a different world.
as innocence was swept away in a new era.
The carefree days of the Edwardians were gone.
Some people romanticised the world before the war;
others embraced the changes.
And partied like there were no tomorrow,
just in case.
It set the perfect stage for a decadent life of cocktail parties
for the Bright Young Things,
a generation who partied hard, drank hard, lived fast
and rejected the values of their parent’s generation.
In Europe & the British Empire, unlike in America,
cocktails were a rarity before the war,
so this new wild abandon was rather a contrast
to the genteel days of old.
One may have been offered a pre-dinner sherry and soda,
or sherry and bitters,
in some of the smarter homes like this,
in Europe before 1914,
but not a martini or “mixed cocktail”.
So the idea of a cocktail as a fashionable drink
really took off with the increased amount of Americans
traveling by new-fangled ways
(luxury steam ships & aeroplanes)
& their demand for familiar drinks in foreign spots.
“American Bars” sprang up in European hotels,
especially in Paris & London,
where cocktails were served & jazz music was played.
The dance club was born.
While it wasn’t considered ladylike for a woman
to drink cocktails in the Edwardian era,
this suddenly changed in the 1920s.
Many women who had worked during the war
Gone were the corsets, the bustles & the layers of petticoats.
Instead, there appeared a new confident woman,
ready to earn her own money,
wear her own style
and express her own opinions.
She became known as the “drinking woman” (1)
because she was often found at cocktail soirées,
in the most fashionable homes & lounges,
wearing the classic cocktail garb of sequined sheath dress,
cloche hat, short hair & t-bar pump shoes,
cocktail glass in hand.
To this background of pleasure,
freedom & cocktail partying
rose the jazz movement.
The sultry sound absolutely embodied the spirit of the times.
Private cocktail soirées would often feature a jazz band,
& they became de rigueur for the new supper clubs in the major cities.
While this cocktail lifestyle continued in
Britain, her Empire countries
+ in Europe,
something happened in the US
which changed our course of cocktail history.
It was the Prohibition era,
introduced in 1920 and only repealed in 1933.
Banning the sale of alcohol led to the rise of bootleg liquor,
often rather toxic mixtures .
This is the bounty seized by a raid by Los Angeles police in 1928,
and labeled with their true contents.
In order to mask the flavour of bootleg brews,
strongly flavoured cocktails were mixed,
like the Fluffy Ruffles, Pom Pom, Bees Knees
(gin, honey, lemon juice)
& the original gin based Alexander Cocktail.
Gin was probably the most popular spirit,
largely because it was relatively fast & easy to make as a “home brew.”
Interestingly, the fashion for these same types
of strongly flavoured cocktails
also crossed the Atlantic,
as did many of America’s wealthy party-goers & the finest bartenders.
Unable to practice their sophisticated craft in the US
- except in the rather-less-than elegant Speakeasies,
where a surreptitious knock at the knock may afford access -
the best of the bartenders relocated to Havanna, Paris & London.
Here, the American Bars flourished,
especially at the Savoy in London,
where Harry Craddock took up residence as chief bartender in 1920,
helping to popularise the cocktail as a sophisticated drink & pastime.
Not only did Harry write the infamous Savoy Cocktail book,
first published in 1930 and still available today,
but he is also credited with the invention
of the Corpse Reviver 2
(gin, Cointreau, Absinthe, Lillet Blanc & lemon juice)
and the fabulous White Lady cocktail.
This was an age of the endless party, Great Gatsby style.
Cocktails parties at elegant weekend county estates,
soirées in the city apartment,
cocktails at supper clubs.
In attendance were the aristocrats, artists, novelists,
playwrights & wits of the day.
Extravagance knew no bounds.
The cocktails flowed, as fashion became more exotic.
The life of decadence stopped as abruptly as it had begun,
with the Great Depression of 1929
putting rather a dampener on finances.