SHAKEN, NOT SITRRED: Cocktail Cultural Artifacts 1920's - 1930's
Gleaming with sophistication and style, vintage cocktail shakers define American Art Deco design. These swank and practical cultural artifacts demonstrate the superb blend of form and function in 20th-century decorative arts.
The cocktail represented elegant style and high society to Americans of the 1920’s and 1930’a. During Prohibition, cocktails were a means of extending the supply of bootleg whiskey. Cocktails were served on every occasion. Many were flamboyant concoctions, designed by the bartender to astound and entertain his clientele.
Times change and America is a much more sober nation today. However, the vintage design of these cocktail shakers provide us with a nostalgic tour, back to the days when H.L.Mencken referred to cocktails as “the greatest of all contributions of the American way of life to the salvation of humanity”.
Legend of the Cocktail
Many stories exist as to the origin of the word “cocktail”. The most popular account dates to the American Revolution. Legend has it that Flanagan’s Tavern, near Yorktown, New York, was patronized by Washington’s officers and their French allies. The Americans drank whiskey or gin, the French, wine or vermouth. As the evening wore on and in the spirit of kinship, these liquors were poured and mixed from one cup to another for a toast.
One of the soldiers stole the rooster from a neighbor believed to be a Loyalist supporter of King George. Betsy Flanagan cooked and served this bird for dinner, and decorated the officers’ drinks with its tail feathers. The officers proposed a toast for victory and the cock-tail was born.
IN honor of this legendary bird, who gave its life and tail feathers for the cocktail, the rooster’s image is still found today on cocktail shakers, bar accessories, and drink menus.
Jazz Age Icons
In the 1920s, martinis were served from sterling silver shakers by the very chic of the day, while the less affluent made do with glass or nickel-plated devices. Liberated flappers not only smoked in public, but drank cocktails with wild abandon.
The Great World War was over, a sense of euphoria, marked by much party going and a frenzied quest for pleasure seized the country. It was the Jazz Age, and the gin martini mixed in a cocktail shaker was the drink of choice.
On January 16, 1920, America’s champagne euphoria fizzled. The Volstead Act came into effect and with it, fourteen years of alcohol prohibition in the United States. Wakes were held in cities and throughout the land, and some bars gave out miniature coffins as souvenirs. The cocktail flourished despite Prohibition. When furtive drinking was required, a colorful choice of mix disguised the alcohol in the glass. And in less discriminated places, these mixes were essential to cover the taste of poor quality alcohol.
Private clubs opened for customers seeking whiskey. People were warned to “Go quietly. Don’t make a noise. Speak easy.” These clubs soon became known as “speakeasies” or “speaks”, In the rebellious atmosphere of the 1920, Prohibition had the effect of encouraging rather than discouraging drinking.
The Thin Man
“Important thing is the rhythm; Always have rhythm in your shaking. Nowa Manhattan you shake to the Fox Trot, Bronx to Two-Step time. The Dry Martini you always shake to Waltz time. Mine you, there’s still a more modern trend…..”
--Nick Charles to the Maitre d’, at the Normandy Hotel Bar. The Thin Man (1934)
The Collector’s View
“The equivalent of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in the 1930s was Fred Astaire movies with their dancing, elegance, and sets filled with glamorous Art Deco furniture. Rich people could say to their decorator, “Replicate that set for my house.”, but most people, regular people could afford just one item from that movie; a cocktail shaker.
Whether they drank or not, they could have that one thing to put on the mantel as a symbol of the good life.”
The cocktail as an American invention only became popular overseas in the Roaring Twenties, before that it was just too “American.” The English had their Hot Toddy, Gin, and the Wassail Bowl, but the closest they came to a cocktail was scotch and soda. They were nonplus at the mixtures that sailed across the Atlantic on luxury liners with American socialites and the racy set, pouring from their sterling shakers.
In the beginning our Doughboys spread the word and recipe, and expatriated Americans were among the first ordering cocktail in Europe. When Hemingway’s American hero in A Farewell To Arms defects from the Italian army, he heads directly for a bar in Stresa. There, he drinks two martinis and then orders two more. He says, “I never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.”
After the Great War ended and Prohibition began, bartenders were out of work, many continued working in speakeasies, those who didn’t want to work illegality sought work in “Wet Countries” like England, Canada, and France, propagating the American cocktail.
Barricades fell, and “cocktail” was assimilated into the Parisian vocabulary, along with the up-to-date Shimmy, Black Bottom, and Jazz. Cole Porter was serving martinis at his Charleston parties in his villa on the Riviera, while Harry’s New York Bar and the Ritz in Paris became the popular watering holes for the in-crowd. Harry’s with its mahogany counter and back bar, dismantled from a pre-Prohibition drinking parlor in New York City, was among the first to serve chilled American cocktails. Harry’s also takes credit for the Bloody Mary, and the French 75. The latter a mixture of champagne, cognac, lemon juice and powered sugar, said to have the kick of French 75 mm cannons.
In London, the bar of the Savoy Hotel was a Mecca for cocktail drinkers. It was known in the 1930s as “the 49th state”, and bartender Harry Craddock taught Europeans how to mix American cocktails with his won recipe book published in 1930. One of Harry’s contributions to the cocktail menu was the popular White Lady, mixed of gin, triple sec, lemon juice and sugar syrup. Gin, once the curse of British lower classes, had now become socially acceptable, and the martini societies favorite.
Movies Set the Pace
The real explosion of cocktail shakers occurred after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Now they were featured frequently on the silver screen. Movie fans watched William Powell instruct a bartender on the proper way to mix a martini in The Thin Man (1934). He also demonstrated the technique himself in My Man Godfrey. (1936)
Art Deco cocktail shakers were used to mix a wide array of trend-setting cocktails, including the “Singapore Sling” and “Pink Lady’, as well as the traditional Martini People entertained at home more frequently and department stores had their own bar ware departments, sales of cocktail shakers and martini glasses outweighed those of tea services as wedding gifts. By the end of the 1930s, shakers had become standard household objects, affordable to all. Every family seemed to have a shaker on the shelf.
High Tech by Design
To meet the popular demand for cocktail shakers, Machine Age factories, geared for mass production, began turning them out by the thousands. Fashioned from the high-tech materials of the day, chrome plated brass shakers with Bakelite trim replaced those of sterling silver and were advertised as “non-tarnishing, no polishing required.” Many shakers themselves were styled after icons of the Machine Age, using sky scraper and streamlined form popular with industrial designers of the time.
End of an Era
Eventually the Great Depression ended, but not in the way most had hoped. On December 7, 1941, American entered World War II. The “golden era” of the cocktail shaker was over. All metal went into the war effort. Companies that once made cocktail shakers now made artillery shells. After the war, few thought of the shakers. The Atomic Age was in full force as jet-propelled airplanes, a thing called television, and new cars with lots of chrome captured the attention of a buying American public.
Hope of Revival
In the early 1950s, a brief renewal of interest in cocktail shakers occurred when new homes featuring finished basements called “rec. rooms” were equipped with bars. But the push-button age had taken the fun out of mixing drinks. Shakers came with battery powered stirring devices. Worse yet, electric blenders became popular: drop in some ice, and the alcohol of your choice, a package of redi-mix, flick a switch and… Gone were the rites and rituals, the showmanship, the reward for effort.
Shaken, Not Stirred
Ian Fleming’s James Bond is credited with the phrase “Shaken, not stirred.” In the novel Dr.No, 1958. Chapter 14 finds Bond providing instructions to his bartender: “And I would like a medium vodka dry martini – with a slice of lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred, please. I would prefer Russian or Polish vodka.”
Shaking violates a cardinal rule of traditional martini drinkers who believe that the mix should be carefully stirred so that “the molecules lie sensuously on top of each other.”
Yet the popularity of James Bond brought a resurgence of the martini in the 1960s. In fact, gadgets abound reflecting this new sophistication. First there was the vermouth atomizer which blew a fine mist over the glass. Then came the vermouth dropper, a long fine calibrated eyedropper designed to fit into a vermouth bottle. And of course there was the martini scale which suspended a vermouth jigger and a larger one for gin on an adjustable crossbeam, ensuring the requisite 1:25 proportions of a well-made martini.
The Madison Avenue Cocktail
As reported in the New York Times, October 14, 1936, Mr. Louis W. Wulff, President of the International Barmen’s Association, announced the winner of the Cocktail Competition held in conjunction with Madison Avenue Week. He first made known his feeling toward the increasing number of women being employed as barmaids in New York City establishments.
“Liquor alone can cause enough trouble, When you put a pretty miss behind the bar you invite trouble. Barmaids are not in keeping with the aim of the liquor industry. It all boils down to the age-old tendency of Women. They flirt. They flirt whether they are barmaids or not. So put a ban on them.”
After his comments Mr. Wulff announced the winner of the Cocktail Contest, held at the Hotel Biltmore. The winner was a local boy, Eddie Woeke, chief bartender at the Weylin Bar.
The Madison Avenue Cocktail
Muddle three or four Spring Mint leaves
Juice of one Snow Lime
¼ part Cointreau
¾ part Bacardi Rum
Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.
In Merry old England tavern signs abounded; The Red Lion, The Bull and Bear, The crown, The Mermaid; where Shakespeare imbibed, and The Olde Cock Tavern frequented by Samuel Pepys. In a time when most of the population couldn’t read or write, and tailor shops hung out a large pair of wooden scissors to announce their craft, tavern signs were more than just a pretty face, they were a necessity.
A foreign visitor who could not speak the language, had only to look for the designated shop sign, be it the Rams’ Head or The Sign of the Dove, to keep his appointment.
These easily understood multilingual signs are still with us today, be it the silhouette on the Men’s Room door, or the sign of a red slash across a cigarette. In any large airport today, you can easily find the bar, just look for that large Martini glass, it’s now an international symbol.
The first recorded mention of toast is found during the time of the ancient Egyptians. It was used as a form of preservation. “Toast” is from the Latin derivation of Tostus, bread dried before fire.
The ancient Greeks and Egyptians were in the habit of drinking to one another’s health at dinner, and the Romans were among the first to use a piece of tasted bread in wine when they drank to each other’s health.
While the English did not immediately embrace this practice or the Romans upon their invasion of Great Britain, it did become the custom to float a piece of toast in the Wassail Bowl, a vessel from which hot spiced brews were served in ancient Saxon times.
In medieval Christmas ceremonies, celebrants when drinking from this bowl would say “Waes Haeil”. A salutation meaning “be hale” or “be in good health.” It was a fine bracing wintertime drink, usually consisting of a mixture of ale, beer, wine, fruits, and nutmeg, and some say a forerunner of the cocktail.
After all had finished drinking and the party nearly over, the host had the privilege of eating this piece of sop, and by the 16th century it now became the fashion to add toasted bread to almost any drink. During their drinking bouts the English often gave pledges of allegiance to their monarch; hence, the drinking of any drinks, preceded by a pledge, or sentiment, became known as “toast”.
Skyscrapers & Cocktail Shakers
Cocktail shakers have always followed American cultural and architecture trends and the skyscraper cocktail shaker is a good example. Skyscrapers born at the turn of the century, growing and changing into manhood by 1930, were symbols of generative power, shining chrome and steel, man-mad materials, a symbol of virility, one of raw machismo and capitalism. In the twenties, skyscrapers were a sign of world power, the new shape of things to come. In the thirties skyscrapers gave the appearance of upwzrd mobility, strength and speed in a slow economy. They penetrated the gloom of depression and propelled us into a future seeming bright and prosperous.
The Chrysler Building (1930) and the Empire State Building (1931) were constructed in the shape of cocktail shakers. Well, maybe it was the other way around, but the skyscraper was the new deity of architecture and cocktail shakers followed suit, along with skyscraper lamps, chair backs, bookcases, and other furniture, everything from Flapper dresses to skyscraper sandwiches.
Cocktail shakers and skyscrapers joined the locomotive in another power group; phallic symbols, the oldest and most recognized universal representation of power in the World. From the cave paintings of Cro-Magnon man to the Dionysius cults of Ancient Greece to the totem poles of North American Indians, this shape has pervaded human society as a source of strength and success since the beginning of time.
A United States phenomenon, skyscrapers were a powerful and omnipotent symbol of a new era. It wasn’t Lady Liberty that struck awe and wonder in foreign visitors sailing into New York Harbor. The first thing they saw was the New York Skyline.
SWIZZLES: THE STIRRING STORY
Mad Men, the Emmy-winning, cultural phenomenon on AMC, has renewed interest in yet another quirky artifact from its era. The 1960’s marks the glory days in the history of the Swizzle Stick and Don Draper’s Old Fashioned would’ve been considered uncivilized and unfinished without one. Today, these mini-pop-culture icons are emerging as an entertaining and valued collectable. A tangible connection to the past, they’re terrific conversation pieces and come in an infinite variety of dazzling shapes and colors.
The Sizzle Sticks origin can be traced back to its first appearance as a small branch used to stir a refreshing rum elixir called a “Switchel” on sugar plantations in the West Indies in the 1600’s. It seems we’ve never stopped using them. Queen Victoria was known to use a stirring rod to chase bubbles out of her champagne, quietly avoiding any embarrassment from those pesky fizzy gasses.
The Gibson Girls and then Flappers of The Roaring and Pouring 1920’s used swizzle sticks made of glass and newly-invented Bakelite plastic.
Swizzle sticks were already a hot item when all they did was stir, but it was inventor Jay Sindler who, in 1934, revolutionized swizzle sticks with an advertising idea that would equal any marketing ploy cooked up by Don Draper at Sterling Cooper. And like Don, his timing was perfect.
Two and a half months after the repeal of Prohibition, Sindler contemplated his martini at the bar in Boston’s Ritz Carlton Hotel. He was wondering how he could remove the olive without dipping his fingers into his gin. He sketched the solution to this problem on his cocktail napkin; it was a small spear made of wood with a paddle-shaped handle. The paddle would be used as a miniature billboard imprinted with the establishment’s name. This idea would have been worthless during Prohibition when speakeasies hid from the law, but several months later, drinking establishments wanted their names and addresses out in public. Swizzle sticks conveyed the information and would be cheaper than a book of printed matches and cheaper still than the vanishing ashtrays that also boasted printed logos. Sindler was granted his patent on February 19, 1935 and his invention and his company, Spir-it. Inc., is still in business.
World War II and then the Space Race prompted growth in injection molding and plastic technologies which was incidentally good for the development of the swizzle. By the 1960's, we’d reached The Golden Age of The Swizzle Stick; any form was possible, fantasy designs were only limited by an artist’s imagination and client’s request.
Swizzles became an important part of any lounge’s décor. They were snapped up as soon as they were set out and the more exciting the design, the faster they were pocketed. As playful representations of their establishments, they became more whimsical and intricate, for example, sporting a lobster for a seafood restaurant or a steer for a steak house. Las Vegas casinos all competed to have the most extravagant swizzle in town.
Taking swizzles as a memento was assumed and encouraged. They were saved for years. They made customers feel like they were given a gift and the cheap but magical memories on a stick beckoned them back to an establishment again and again. A Madison Avenue dream come true.
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that swizzle sticks fell upon hard times. The rise of Jane Fonda workout videos and general health consciousness prompted a decline in cocktail consumption, bars and restaurants tightened their belts and swizzle sticks practically disappeared. Remaining patrons were left with a flimsy red straw, hardly substantial enough to move the ice around their drink.
Thankfully, this didn’t go on forever.
In the late 1990’s, a cocktail resurgence began with new appreciation for the Martini. This trend was reinforced by four sexy, city girls who downed more than a few Cosmos on HBO. And the Green Apple Martini that did its part to spike interest is now thankfully gone, replaced by properly mixed classics.
Luckily, the swizzle stick lives on, notably out of New Orleans; with the opening of The Swizzle Stick Bar, “The Tales of the Cocktail” yearly festival, and the founding of The Museum of the American Cocktail by Dale DeGroff.
The delightful swizzle stick is likely to remain popular in challenging economic times. Cocktails, a relatively inexpensive luxury, are all the more transporting when properly accessorized. Mad Men, a major catalyst in the classic cocktail comeback is defining cocktail chic even further. Don Draper, the next round’s on me.