May 29, 2017

Centennial of the Cocktail Party

Timothy Birdnow

This day one hundred years ago the first recorded cocktail party was held in a stately St. Louis mansion.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"According to Felton’s piece, the landmark liquor gathering in May 1917 was orchestrated by Mrs. Walsh (no first name was given), who was described by the St. Paul newspaper as "a leader in society activities” in St. Louis.

Apparently, the Walshes were no strangers to liquor-aided festivities, or odd parties. Felton reported that the couple had previously hosted a "baby party” at the St. Louis Country Club, at which guests dressed as toddlers and drank their libations out of baby bottles.

According to other information in the Pioneer Press article, the cocktail party began at noon, with some of the 50 attendees coming straight from church. It lasted for only one hour, after which dinner was served.

According to other information in the Pioneer Press article, the cocktail party began at noon, with some of the 50 attendees coming straight from church. It lasted for only one hour, after which dinner was served.

Mrs. Walsh took no chances with the event, hiring "a white-coated professional drink-mixer who presided behind a mahogany” bar in the home.

The menu of potables included many Highballs, "some with Scotch and some with rye or Bourbon whisky;” as well as "Bronx Cocktails,” described as gin, dry and sweet vermouth and orange juice; and Clover Leafs, which was a mix of gin, grenadine, lime juice and egg white. Manhattans, martinis and gin fizzes were also served, as well as one mint julep "for a former gentleman of Virginia.”

After that spring fling in 1917, the cocktail party became all the rage in St. Louis and other cities, the Wall Street Journal article said, adding that Prohibition a few years later put a crimp in the emerging trend.

In 1924, the Walsh family sold the property to the Catholic Church, and it became home to Archbishop John J. Glennon."

End excerpt.

Why did no one ever host a cocktail party before this? I suspect it was the lack of ice; who wants a warm drink? Ice was hard to come by before refrigeration became common. You used to have to buy ice cut from the river and stored in an insulated ice house. Also, mixers were at a premium in the old days, making the cocktail a unique thing. Coca-Cola was not invented until 1866 after all, and many other chasers just weren't avalable.

So next time you receive an invite to a fancy lush hour event, do remember that this is barely older than your grandfather.

Skoal!

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 11:04 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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