Feb 17, 2012

Glamorous Cocktails (#1) :: the beginnings...

Have always and forever been known to serve cocktails to guests
as soon as they arrive for our dinner parties.

A cocktail always suggests something to celebrate,
and sometimes,
there doesn't need to be any more excuse 
than celebrating life itself.
Especially on Fridays. Or Saturdays. Or...well, you know...
The notion of a cocktail was first recorded in print in the
Morning Post & Gazetteer in London in 1798,
but I love this early definition,
from 1806.
When asked by a reader "What is a cocktail?",
the New York published Balance & Columbian Registry
editor replied thus...
...which is astonishing.
With or without the politics,
this definition stands as the unofficial beginning of the cocktail.
But let's go back further,
to find the origins...
Taverns had been serving "punches" or "toddies"
of brandy or rum,
eeked out with sugar, water & spices,
for quite a few centuries before this.
And when Johann Schweppe invented
carbonated mineral & tonic water in 1767 & 1771 respectively,
the taverns were quick to add it to their mixed drinks.
When ice became available for commercial use in the
early 19th century,
the concept of an "iced cocktail" was born,
as bartenders mixed whisky, rum or brandy with
ice, bitters & sugar.

It's the concoction referred to in the fabulous definition above,
and the origin of the "Old Fashioned".

For the next century,
(the 1800s)
cocktails were something served in pubs & bars,
rather than at home.

But it seems that history was about to evolve,
as the delicious drink moved into the realm
of glamorous private entertaining
& the cocktail party was born.
And this is where it all started.
In 1917. In St Louis.
Where one very stylish Mrs Julius Walsh
invited 50 guests for Sunday luncheon,
but first plied them for an hour with "cocktails",
mixed by a bar-tender,
served in the garden & house.
Well, no wonder that was a hit.
The Walshs served up 
Clover Leafs 
(gin, grenadine, lime juice, egg white, fresh mint garnish)
Bronx Cocktails,
& Highballs.
And what followed,
in St Louis, 
within weeks,
was a fashion for these new-found Cocktail Parties.
Which was soon followed by a fashion for Cocktail Parties
in other parts of the US,
as well as in other countries.

And what happened after 1917?
you'll just have to pop back 
to see part 2 of this series,
when we put on our dance shoes 
& tap to the Charleston 
with a martini in hand,
to explore the 1920s art of the cocktail party
& the effect of the Prohibition.

would you care for another cocktail?
Make mine a Clover Leaf, thanks! 

martinis: blue fruit
quote artwork: blue fruit/ bar/ vintage schweppes ads/
heart in ice: image purchased many years ago from istockphoto/
image cocktail shaker: blue fruit/ flowers/

history of the cocktail party: wall st journal


  1. Great post!
    Don't know a lot about cocktails (much enlightened now, of course, from reading this) but grew a liking to Mojitos in Spain, so I'd love one of those please!! x

    1. mmm...yum I love Mojitos too...so refreshing! x

  2. It seems so odd to me that cocktails go back so far - beginning in taverns explains a lot. I knew my favorite, the Manhattan, (Bulleit Rye, Antica Formula vermouth, bitters, and no maraschino cherry) is from the 19th century. Love the very idea of cocktail parties and have been known to give a party or two based on them. A barman who knows what he is doing is essential - last time we had the bar in the library which worked very well.

    1. Now if one were to combine a cocktail party with a library, I think I should faint from happiness!

  3. PS Forgot to add that I hated the bar at the Langham on a number of levels, the least of which being the decor.

    1. Really? It is a few years since I have been to the London Langham, so you have been there much more recently than me. I wonder what you didn't like about it? Service perhaps, if the decor was the least of it. We stayed in the Auckland one last year and the service was fabulous.

  4. Lovely images! Have a beautiful weekend, Kellie xx

  5. Fascinating post and love the photos. I love cocktails, especially old-school kind! You would LOVE The Campbell Apartment in NYC - have you ever been? If not, you must! It's a Glamour Drops kind of place.

    1. Oh yes, we went there on our anniversary trip - and felt quite elegant sitting there sipping martinis, watching the world go by. Beyond, beyond, beyond fabulous. Definitely a Glamour Drops kind of place! x

  6. Do you know I serve a mean martini? Consider yourself warned! Amazing post, Virginia!


    1. Happily so! Love a good martini. But until I researched this post, I had absolutely no idea how old they were! And there I was thinking it was all just from the 1920s... I was so wrong. Just goes to show that good things never go out of style. x


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