Friday, June 6, 2008

Cocktail Culture...The Rebirth

The cult of the cocktail is a successful religious ceremony transformed into a secular rite. The bartender is the high priest, the drink is the sacramental cup, and the cocktail lounge is akin to a temple or cathedral that uses lights, music, and even ceiling fixtures to reinforce moods of comfort and inspiration. From Joseph Lanza's book The Cocktail: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995

The cocktail is king once again. We are experiencing a rebirth in the world of cocktails and spirits, and let me tell you folks, it's a beautiful thing!

In the early part of this century, H.L. Mencken wrote that the cocktail qualifies as "the greatest of all contributions of the American way of life to the salvation of humanity". While the hyperbole in Mencken's claim is debatable, the fact that the cocktail has had an indelible influence on the American (if not the world's) collective psyche is undeniable. When Jimmy Carter denounced the three-martini lunch, the press and the American public could instantly plumb the layers of meaning embedded in his description. Likewise, when Ella Fitzgerald plaintively sang "One More for the Road," everyone listening knew that she was not merely thirsty. And when Ian Fleming had James Bond order a vodka martini "shaken, not stirred," he was cultivating Bond's image as a suave sophisticate marked with just a tinge of danger and radicality. Thus the cocktail is never merely a drink. The cocktail is one of those elegant symbols where the very sight of it means something, and the more you think about it, the more aspects you discover that relate to everything . . . the balance and quality of ingredients, the proper measurements, the artistry of the mixologist, the pursuit of that "perfect mixture". It's like the Kabbalah or something. Packed with potentialities of meaning, the cocktail can simultaneously represent the excesses of the exploitative upper classes (Carter), a modicum of comfort for the lovelorn (Fitzgerald), and the flair and sophistication of the jet-set (Bond). It need not even contain alcohol; a Shirley Temple or a Roy Rogers can convey a whole individual series of meanings. It is this surfeit of decipherable meaning which attests to the cocktail's symbolic power.

It is time my friends. It is time...

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