The years between 1920 and 1930 are popularly described as the Jazz Age in North American culture, when flappers with bobbed hair and newly liberated hemlines ventured out to hear live music performed at speakeasies or flocked to the cinema to watch glamorous movie stars sip, smoke, and dance their way across the silver screen. Many popular films of the time depicted characters enjoying an alcoholic beverage, but in Canada the consumption of alcohol remained illegal until the repeal of Prohibition in 1927. Of course, drinking did occur, but those who indulged had to be more creative about their consumption.
Legend has it that the North American birth of the modern cocktail occurred during the early 1920s in New York City, where a clever bartender decided to add fruit juice and syrup to some rather deplorable homemade gin in an effort to make it more palatable for his customers. Desperate measures of manufacture during Prohibition yielded poor-quality spirits. The result was a new twist on the time-honoured concept of a mixed drink. Gin, being the cheapest and most conve¬nient choice for amateur distillation, became the common base ingredient in the Prohibition-era cocktail. Popular concoctions of this variety ranged from the Fox Trot to racier and more exotic choices such as Between the Sheets and Zanzibar.
Excerpted from Spring/Summer 2013 Ornamentum. Click here to subscribe.
Lindsay Rose-McLean, Editorial Assistant of Ornamentum, is a graduate of the Museum Studies Program at the University of Toronto and a decorative arts appraiser in Toronto.
Photograph: Courtesy of Waddington’s Auction House