It has taken more than eighty years, but America is finally beginning to get back to embracing crafted cocktail culture. It’s a long-forgotten fact that, prior to the implementation of prohibition in 1919, America was known as a world leader in cocktails and bartending. Bartenders came from all over the world to learn from the men and women (okay, it was pretty much all men) who took great pride in creating elaborate cocktails with fresh ingredients, using highly skilled techniques.
We all know that prohibition did not signal the death knell of drinking in America. Instead, what it did was drive away many of the talented bartenders who found themselves out of a job when many upscale, well-known bars closed. Many of the underground bars that stayed in business didn’t prioritize elegant cocktails so much as simply providing very strong alcohol to eager patrons.
With a few exceptions, the underground drinking culture of prohibition squashed the progress that America had made as the world’s cocktail capital. By the time prohibition ended, many bars scrambled to re-open as legal establishments and failed to pick up where crafted culture left off.
Again, there are exceptions. Not everyone forgot. Not every establishment de-valued cocktail culture. Some kept it going the whole time. And at these extraordinary places, grabbing a drink was more about celebrating a shared experience in an elegant setting than about simply increasing one’s Blood Alcohol Content.
It is these places that are worth restoring and revisiting. These are the places where recipes survived and bartending is considered an art form. These are the places where, if you listen closely enough, it feels like you might here a Duke Ellington tune interrupted by a news report about Amelia Earhart.
While the original patrons are long gone, thankfully there are plenty of other people around who’ve put effort in locating and restoring the spaces and dusting off the old cocktail recipes. And with those people hard at work, crafted cocktail culture is poised for a resurgence. Gin Rickey, anyone?