Drink is a necessary accessory. What you drink, where you drink, how you drink and with whom are strong indicators of who you are, how much you know, and to which tribe you belong. From ripped jeans and cans of PBR to basic black and a dirty martini, you are defining and refining your image by your choice of tipple. A perfect cocktail also defines an era. When society is in crisis, we think, therefore we drink. We tend to balance our concern about current events with our yearning for different or (perceived) better times. Nostalgia for the 50s and 60s has given 21st century dwellers a roadmap from which to drink. Who, not born before 1959 had ever heard of Rye until Don Draper? How else could you ever explain revisiting the Tiki Craze? Now, gliding up to a bar and asking for a Rye Manhattan with a burnt orange twist, or sharing a wink over a giant Scorpion Bowl will turn heads and bring forth as many admiring glances as a perfectly contoured pencil skirt, bullet bra, and Betty Page bangs.
Consciously or subconsciously, we are works of art who carefully craft our image to showcase what we read, what music we listen to, and how we think. This of course is complex in its simplicity, and as carefully layered as the most perfect B-52. While our wardrobes may change from day to day, the philosophy we wear on our sleeves doesn’t. It’s that simple. That’s why our footwear ranges from Chucks to Doc Martens to John Fluevogs to vintage 50s, and for every variation of mood and wardrobe, we have a drink to match.
Me, I’m a chameleon. I’m as at home in a smelly old-man- turned-punk-bar in hidden American neighbourhoods and East End London “locals” as I am in swanky cocktail bars from New York City to Berlin to Rome. One day, you’ll find me pounding pints of beer and shots, dressed in ripped jeans with fishnets peeking through, an off-the-shoulder sweater and red strappy pointy toed shoes, yelling over an amazing local band. On another day I can be spotted sipping dirty martinis dressed in a basic black turtleneck sweater and capris and lace up the calf black suede flats, while an artistically curated jazz, old school R&B, or alternative playlist washes over a dimly lit cocktail bar.
The drink of choice compliments the image and puts the exclamation point on who we are. It expands conversation and causes the arc to go anywhere from music to literature to politics. A revolutionary drinks Moscow Mules as well as boxed wine, given the occasion. Jack Kerouac, the big daddy-o of Beat literature and culture was a drinking chameleon too. He might have made daytrips to Skid Row so he could experience local life by drinking sweet Tokay wine out of brown paper bags, but he knew his whiskey and brandy, loved his “beer and a wash”, and sipped champagne with the literati and glitterati when he could. Whether he appeared in his faithful flannel shirt for the road, or in a well-tailored suit for a televised interview, he was still Kerouac, and his influence in writing, travel, and yes, even drinking continues to inspire us.
Kerouac and the Beat Generation have influenced the style and philosophy of every counter-culture movement from the Hippies to the Punks to today’s eclectics. It’s no wonder that they’ve inspired our drinking choices, too. Their ethic has become ingrained in all of us; we embrace travel, the music we listen to is the backbeat to the rhythm of our conversation, the soundtrack of the black and white Fellini film that is our lives. Don’t we all wish that there was a bar in our favourite bookstore? We have learned from the generation who hitchhiked along backroads and highways during the Atomic Age, and we take their style and inspiration with us as we navigate the globe from a pandemic laden dystopia to forge our own Nu-topia. Our post-pandemic drinking glorifies “hepcat” in terms of retro-elegance and intelligence rather than hooliganism and the sport of pavement puking.
Although the humble beer, V&T, and G&T will always be welcome on a hot summer day in the back garden, we are increasingly expanding our drinks bucket list. Cocktails have become all the rage as retro bars and lounges (Ladies Invited) pop up all over the world. Mixologists tip their hats to the past to match the bars’ décor and playlists, and the Steampunk culture has enhanced and inspired mixology by using vintage lab beakers, and dry ice and smoke – a formula sure to make even the most ardent Goth or Nietzsche reading existentialist crack a smile.
The natural companion of nostalgia is elegance, shabby or chic. Even if your chosen counterculture icon is The Hippie, you can choose a vegan craft beer or a Dark and Stormy to enhance your high while you listen to the Jefferson Airplane at your local pub. Janis Joplin liked her Jack Daniels so you could slum it with a simple Jack and Coke if you’re dressed down in flares and Birkenstocks. If you’re bedecked in beads and boas, try a Jack Old Fashioned and flaunt your maraschino cherry.
I’ve sampled and created a wide variety of quaffs from the 70s onward both as punter and pub owner. Each decade and each drink reflected a space in time in which both ethic and attitude were exemplified by choice of drink as prop, thirst quencher, or work of art.
The drinks and memories they conjure were created in the most notable places I have lived and visited. From greater Boston to New York City, to London, Liverpool, Prague, Barcelona, Athens, Rome, and Oslo, my stories serve as metaphors and feature the recipes of outstanding alchemic creations that absolutely complemented my wardrobe and the music playing in the background.
The drinks we choose are an accessory to the statement we choose to make. What we drink as a society and as an individual provides an intoxicating hint to who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. So, pop your corks and raise your glasses – cheers, yia sou, cin cin, salud, skol, and Na Zdravy. To Us!