The cocktail is well past a comeback.
Tom Collins, Bloody Mary, Brandy Alexander, Gin Rickey, Harvey Wallbanger, Pink Lady and that little tart Hot Toddy have taken their place at the bar, and they show no signs of giving up their seats.
"There's something sumptuous, decadent, urbane, about the cocktail and the cocktail hour," wrote Barry Shelby in "100 Classic Cocktails" (Abbeville Press, $11.95). "There is something nostalgic about it too."
The popularity of the cocktail continues today for many of the same reasons the indulgence began as Prohibition's little secret.
"A drink downed at sunset remains a form of rebellion, however mild," wrote Shelby.
New drinks are invented daily by bartenders and adventurous patrons, often with names like Sex on the Beach (1 1/2 ounce vodka, 1/2 ounce peach schnapps, 1/2 ounce Chambord added to a highball glass filled with ice and topped off with equal amounts of cranberry and orange juice) and Fuzzy Navel (1 1/2 ounce vodka, 1/2 ounce peach schnapps poured into a highball glass filled with ice and topped off with orange juice). But these new kids on the bar are far from "classics."
Not that classics can't have silly names and interesting combinations. Consider the Rusty Nail (3/4 ounce shot of Scotch over ice and a 1/4 ounce Drambuie floater). Unlike most modern concoctions, the name of a classic cocktail clearly implies its mission: Zombie (1 1/4 ounces lemon juice, 3 dashes grenadine, 3/4 ounce blood orange juice, 3/4 ounce cherry brandy, 3/4 ounce light rum, 2 ounces dark rum and 1/2 ounce high-proof dark rum), Stinger (1 ounce vodka, 1 ounce crème de menthe) and Kamikaze (1/4 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce triple sec and 1 1/2 ounces vodka), for example. Any questions? Didn't think so.
But even with the popularity of funky libations, the cocktail hour of the late 1990s and the year 2000 is more likely to include simpler fare and an ingredient rarely found in a script from one of Dean Martin's Matt Helm movies.
People are drinking well - but with some restraint.
And for good reason: Research indicates that "moderate" drinking, roughly defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men, may have a beneficial effect in warding off heart disease. One drink equals 12 ounces of regular beer or 5 ounces of wine or 11/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, according to the American Dietetic Association. But as one continues beyond a moderate intake, studies show, the potential benefits diminish sharply. Read: Too many Zombies can turn you into one.
It's like eating chocolate. If you're going to indulge, at least spend the calories on something of premium quality, not a vending machine blob. With alcohol, that can translate into choosing a smooth Patron Anejo over the tequila you swilled with a salt-and-lime chaser as a college student. As the world prepares to welcome the holidays and celebrate the millennium with a vengeance, perhaps a cocktail party is the easiest stage for your revelry. After all, we've been working at it since the 1800s.
"Some say our culture is a big mixed drink of diverse cultures combined like flavored syrups and spirits and poured into a welcoming cocktail nation,'" wrote Gideon Bosker in the introduction to Atomic Cocktail (Chronicle Books, 1998).
Sounds like a party to me.
Did you know...
May 13, 1806: First known use in print of the word "cocktail," attributed to the American periodical "The Balance."
May 1, 1851: Opening of the first cocktail bar, at Gore House near Hyde Park, London.
1860: First martini served by "Professor" Jerry Thomas at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.