Holiday Cocktails from Back in Time

It seems like we humans have to always be in the beginning, the middle, or in the waning days of a fad or two. There are periods of time forever associated with some activity, toy, gadget, lifestyle, music, architecture, invention, design or whatever.

Let’s take lifestyle as a perfect example. When the Beatles burst on the scene from England in the mid-60’s, their music was everywhere. Their signature haircuts were copied throughout this land, collarless coats were de rigueur, and young men were reaching for high musical notes – most coming up abysmally short and sounding just awful, except in their own mind’s ear.

That was followed by disco and bell-bottom pants, along with double-knit coats and outfits for everyone. Then there was hip-hop and now we have….what? Not sure. Maybe the Internet, with its commitment to instant communications, which is the hallmark of a fad, has actually encouraged individuality of expression and killed forever the concept of painting an entire time period with one brush stroke. Actually, no matter.

But looking back, it is fun to see the mode of dress, the mannerisms and what most of our ancestors were slavishly emulating. Of course, looking too far back for us “moderns” is not so fun. I really have no curiosity about the clothes worn in the 1700’s, nor do I have anything but a remote wonderment about what they did those long cold evenings spent in a castle or in a straw hut – no cable television, no internet; how did they survive?

There is a period which I find endlessly fascinating, The Jazz Age. The well-to-do seemed to hang around swanky night clubs, dressed “to the nines,” listening to some terrific music as written by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, King Oliver, or even Louis Armstrong. The dances pre-dated rhythm and blues and the bop, with great names like The Lindy, The Charleston, Tango, Samba and the Foxtrot.

Those elaborate night clubs were actually speakeasies, because such carrying on was legally limited by the effects of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declared that the manufacture and public sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal. The party went on but it was underground and behind locked doors.

I am taking this ride down reverie lane because back in those days, and continuing before the outbreak of the Second World War, a golden age of serving high-class cocktails was ongoing. You could get a pretty good drink back then and those elegant, basically 3-ingredient cocktails are still enjoyed today.   

It seems somewhat appropriate during this holiday season to check out a few of those cocktails. Don’t ask me why; I just feel that way, so there.  



Like most cocktails, the origin of the martini is a bit fuzzy. There was a gin-based drink featured in the 1888 volume, Bartenders’ Manual, which included vermouth. In 1863, an Italian vermouth maker marketed his spirit under the name, Martini. So, maybe there is the origin of the name. Or you can move to an even earlier time when the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco served a drink to ferry riders who were on their way to the town of Martinez.

In any case, the Jazz Age was truly a special time for martinis because cheap gin, made in bathtubs or wherever, was the easiest spirit to manufacture, albeit illegally. Keep in mind that vodka was not yet even a player on the spirits scene during this time.   


  • 6 parts Gin
  • 1 part Dry Vermouth

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice. Stir – unless you like Ian Fleming’s style, then in that case, shake. Strain into well-chilled martini glass, Squeeze oil from lemon peel over the drink. Add olive.

French 75

Dating back to World War I, this cocktail draws its name from a French cannon, the 75 millimeter bore. Interestingly, the original spirit in this cocktail was gin. It seems like an odd choice for a French cocktail named after a French gun to use an English spirit. A possible explanation is that the drink was created by an American at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris.

The alternative recipe for the French 75 involves the addition of Brandy or Cognac instead of gin. Discussions about which is the correct spirit become more animated after a few of the cocktails.


  • 3 cl London Dry Gin, or Cognac, VSOP
  • 1 ½ cl fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 cl Champagne, Brut, well-chilled
  • 2 dashes simple syrup, or to taste

Combine all ingredients except Champagne into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a Champagne flute. Add Champagne. Gently stir.


Actually named for the motorcycle accessory. What was it with naming drinks back then after guns and extra seats on the side of motor bikes? The Ritz Hotel in Paris claims to have invented the drink but then there’s the matter of an American Army Captain in Paris during World War I who had a motorcycle with the side accessory, and who loved this cocktail and is given credit for its invention.


  • 5 cl Cognac
  • 2 cl Triple Sec
  • 2 cl fresh squeezed lemon juice

Place all ingredients into a shaker. Shake with ice. Strain into cocktail glass

Gin Rickey

Long out of favor, but making a comeback with the craft cocktail movement. Yes, it’s true that everything old is new again. The Bourbon Rickey was invented late in the 1880’s in Washington, D.C. and named for a popular lobbyist of the day, Colonel Joe Rickey. A decade later the spirit was switched to gin and the drink became a sensation. The drink’s popular derivative, the mojito, also recently has been a darling of the new cocktail movement.


  • 2 oz London Dry Gin, or Kentucky Bourbon, or Rye Whiskey
  • ½  fresh lime, squeezed and lime shell dropped into glass
  • Sparkling Mineral Water

Combine spirit, lime juice and lime shell into long cocktail glass. Add ice. Stir. Add mineral water. Garnish with lime slice.  



Let me suggest you construct a correct drink from “back in the day” to celebrate this holiday season. Use the proper glassware, get a little dressed up, then sit back and enjoy one of the fun movies from this amazing period as featured almost always on Turner Movie Classics. Sounds like a really swell evening. The cat’s pajamas. Golly, gee.




Read Happy Hour here on every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at



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