I love cocktail books; in fact over the past few years I’ve assembled a nice little collection of antique books that take pride of place in the b&t drinking room. One of the things I like about them is that they paint a picture of drinking trends in different eras. Looking at a book from the 1930s, like the Savoy or the Café Royale Cocktail Book, you see absinthe added to every other drink and passion fruit is one of the most popular ingredients listed. You can almost sense the excitement of the bartenders from that era as they discovered what were at that time, new and interesting ingredients to play with.
It’s fair to say that generally speaking I prefer the old cocktail books to the new, but never the less there are some modern books that have been added to my library too. The thing about many of the modern books is that while they have beautiful glossy pictures and several hundred recipes to tempt the reader, they don’t really engage you in the same way that the old books do. Reading books from the late 1800s you experience bartenders explaining the art of serving customers, setting up your bar for service and dealing with drunken guests. Many have sections dedicated to toasts, or even how to use different spirits to cure your ailments. They really bring the world of drinking to life and help you imagine how it might have been to drink in that era.
Over the years there has been much debate about which city holds the title of the cocktail capital of the world, and two places that always crop up in conversation on this subject are London and New York. Well I’m not going to wade into that debate here; they’re both great, they both have strengths and weaknesses, and of course there are plenty of other cities that have a great scene as well. However, after a recent trip to New York, I came away with a few ‘likes’ that other cocktail cities could learn from.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is I love about drinking in New York for quite some time now, and it’s proved elusive. They have some beautifully designed bars and unique spaces, but this can be said of most cities nowadays, so that’s not what stands them apart. In the best bars the drinks are good, but in all honesty I think London has a wider spectrum of creativity when it comes to cocktails, so that’s not it either. Is it just the novelty of drinking in a different city then? I don’t think so…