There were two things one needed for a good party: food and drink, and what appealed back in the halcyon days of G’Town would not be considered today’s fare. Read on and find out how tastes have changed.
First, the sorts of drinks served. Everyone drank back then, not to do so stigmatized you as either a “party pooper” or a person who was so bad off that they had become a drunk. Also, alcohol wasn’t as regulated as it is now and driving while drunk or buzzed was simply a naughty (not a deadly) thing to do. Times have changed in all these regards.
But what was offered? Typically strong liquor based drinks and often those which had to be mixed. Old Fashioneds were very popular (lots of bourbon and sweet vermouth, a fruit punch-like mix and a maraschino cherry for garnish), Manhattans (like a martini with bourbon with the maraschino cherry), Martinis (lots of gin with a little vermouth often shaken with ice but strained and poured into a saucery glass and garnished with an olive). Gimlets were gin, lime juice, and a splash of soda garnished with a lime. The Pink Squirrel consists of several liquors (sweetened fortified and flavored thick things): Creme of Noyaux (nut flavored), Creme of Cacao (chocolate) and heavy cream. Straight liquor on the rocks was popular, so put straight booze of any sort directly on ice cubes in the bottom of a glass and that is that.
Drinking things without ice was pretty rare, and usually marked you as a “European” type. Beer was for the merry-dog/golfer/outdoorsman sort, and not often drunk by ladies. There was a lot of bourbon, gin, and Scotch about and Vodka was not very popular due to its association with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Pinkos drank vodka, pal; whiskey was for True Americans.
Wine was an exotic European drink which was too esoteric for the average American to suck down with impunity. No one knew anything about it, you didn’t mix it with anything, and you didn’t put it over ice; all those things made it “weird”. There were lots of rules about wine, and no one knew what they were, the year it was made made a huge difference in how good it was, and there were rules about which region it came from! Argghh, who wants to remember all that to drink sour grape juice?!?
Differences also showed up in soft drinks. Ginger Ale was very different back then. Canada Dry was spicy! Really, it was a hot and sweet drink with serious ginger kick. Now it’s bland and sweet only. Moreover, it contained rose water back in the day! You could taste it as a lovely counterpoint to the hot ginger and fizz. I know that is true because I spoke to a man who used to develop formulae for Canada Dry and he told me that secret. I am sure they don’t do that today, too expensive.
There was a Diet Coke-like drink called Patio at first, it was vile. Tasted more like sweet-tangy Moxie than anything I would want. It evolved into Tab and was even more loathsome. There was no similarity to cola and yet people drank it by the gallon because it was diet.
Speaking of diet drinks, there was Fresca, which I think still exists. It was a white cloudy vaguely lemon and grapefruit thing with serious toxic saccharine tingle to it.
No one drank soda water straight. So the most popular drinks now, were the least popular then: wine, beer, soda water, and vodka were the drinks of the out crowd. Gin, bourbon, Scotch, Rye were the in-crowd drinks.
And the most refined of all the drinks was rye. You have probably never had anything made with rye and its fall from grace was astonishing. It was a brown liquor and tasted identical to bourbon to me. It was considered more sophisticated just by urban myth and cherished belief. So it was. Ladies were very put out if they asked for a Manhattan made with rye and they could only get bourbon. Rye just fell out of fashion and now it seems to be enjoying a re-entry into the world of party.
Next time, let’s talk about typical cocktail party foods.
This blog is brought to you by Possets Perfume which is featuring the Spring Collection for 2015 whose theme is The Last Great Georgetown Cocktail Party. The collection will center around a short story I wrote about the adventures of my mother, her social life, and how she was a wonderful symbol of the heyday of Georgetown. The party will begin now and celebrate the last collection on my old website. For this bon voyage I have concocted twenty-one new fragrances and on whopping great short story to go with them. I think you will be amused! In this blog, I will be filling you in on life and manners in the days when ladies wore gloves, furs, and jewels in midday; smoked cigarettes with impunity, had pink gins at lunch, and generally put on the most amusing airs. So come along and be one, too. It’s a blast.