Aaah, the early 20th Century. A time of silent films, incredible jazz performances, classic Hollywood hits, riveting prose and poetry, the Charleston… the list goes on and on. It was when speakeasy bars opened and members-only clubs were founded for the private consumption of alcoholic drinks and what-not. Who would forget the Mojito? Daiquiri? Mint Julep? These classic concoctions stood the test of time together with the classic icons who shaped the arts, music, literature, and more of the period. Let's take a nostalgic trip through the Roaring Twenties down to the Swinging Sixties to find out what these icons drank to cap the night off—or rather, to kick it off.
Ernest Hemingway: Mojito and Daiquiri
Perhaps one of the most influential writer of the 20th Century, Ernest Hemingway paved way for the many changes in American literature with his gripping prose, portrayal of reality and emotions, and many more. It is no secret that he was a heavy drinker and two of the cocktails he was most associated with were the Mojito and Daiquiri. Hemingway was even known to have visited La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba where Mojito was invented just to relish it the most authentic way possible. He also frequented the Floridita cocktail bar also in Havana for his beloved ice-cold citrus daiquiri.
Raymond Chandler: Gimlet
One of the most popular and longest surviving classic cocktails is the Gimlet. It is a gin-based drink with lime and soda and heavily associated with the British-American novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler. Besides the fact that this is his favourite cocktail, it also appeared in his work The Long Goodbye, together with the hero of most of his masterpieces Philip Marlowe.
Ian Fleming: Vesper
You may have watched the famous Agent 007 order “dry martini, shaken not stirred” hundreds of times in the Bond films but did you know that Fleming actually gave the full recipe of the cocktail and even named it in the novel? In the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), the iconic character ordered a dry martini with three measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, and half a measure of Kina Lillet. He called this “Vesper” after the cunning foreign liaison agent Vesper Lynd who betrayed him by the end of novel.
Oscar Wilde: Champagne
Who doesn’t love to have champagne when partying? I bet literary giant Oscar Wilde will corrupt that person’s picture like his famous character Dorian Gray’s if he was alive! Just kidding. Simply a sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France, this drink is a standard in parties and balls—and perhaps in every occasion. As Wilde puts it beautifully, “Pleasure without Champagne is purely artificial.”
Jack Kerouac: Margarita
Kerouac, whose most famous work was On The Road, was considered as a literary iconoclast and pioneer of the Beat Generation, which was a group of writers who devoted bulk of their works depicting the post-World War II era. He was also a notorious drinker and very much fond of Mexican culture. Hence, his favourite drink was the tequila cocktail, Margarita. Hmm, doesn’t that explain why tequila or Margarita has become a standard for roadtrips and campings?
William Faulkner: Mint Julep
Another celebrated writer in American literature was William Faulkner, specifically Southern American literature, as he wrote many works he was most familiar with as a Southern boy. That being the case, Faulkner’s favourite drink was Mint Julep, a bourbon-based cocktail hailed from the South. It can be served either hot or cold but Faulkner preferred the former. According to him, the key to a good ‘toddy’ (as it was also called by many), is that the sugar must be dissolved into a small amount of water before the whisky is added, otherwise it “lies in a little intact swirl like sand at the bottom of the glass”.
George Gershwin: Scofflaw
During the Prohibition, anyone caught drinking spirits illegally was called a ‘scofflaw’. Not long after, this brought forward a classic concoction of the same name which made it to the ‘usuals’ of Jazz composer and pianist George Gershwin. Scofflaw is a mix of dry vermouth, whisky, and lemon juice added with a dash of orange bitters and grenadine syrup. Oh what a night if you’re having a fine time with ton amour listening to Gershwin’s Embraceable You with Scofflaw in hand!
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald: Gin Rickey
Best to savour when you are with your muse you are so crazy about, the Gin Rickey has a long romantic history behind it. Perhaps the coosome twosome of the time, the Fitzgeralds could be seen in almost every party drinking Gin Rickey, their favourite cocktail. This gin and lime libation even appeared at one of Scott’s most popular work, The Great Gatsby.
Coco Chanel: Coco Chanel
Style maven and a gamechanger in the fashion world Coco Chanel stayed at The Savoy in London almost all her life. Thus, the hotel dedicated a cocktail for her out of a reduction of Chateauneauf de Pape and Moët & Chandon Champagne, reflecting her sophisticated French character and love for red wine. However, perhaps the most popular cocktail in honour of her was the coconut vodka-based Martini that you may ask in almost every bar.
Virginia Woolf: Eclipse
“Lightly, on the other side of the world up it rose; it sprang up as if the one movement, after a second’s tremendous pause, competed the other and the light which had died here, rose again elsewhere. Never was there such a sense of rejuvenescence and recover.” – Virgina Woolf, The Eclipse
Perhaps one of the many beautiful works of Virginia Woolf, The Eclipse inspired the creation of the classic gin-based cocktail of the same name by The Savoy. If having an emotional night, try ordering this at the bar and read Woolf’s full essay and surely it would be an incredible experience.
Truman Capote: Screwdriver
American author, screenwriter, and playwright Truman Capote who was responsible for the hits Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood has his heart for the citrus cocktail Screwdriver. He even labelled this vodka-based orange cocktail as his “orange drink” like everybody else’s.
Salvador Dalí: Casanova
The highly imaginative surrealism master Salvador Dalí once hosted a lavish private dinner with a menu featuring his own recipes and paintings. In the menu, he gave the recipe to a cocktail he has created, named as Casanova. It has brandy, Campari bitters, and the luscious Vielle Cure brandy, with Cayenne pepper for a spicy kick.
Louis Armstrong: Crescent Louis
Inspired by the “Crescent City” New Orleans, Louisiana—birthplace of Jazz music—this rum and Amaretto mix is also a tribute to the genre’s father Louis Armstrong. This cocktail has two kinds of rum in it, Silver and Satsuma that are produced in the state of Louisiana.
Pablo Picasso: Absinthe
Co-founder of the Cubism movement, Pablo Picasso was another important figure in the arts of the time. He was known to be a big patron of Absinthe, popularly called as “the green fairy”. Absinthe was used before as a medicinal drink to prevent malaria. Eventually, it was known to consume the lives of other famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gaugain, and Édouard Manet, to name a few. It was a hallucinogenic in significant measures and has addictive effects thus it was banned for a time. Now, it is available in the market and widely used in cocktails as it has already been refined.
Laurel and Hardy: White Lady
Undeniably, this was the most famous double act during the early Hollywood years. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were known for their slapstick comedy, with Laurel playing childlike in contrast with the pompous Hardy—very much like their favourite concoction, the White Lady. It may seem sophisticated and pristine but boy, this lady kicks! Made out of Plymouth gin, orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice, and fresh egg white which gives its colour.
John Steinback: The Jack Rose
A popular brandy-based cocktail garnished with cherry and apple slice invented in the ‘20s, The Jack Rose (nope, it’s not inspired by the star-crossed lovers in Titanic) notably appeared in Ernest Hemingway’s classic, The Sun Also Rises, in which the character Jake Barnes drinks a Jack Rose in the Crillon Paris hotel bar. However, this delicate concoction was a favourite of another famous writer, John Steinbeck.
Winston Churchill: Highball
One of the most dominant figures in political history, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill was believed by many to be a heavy drinker. However, many historians would disagree as “The British Bulldog” drinks a lot but was never drunk. As old-fashioned as he is, he prefers a simple whisky with tonic water, which he named as “Papa Cocktail” but is now widely known as Highball.
Tennessee Williams: The Ramos Gin Fizz
Esteemed playwright Tenessee Williams, who was best known for works such as A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, was also well known for his fondness of cocktails. His frequent libation was the Ramos Gin Fizz, which compared to its contemporary version has orange flower water and egg that give it unique texture and distinct flavour.
Charlie Chaplin: Orange Blossom
Raffles Singapore opened its doors in the late 19th Century and one of its many frequent guests at the onset of the new century was Charlie Chaplin and he was known to order Orange Blossom many times. In fact in the Summer of 1925, he and his friend Louise Brooks had a raucous night after having too many Orange Blossoms. Let your evening with close friends blossom further with a glass of this Prohibition-era classic. Just add gin, sweet vermouth, and orange juice and garnish it with an orange wheel. Just make sure not to slur while reciting the famous lines of The Great Dictator!