Glamorous Cocktails (#2) :: The Jazz Age...

And after numerous requests enquiring as to "what comes next"
in our Cocktail History series,
let's put on our tap shoes,
dress in sequins & satin
and grab that martini,
because today it's part 2 & we are entering the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

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.

But first, let's go back to see the origins of the Jazz Age.
The Great War, of 1914-1918,
turned Western society on its head. Men returning from the war came back to a different world. Etiquette changed, politics changed, 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

were not ready to give up their new-found freedom.
Fashion reflected this too,
with looser waistlines & free-flowing cuts. 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.

As well as these sweeter cocktails, favourites
included the bronx, manhattan & martini,
even though they had been invented a few decades before.

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.

Exquisite beading & feathers were often worked
into both garments & hats,
reflecting an age where the exotic was celebrated.
Excess in abundance!
But all would soon come crashing to a halt.

The life of decadence stopped as abruptly as it had begun, with the Great Depression of 1929 putting rather a dampener on finances.

Which is not to say that our cocktail craze came to an end.
Far from it.
But it became more sophisticated,
with an emphasis on elegance rather than extravagance.
In the next installment,
we shall explore how the Hollywood scene
influenced cocktail history,
as we move into the 1930s and the Art Deco era.
Meanwhile, White Lady anyone?
 
great gatsby film // talullah bankhead // quote noel coward: artwork bluefruit // citation (1)