Words by Mr Alfred Tong | Illustrations by Mr Jack Hughes
Cocktail culture, for many men, used to be something to ridicule. Ordering a cocktail was the kind of thing that an ageing lothario might do to impress a young girl - or, perhaps because of the influence of Sex and the City, something done exclusively by women. Now, however, we have our own Sex and the City in the form of Mad Men.
But isn't it all a bit of an effort, just to get a drink? Well yes, but then so is having a suit made, so is seducing a woman and so is landing a contract. You wouldn't want to be a poor, badly dressed loner, so why be gauche when it comes to cocktails? As with wine, or anything that requires a bit of knowledge for that matter, it is all too easy to be an insufferable bore when it comes to cocktails. It's a vast subject, full of tedious minutiae and not a little pretension.
There's a sense of theatre in a great cocktail bar that cannot be found in a pub. A cocktail can be la dolce vita in a glass - the perfect accompaniment to an evening with a beautiful woman - or a lonely one-way ticket to vomit-flecked oblivion. Doing it properly matters.
Like other great American art forms such as jazz, cocktail culture reached its zenith in the 1950s. And like jazz, cocktails were enjoyed on a widespread scale in 50s America, in their most rarefied form by almost anyone who aspired to class and elegance. Happily, this coincided with the golden age of Hollywood. Much of the mystique and glamour of the cocktail comes from this period.
In literature, the story is a little different. Authors prefer to write about wine and beer. Wine lends itself to all kinds of metaphorical flourishes - blood of Christ and all that - while beer is the drink of the working-class hero. All of which is gin and tonic to the worthy novelist. Cocktails tend to be the stuff of comedy and tawdry glamour.
In both contexts, cocktails have played a key role in signifying a character's personality traits and as a plot device. Copying your cinematic or literary hero by ordering their cocktail is usually best avoided. Nothing will make you look more stupid in a bar than to ask for your Martini shaken rather than stirred. But it is rather good fun to make them yourself. So in that spirit, click through the slides above to see some recipes of iconic cocktails from literature, film and television.
The Gentleman's Guide to Cocktails is out now.