Out shopping the thrifts in Ventura, F.T. fell in love with what she calls a “throwback” style of furniture and asked what I know about vintage bar cabinets.
What I know is that they are elegant conversation starters. They add theater and drama to any room. They can be used today to show off a cocktail glass collection and a nice array of liquor bottles. And they say to you, “Have a drink; why not? I’m here!” Just what we need in the pandemic, huh?
F.T.’s is in the style we call English Art Deco, as opposed to the more linear and exotic French Deco and the hardly seen American Deco bar cabinets of the 1920s. The reason is that we here in the U.S. were under Prohibition. So the form is hard to find until about 1935 when the fashion for a bar cabinet swept our nation. We were still in love with cocktail bars into the 1960s, when they became smaller and affordable.
F.T.’s is very British looking. You will see that F.T.’s is in a style that might have fit into an English Chippendale style room: walnut and burl walnut, with a maple interior elegantly finished for cocktail glasses, cocktail forks, shakers and liquor bottles. The center section is the show-stopper, behind those top cupboard doors, which open to a copper mirrored interior for wet service, with gallery rails for holding shot glasses, and indeed the top raises, which sets off a light that makes the mirrored surface glow, and that surface has a design of etched mirrored glass. WOWsa.
There are two drawers below for cocktail apparatus and a sliding tray for pouring. Below, you see the actual liquor cabinet, flanked on either side by cabinet doors glazed with a copper color glass and ornate swelling mullions. The whole piece is raised on carved ornate paw feet. The effect is meant to be as intoxicating as what it once held.
This piece reflects shades of Noel Coward and friends, sophisticates and bygone glamor, creating all on its own, as a piece of furniture and a statement piece, a social gathering space.
The early European 1920s cocktail cabinets were made of exotic softer woods that would carve easily, but by the mid to late 1920s we see the true Art Deco linear style and the harder woods used, more suitable to geometric construction.
Prohibition stopped social drinking (supposedly) in America, but the craze for bar cabinets flourished in 1925 in England, and the wealthy ordered them in style that fit the English Drawing Room, like F.T.’s Chippendale-inspired cabinet, but you could also order one that would hint at English Tudor, etc. Nothing was inexpensive about these cabinets, yet what was inside was slightly different than our present day booze cabinet over the fridge. Drinking was different in those days!
So what was actually spilled on this beauty? Here are some of the most popular drinks in 1925, the year of this cabinet:
The French 75: a simple cocktail of gin, champagne and lemon.
The Gin Rickey: gin, lime juice and soda water.
(Note: Gin was the basis of many of the 1920s era cocktails, both in London and New York, because, in London, gin was easily purchased, and in Prohibition-era New York, an amateur could make gin.)
The Bee’s Knees: gin, lemon juice, and. of course, honey.
The Southside: muddled mint, orange bitters and gin.
The Singapore Sling: gin, Grand Marnier, cherry liqueur, herbal liqueur and pineapple juice.
I discovered these drinks in The Manual, an online men’s magazine, which reports that the next drink was invented in London at the American Bar at the Savoy by the first female bartender, Ada Coleman. That drink was aptly named
The Hanky Panky. It contained London Dry Gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca Amaro.
Here are more drinks.
The Sidecar, invented at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris: brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon juice.
The Bamboo: sherry and vermouth in equal parts, with orange bitters.
And finally, after the famous 1920ss actress and pal of Charlie Chaplin, The Mary Pickford: a drink of white rum, maraschino liqueur, pineapple juice and Grenadine. (Headache tomorrow).
Outside of imagining we are dressed wonderfully and are attending a swanky London party, comfortable stationed in front of this bar, with one of those above drinks in our hands, the bar today is worth at least $4,000; I would love to have one, and the clothes to go with it.
And maybe the handsome playboy, too.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.