BOOM, PROHIBITION, AND BUST 1885-1934
Ironically, when Jerry Thomas died at the end of 1885, the cocktail was on the brink of its first golden age. Sure, there were still only twenty-odd varieties of the thing in general circulation, and most of those were easily recognizable as variations on that same old early-nineteenth century spirits-sugar-bitters-ice formula. But those cocktails, along with the rest of his gospel, were spreading world-wide. In 1878, Leo Engel, a Brooklyn bartender who was managing the Criterion bar in London, put a book of American drinks - only the second to be published in Britain - together that was for the most part swiped directly from the Professor's, although there was a section of his own drinks as well. Editions of Thomas's book and of the one written by Harry Johnson, a German-born New York bartender of great skill, began appearing in various European countries and as far away as Australia. American-style cocktail bars were beginning to appear all around the world, from Dublin (where the Jury's Hotel was advertising its "large American bar" in 1900) to Berlin to Brussels, Santiago de Cuba to Yokohama - there was even an American bar in Patagonia. Most of the bartenders at these places were either Americans or had worked in the U.S., but by no means all. The famous Henry, of Henry's Bar, Paris, had been to the States but once, spending only a few hours in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Back in the States, the cocktail was changing, and fast. Consider Jacques Straub's Drinks, a pocket recipe guide published in 1914. It has 26 pages of recipes for Cocktails. Cocktails with vermouth; cocktails with lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice (in Jerry Thomas's day, such a thing would have been called a Punch or a Sour); cocktails sweetened with all kinds of fancy liqueurs and flavored syrups, even cocktails made without what had been the drink's defining ingredient, bitters. Bartenders at the top bars in the country - places like the Palace Hotel bar in San Francisco, or the one at the Hoffman House Hotel in New York - were in the habit of inventing new drinks at the drop of a hat and naming them after whoever ordered them.
At the same time, the other categories of American drinks were in decline. Punches, Toddies, Slings and Juleps were for old fogeys; short, cold blasts of concentrated flavor such as the Aviation, the Daiquiri, the Bronx and the Dry Martini were the order of the day, and they were flying over the bar as never before.
Then came Prohibition. This isn't the place for a history of the American Temperance Movement, but the subject really can't be avoided entirely due to the impact it ended up having on global cocktail culture. The issue was, along with the abolition of slavery, one of the most hotly debated ones in nineteenth century America. Some favored encouraging men to drink temperately, others encouraging them not to drink at all. When these approaches failed to yield total success, many advocates of temperance redefined the word, changing it from meaning "exerting selfcontrol to master a sometimes-dangerous and socially disruptive habit" to "using the law to prevent people from even having the opportunity to exert their self-control."
From this distance, banning the sale, manufacture and importation of a commodity without which a very large part of the world had, since time immemorial, concluded human life could not flourish, seems like a rash and vindictive act. Nonetheless, by 1915 almost half of the states were dry. America's entry into the Great War, then raging in Europe, gave the "Drys" more ammunition, as it were, to fight for the suppression of so unproductive a use of the nation's resources as turning them into beverage alcohol.
Finally, folks capitulated. The Eighteenth Amendment, banning the manufacture, sale or importation of all alcoholic beverages, was ratified on January 16, 1919. A year later, the Volstead Act, which created an enforcement structure for the amendment, took effect. 507 distilleries, 1,217 breweries and some 180,000 saloons closed their doors. Unfortunately, once the Volstead Act went into force on January 16, 1920, things didn't work out like everybody had hoped.
To make something that a majority perceives as harmless and fun illegal is not the same thing as to make it go away. If anything, quite the opposite: the nation went on a massive binge of illegal tippling. In fact, even women started getting into the act. Saloons had kept them out, but speakeasies couldn't afford to be that choosy. All in all, it was a fine mess. By the end of the '20s, Henry Ford, a notorious Dry, was supporting repeal - so that people would cut down on their drinking.
The stuff that was fuelling this binge wasn't very good. In the cheaper joints, it was rotgut distilled in a basement somewhere by folks who had no care for such fine points as taste, quality or even elementary sanitation. In a few of the most expensive places, such as New York's 21 Club, you could, for a price, get some of the whiskey, rum and champagne that was being smuggled in from abroad in staggering quantities, and if you were very, very lucky, it would be uncut. If you were a little less lucky, it would be cut responsibly with filtered water and grain alcohol. If you weren't lucky, you'd get rooked completely.
In fact, although there is a persistent popular myth that all cocktails originated during Prohibition, few indeed drinks with a lasting reputation were invented then, and in fact it was not a good time for the discriminating drinker, or for the mixologist. The bartender's art was directed towards covering the taste of bad liquor, not enhancing the taste of good. If you wanted a proper cocktail, the best place to get it was abroad - in Havana, say, or London or Paris.
Up to this point, the international school of mixology was a mere sapling in the shadow of the mighty American oak. As we've seen, "American bars" had been operating all around the world since the middle of the nineteenth century. Sure, the drinks were often unrecognizable to actual Americans, but at least people were trying. Authentic ingredients and equipment weren't always easy to find (one 1917 Swedish bar book - Stockholm had had an American bar at least since 1902 - has all the short drinks served in port wine glasses, for lack of cocktail ones). Even ice, the basic building block of the American bar, was hard to get, although Norway developed an effective export industry in this essential commodity that went some way toward filling the gap, at least in Northern Europe.
Another problem was that genuine, skilled American bartenders could command top dollar - or whatever the local currency was - once they took themselves abroad, and thus had little incentive to teach the locals the tricks of their trade. Then again, they could command top dollar at home, too, so outside of the States there were never enough of them to go around.
That would change once Prohibition came and many of these artistes chose to exercise their art in exile rather than abandon it or practice it surreptitiously and with adulterated materials. As one American traveler observed in 1922, "From Madrid and from Naples north to Amsterdam, I have not seen a single town in continental Europe which has not its American bar, with the eagle and Stars and Stripes conspicuously displayed and the bartender swearing by all that is holy that he worked in the USA before the great drought overtook it."
Among these exiles was Harry Craddock, a veteran of the Hoffman House bar and the bar at the swank Holland House Hotel on Fifth Avenue. In 1920, he got a job in London at the Savoy Hotel's American Bar, then under the direction of Ada "Coley" Coleman, one of the very few women to make a name as a mixologist until recent years. When she retired four years later, the bar became Harry's.
In 1926, Craddock circulated a letter among his former clientele in New York, touting the moist delights that he had waiting for them across the pond. According to the New York Times, it included "a list of 172 items classified as cocktails, coolers, daisies, fizzes, flips, highballs, punches, rickeys, smashes, sours, liqueurs, cordials and frappés" - all the standard classes of pre-Prohibition American tipple.
The Times took the list down to Wall Street in New York and showed it to a passerby "swinging a malacca stick and wearing a blue flannel suit, a sailor straw with a blue and white band, a blue necktie and tan shoes.... He scanned it rapidly, handed it back and said: 'The prices are just about the same as in New York.'" But Craddock's letter also said that, "he had improved his absence by perfecting cocktails and that he was now able to give his patrons a choice of 280 mixtures."
It's these other cocktails, the ones that weren't on his list, that tell the real story.
We know that because, four years later, he put out a bar book of his own, and it was jammed with drinks that had never slid across an American bar. Drinks based on strange, foreign aperitifs such as the French Kina Lillet and Quinquina or the South African Caperitif; exotic liquors - calvados, vodka (practically unknown in the States) and even Canadian whisky, in place of the unavailable rye and bourbon (Canadian whiskies had certainly been marketed in the States before Prohibition, but we know of only one cocktail recipe from the period that called for it); exotically-named liqueurs and unusual syrups (it's safe to say not even the Homan House would have carried sirop de groseille; it's made of red currants and you still can't get it in the U.S. or almost anywhere but France).
The formulae were simple, streamlined, without the rococo refinements of composition and technique characteristic of the vanished American school - indeed, in European hands, the complex system of categories by which Americans classified their drinks was reduced to two: "long drinks" and "short drinks" (to this was eventually added a third, specifically reserved for things served in a stemmed Cocktail glass). But they were elegant, too, and often imaginative.
What's more, the Savoy Cocktail Book, as it was called, was one of the first drinks books to pay any attention to design. The Savoy Hotel was in the midst of an Art Deco makeover, and the book fit right in. Striking green and gold cover, multicolor printing, copious and witty drawings by Gilbert Rumbold, snide comments on the drinks scattered here and there in red ink - it was and still is a thoroughly desirable object; a book to display, not one to keep under the bar. But what really makes it indispensible is Craddock's larcenous turn of mind.
Compilers of drinks books have always taken the lenient approach to the eighth commandment, and Harry Craddock was no different: he pinched recipes by the dozens from all the popular books of the day and a few pre-Prohibition American ones as well. As a result, the Savoy Cocktail Book was more than just a list of the drinks you could get at an expensive London hotel. It was an encyclopedia of the flourishing European school of mixology. It was also an ark for what was left of the American school, written at a time when Americans were marveling at European bars like the European travelers of old had at American ones.
Besides writing books, Craddock and his peers did something equally important. They trained bartenders. French bartenders, German bartenders, English, Italian, Dutch, Cuban bartenders, you name it. A whole generation of them, not one of whom had ever mixed a drink at a pre- Prohibition American bar. That very fact was liberatingâ€” these pioneers were free to re-imagine the art in their own ways. Before long, they began banding together, forming national bartending guilds and associations, something that had been only fitfully successful in the U.S. Organizations such as the United Kingdom Bartenders' Guild, founded in 1933, or the Associazione Italiana Barmen e Sostenitori, "Italian Association of Barmen and their Sustainers," founded in 1949, worked to set standards for the profession and to solidify the European school of mixology. In 1951, delegates from the national guilds of Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom met to form the IBA, the International Bartenders Association. Today it has chapters in 55 countries. In 1961, even the United States joined, as if to acknowledge the new, international nature of this formerly American craft.
Of course, American bars had already been acknowledging that phenomenon every time one served a Sidecar, invented in France around the end of World War I, or sat a patron on a barstool - a feature of European bars that had not been present in pre-Prohibition American ones. The ironic fact was, after Repeal, in reconstructing their profession, American barmen had to look to European models.
THE LONG ROAD BACK 1934-PRESENT
The United States still wielded a good deal of influence on world drinking habits, though, particularly after December 5, 1933, when the Utah Legislature joined those of 35 other states who had already voted to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment and it was done. Millions cheered. Unfortunately, though, it wasn't so easy getting the motherland of the cocktail back to pre-Prohibition "normal." For one thing, a whole generation had come of age who had never experienced the wonders of the pre-Prohibition hotel bar; whose taste buds had been spoiled by constant exposure to cream and ginger ale (both commonly used to mask bad hooch) - those taste buds, that is, that hadn't been ground down to raw nubs by the rivers of Orange Blossoms (bathtub gin - bootleg alcohol cut with water and flavored with extract of juniper - mixed with orange juice) that had been flowing over them. It would take some time for people to get used to civilized drinks again.
Even if folks managed to educate their taste buds, where were the expert bartenders going to come from? The standard speakeasy bar-dog wasn't much good at anything more complicated than an Old-Fashioned. Many of the old- time mixologists who had gone abroad stayed there. Others had died or found other lines of work. The publishing industry stepped into the breach with reprints of just about every old-time pre- Prohibition bartender's guide worth knowing, from Jerry Thomas to Cocktail Bill Boothby, but many of the drinks in them were simply too complicated, and besides, the public had lost its taste for such confections.
The order of the day was simple and strong - and artificial: this is when pre-sweetened, artificially-flavored sour mix made its debut (no training needed there - just dump it in the glass and add booze). The Sidecar, a simple European tipple of unclear parentage combining brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice, was in and the Brandy Crusta was out.
The Martini was in, although it used much less vermouth than it once had. The Manhattan was slightly less in, but still going strong (this might have had something to do with the lighter Canadian whisky or blended American whiskey that largely replaced the big-flavored rye with which it had been made in the old days). But if there was one drink that profited from Prohibition, it was the Scotch Highball.
Scotch whisky was a relative latecomer in the business of slaking the Great American Thirst. Sure, it was around - Jerry Thomas calls for it in a few drinks in his 1862 Bar- Tender's Guide - but the vast majority of American drinkers preferred the native goods. It began its rise to popularity in the 1890s, with the introduction of another Scottish product, golf. Like the game, at first it was a rich man's pleasure, even if the Scotch that the rich folks were drinking wasn't the fancy single-malt that such folks drink now. Rather, it was the lighter blended Scotch, and it was generally consumed with soda.
Prohibition saw this Scotch version of the Whiskey Highball, as whiskey and soda was known, move to center stage (the name "highball" has caused a good deal of confusion; the most sensible explanation we know as to its origin is that, in Ireland, where many of America's bartenders grew up, a glass of whiskey was popularly called a "ball of malt;" a tall glass, therefore, is a "high ball").
Even if folks would've preferred their customary rye or bourbon, there was precious little good rye and bourbon to be had, while the smugglers of "Rum Row" - the row of booze-laden ships that always hovered outside American territorial waters - saw to it that there was lots and lots of Scotch. People got used to it, especially with the soda sparking it up a bit and cutting the unfamiliar smokiness. It didn't hurt that anyone can make a Highball - no need for a bartender long-apprenticed in his craft.
In the days after repeal, this was a good thing. Despite all the new books and the bartending academies popping up all over the place and all the modern labor-saving devices (electric cocktail shaker, anyone?), only in the best bars - places like Don the Beachcomber's in Los Angeles, Trader Vic's in Oakland or New York's Stork Club - could you expect to find someone who knew the art the way it had been practiced before Prohibition.
The so-called "Tiki" phenomenon of the 1940s and 1950s, pioneered by Donn Beach and Victor Bergeron and others too numerous to name here, was, mixologically speaking, synonymous with rum. Beach's Zombie (at least, we think he invented it - unlike Bergeron, he was very, very secretive) and Bergeron's Mai Tai were merely the most popular of a wave of Missionary's Downfalls and Dr. Funk of Tahitis, Scorpion Bowls, Vicious Virgins and anything else you could cram 3 or 4 ounces of mixed rums into.
The post-war years saw the Tiki phenomenon blossom into a true craze, at least in the U.S. - Europe, lacking the millions of young men who had spent their war years in the South Pacific, was less enamored of the idea, although some Tiki or tropical-style bars did manage to thrive there. But Tiki joints, all decked out with totems and palm- leaves, dotted the American landscape (even in the most un-tropical Midwest) like temples of some new and wildly pagan religion. This isn't the place to get into the whys and wherefores of broad social phenomena, but it's worth noting the irony that many men who had experienced the South Pacific firsthand as a place of terror, death and disease experienced it a second time in virtual reality, as it were, as a place of exotic beauty, mediocre food and overlarge rum drinks.
In any case, delicious as the drinks were, the Tiki bartenders were highly secretive about their formulae and techniques, and once the fad dried up, they did little to pass their devotion to fresh juices and innovative recipes on to the general run of bartender.
Even when Tiki was in full cry, not everybody liked rum. Take Bernard DeVoto, intellectual, historian and opinionated drinker. Right at the time folks began seriously genuflecting to the Tiki gods, he wrote a series of articles (collected in 1951 in The Hour) on the culture of drinking in America.
He did not care for the stuff: "it is drunk as all sweet liquors are, in a regressive fantasy, a sad hope of regaining childhood's joy at the soda fountain," and he did not care for the Daiquiri, rum's standard-bearer: "No one should drink [rum] with a corrosive added, which is the formula of the Daiquiri." In fact, DeVoto didn't care for much at all: no Manhattans ("an offense against piety...with dry vermouth, it is disreputable, with sweet vermouth disgusting"), no Bronxes ("ominous...a cocktail does not contain fruit juice"), nor anything else (the formulae in bartenders' guides and so forth "are fit to be drunk only in the barbarian marches and mostly are drunk there, by barbarians").
No, there are only two true cocktails worthy of civilized consumption: "a slug of whiskey" with ice and a Dry Martini. No matter that the first is in no way a cocktail or mixed drink of any kind; when DeVoto took a stand, he took a stand, and would brook no opposition.
Nor did he stand alone, especially as the 1940s turned into the 1950s. The (ultra-) dry Martini was the cult of the age, at least with those who refused to yield to the seductive pleasures of Tiki. DeVoto calls for his Martinis to be made at 3.7 to 4 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth. In this, he was behind the times. At New York's Stork Club, a former speakeasy that had become the most famous nightclub in America (and hence the world), they had been making them 5 to 1 since at least the late 1930s. They had plenty of other drinks in their bar book, but it's a safe bet that they sold as many dry Martinis as they did all their other offerings put together. The post-war years were as much the dry Martini age as they were the Tiki Age - as efficient, repressed and cold as they were dreamy, comfortable and kitschy.
The Stork Club way with the Martini would have been unthinkable to the Martini drinkers of the 1910s (they liked theirs with equal parts gin and vermouth and a dash of orange bitters) but it too would soon be left by the wayside. By the mid 1950s, there were almost as many silly ways to leave the vermouth out of Martinis as there were Martini drinkers.
Leave a capful of vermouth on the radiator to evaporate and infuse the air. Pour the vermouth into one mixing glass full of ice and the gin into another one, stir the gin and pour it into a cocktail glass, ignoring the vermouth. Place the vermouth bottle in the window and let the sun shine through it onto the gin. Forget about the physical vermouth entirely and simply salute in the direction of France. So what if this silliness makes for an inferior drink; so what if a decent amount of vermouth - say, somewhere between half and an eighth of the drink - has certain beneficial and poorly-understood alchemical effects upon the system of the Martini drinker, or at least his or her taste buds. It wasn't about the taste buds anyway. For some drinkers, even gin itself was too elaborate. For them, there was vodka. At the beginning of World War II, vodka was a little-known novelty. By the end of the 1950s, it was everywhere.
VODKA CHANGES THE PLAYING FIELD
Although vodka was available in the Saloon Age if you knew where to look, it wasn't appreciated. The annals of American mixology contain but a single drink from that time made with it, and that drink mixed vodka with gin, brandy and half a dozen other ingredients. What vodka there was to be found was imported.
Prohibition put an end to such marginal trades, and the Russian Revolution didn't help matters. After repeal, the Soviets tried exporting it and the Smirnoff Company tried making it in the U.S. Both attempts were widely ignored. That doesn't mean interested parties didn't sniff at it here and there. As the ancient bartender's saw goes, "everything is good for something," and a few vodka drinks started turning up. In the mid-'30s there was a bit of a craze for Russian restaurants in New York, with joints such as the Caucasian Eagle on East 55th Street packing them in nightly. A few cocktail books start including simple vodka concoctions, usually variants on the Martini or simple mixtures of vodka and liqueur.
Then came Pearl Harbor and, suddenly, Russia and the U.S. now being allies, vodka was chic and available. After the war, the Moscow Mule and the Bloody Mary and the Screwdriver took off and pushed it into the national consciousness. Then the Vodka Martini took up the standard, not without a little help from James Bond. Ian Fleming, who knew his drinks, made Bond a vodka drinker - and a gin drinker, whiskey drinker, champagne drinker, rum drinker, and so forth. But vodka was the one that made it into the movies (it didn't hurt that sales were doubling every year).
By the end of the 1950s, the Tiki craze was leveling off in America, with nothing to take its place, and all around the world the dry gin Martini was yielding to vodka; the old favorites were getting pushed aside in favor of lighter and often radically simpler drinks - not to mention other intoxicants. The stage was set for an age of mixological confusion and decline. It's not that people didn't drink in the 1960s and 1970s, and it's not that they didn't drink cocktails. But standards had definitely slipped.
Strong and forthright were out, light and mellow were in. Vodka, the lightest of the light, was in. Gin (in the U.S., first outsold by vodka in 1967) and whiskey (outsold by vodka in 1976) were out. Perhaps the more adventurous souls had turned their backs on the venerable old cocktail and were exploring, let's say, other avenues of relaxation. Or maybe it was just that the times were demanding and the folks were tired. Perhaps it was that the drinks of the day reflected the food of the time, the TV cuisine that has led BAR partner Doug Frost to label it "the era of Fear of Flavor."
Even the mighty Martini suffered. By the late 1960s, a significant portion of its clientele had taken to drinking theirs on the rocks. One shudders to think what, say, Jack Townsend, head of the New York Bartender's Union in the 1950s and a bartender's bartender if there ever was one, would've said if someone tried to pull such a stunt in his joint.
But it wasn't just the old favorites (the cocktail-shaker classics) that were in trouble. The '60s and '70s saw a lot of drinks on the rocks - in fact, the whole art of mixology was on the rocks. When the hot new drink of the age is nothing more than vodka and orange juice (that is, a Screwdriver) with a float of liqueur, there's trouble. That concoction was known as a "Harvey Wallbanger," and it set a trend in more ways than one. It wasn't a "real" drink, you see - that is, one that a real bartender invented one night in a real bar and served to real customers until it caught on. The Harvey Wallbanger was something (probably) cooked up by the liqueur company and spread by their advertising and promotion (certainly). When the hype stopped, so did the drink.
If the Wallbanger was too complicated, you could have a Sombrero - that's simply Kahlùa and milk - or a Rusty Nail - Drambuie and Scotch - both served on the rocks, of course. The list of simple, relatively bland drinks that achieved popularity at the time goes on through the Tequila Sunrise (a bastardized version of a 1930s Mexican drink), the Salty Dog (vodka and grapefruit juice in a salt-rimmed glass) and the Cape Codder to the Freddie Fudpucker (a Wallbanger with tequila) and a host of others equally forgotten.
It wasn't only an American phenomenon; all around the world, fullflavored traditional spirits were retreating in the face of mass-marketed, light, mixable spirits; the kind you could pour into a soft drink, stick a garnish on and voilá, Disco Drinks. Even in Brazil, the fashionable way to serve the traditional Caipirinha, a drink that needed no improvement of any kind, was with vodka or white rum instead of the rich and funky cachaça with which it was created - thus yielding a "Caipiroska" or a "Caipirissima," each a perfectly pleasant drink, but no Caipirinha.
Practically the only exception to the "nice and easy does it" rule was the Bloody Mary, a drink from the 1920s that had been building popularity for decades and finally hit it big. Of course, it didn't get its flavor from the vodka in it, which was there simply to add kick.
Thank God for the Margarita, a drink that had been hovering at the edges of popularity for a couple of decades and had finally broken through. At least it had a couple of good years there before somebody thought it could be improved by bunging everything into a frozen-drink machine. Once that happened, there was no need for good tequila in it, or tequila at all. In the mid-1980s, one popular chain of Manhattan Mexican restaurants was caught basing their famous frozen Margaritas on pure grain neutral spirits, with no tequila of any sort. Mixological habits this venal and slovenly were bound to provoke some kind of reaction, and in the fullness of time they did.
The multitude of shots masquerading as cocktails in the '80s and '90s have been dubbed the "Punk Cocktails" by writer and bartender Gary Regan, who notes that these simple concoctions were as ugly, loud and confrontational as any self-respecting mosh pit. Punk's rejection of technical proficiency may have had plenty of justification in the incestuous and moneyed music industry. But it's more diffcult to justify when it extends to things you're meant to put inside your body; to those high-octane, tooth-achingly sweet shots laden with Jello or named after body parts and sex acts. Perhaps it was all merely a coincidence. Things may have been pretty bleak for the lover of the well-crafted cocktail during the long spell of the '60s, '70s and '80s, but there was still the occasional Brigadoon, where bartenders squeezed their juices fresh rather than using commercial sour mix, where jiggers were a full 2 ounces - 60 ml - rather than the cheese-paring 1-ounce - 30ml - one that was increasingly coming into use, where Martinis had vermouth in them (but not too much) and Manhattans rye, but not too much, and a call for a Freddie Fudpucker or a Slow Comfortable Screw would be met with, if not a punch in the mouth, at least a disapproving shake of the head.
Most of these bars were old-line joints where the customers, the owners, or both knew what they wanted and wouldn't tolerate any deviation. Many of the great hotel bars in Europe held the line, keeping everything to strict I.B.A. standard and tolerating no shortcuts.
As the '80s rolled into the '90s, though, more and more of these oases were new places, places that tried to do things right because that's the only way to do them.
There are two generally accepted explanations why the cocktail came back from the brink of, if not death, then at least very serious illness. One is generational: just as the generation of the'60s and'70s looked back on the Tiki drinks and Ultra-Dry Martinis of their parents and said "ugh," the generation of the '80s looked at the joints and bota-bags of Sangria favored by their parents and said "ugh."
For them, there was no better symbol of their un-hipness than a stemmed, conical glass full of clear liquid with an olive impaled on a toothpick in it. It was so square it was cool. The other reason has to do with the revolution in the kitchen pioneered in the '70s and '80s and '90s by a handful of talented, determined chefs such as Alice Waters and Larry Forgione in the U.S. and Fergus Henderson in the U.K. Their approach to food - fresh, local ingredients, imaginative but respectful use of traditional techniques and recipes, an attention to detail and presentation - eventually began rubbing off on the folks behind the bar.
By the early 1990s, places like the Rainbow Room in New York, Bix in San Francisco, Dick's Bar in London and a handful of others were not only turning out the classics in proper style, but inventing new drinks that could stand alongside them. One of these is the Cosmopolitan, a drink that has done more than anything else to get people drinking cocktails again, and in numbers not seen for almost half a century. Some of these new creations are excellent; others are execrable. But if they fail, it's usually a failure of ambition, not of laziness and apathy. In many cities, a cocktail list is an essential for any new restaurant.
Indeed, the worldwide cocktail movement has become so successful that it has even begun to divide into schools. Now, there are what you might call the "cultural mixologists," those who model themselves on the greats of yore and spend their days excavating long-forgotten drinks and ingredients from crumbling old books and shocking them back to life. They glory in bar lore and bitters; rye whiskey and romance.
Then there are the "scientific mixologists," the children of the Cosmopolitan. They can usually be found slinking around restaurant kitchens and chemistry labs, observing, testing, thinking. They're always gunning for fresh tastes and unusual textures, usually with vodka and whatever's fresh and fruity as their ammunition. The very best mixologists will combine elements of both schools, using a full palette of spirits, light and dark, with an appreciation for new approaches and ingredients.