Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cocktail Culture

It's hard not to notice that in the past decade cocktail culture has been on the rise. Vintage cocktail shakers seem glamorous and sophisticated, so much so that companies like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware sell reproductions of shakers and bar tools. Martha Stewart Living even had an article on collecting vintage cocktail glasses, the kind painted with decorative patterns or animals. Bookstores abound with books of cocktail recipes or tips for hosting a cocktail party.

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My question is, are we actually drinking more, let alone more cocktails? According to a Gallup poll from last year, we are drinking alcohol more often. The percentage of Americans who say they drink, about 64%, has remained about the same since Gallup first began polling in 1939. But those drinkers are drinking more often then 10 years ago, with 71% of drinkers saying they had a drink in the last week, and the number of drinks per week averaging out at 4.5. But 41% of Americans drink beer most often, compared to 33% for wine and 23% for liquor. Does that 23% really justify all this new (or old, or just old looking) equipment? It seems to me that we prefer looking at cocktail paraphernalia to using it.

I'm as guilty of this as the next person. My cocktail collection began with a vintage set of bar tools, housed in a wooden box topped with a swanky tile that can be used as a cutting board. The tools, a long-handled fork, paring knife, corkscrew, bottle opener, and bar spoon have matching wooden handles. I bought the set at a boutique in the meatpacking district, with every intention of creating a collection of vintage bar equipment.

My collection grew when I acquired this shiny chrome (reproduction) cocktail shaker. I love the tulip shape of its base and the bell curve of its strainer/lid. The top-most lid has ridged and is also, of course, a shot measure. The frog pitcher is a gift from my mother (from none other than Restoration Hardware). It's perfect for mixing up a batch of Pim's Cup or practically any other concoction. But since the number of cocktail parties I've actually hosted in my life comes to a grand total of one, I have found other uses for these shapely vessels. The frog pitcher is currently housing some left over dried thistle, while not long ago the cocktail shaker proved to be the perfect vase for some striped mauve tulips.

Are we all secretly using our drinking paraphernalia as bookends? If we are I suppose it only proves how much aesthetic value these objects of design have always had. Their appeal is no doubt linked to the nostalgia for a cocktail culture that they use to serve, but at the end of the day we don't find ourselves mixing a cocktail to unwind, we just find the cocktail shaker beautiful.

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