Harry Craddock on cocktails and the British

4 Aug

In its October 1920 issue, The Mixer and Server, official journal of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, reprinted the following clipping from “Charles P. Taft’s paper” (presumably the Cincinnati Times-Star, since The Mixer and Server was also based in that city):

Cocktails Fail to Please British Palate

London, Aug. 31.—(Special Cable.)— “The Englishman prefers to sip his whisky and soda, not to toss it off quickly. For that reason he does not take to cocktails.” So said Harry Craddock, late of New York, now of London, who, last night, issued an official statement admitting defeat in his drive to substitute cocktails for the English drink. He had 200 cocktails on his wine list, but most of his patrons are Americans.

This brief record of the initial disappointments of the man who had just begun working under Ada Coleman at the Savoy, and who ten years later would compile the legendary Savoy Cocktail Book, inspired an editorial in the same gazette (which the good folks at M&S also saw fit to reproduce):

The cocktail in London

It is said that the cocktail offensive in London has failed, that the Englishman still sticks to the supping of his whisky and soda, instead of dashing off the “dum-dum” of gin and vermouth. Perhaps the advance of the cocktail has been checked in London. That great American exile among potations may not yet have broken through the phlegm of the Englishman. But the check is only temporary. For the Englishman is entertaining within his gates the most insidious and irresistible of drinks. We have sent Princes away from our shores hugging cocktail shakers as if the millennium at last had come. And the former kaiser [sic] awoke in the night, during a regatta, and ordered a boat that he might put back to an American battleship and refresh his recollection and his palate with “that drink they call a cocktail”.

Princes and potentates have fallen before it. So what chance has the desultory drinker, the Englishman, before the oncoming cocktails? “They shall not pass!” may be the slogan of today. “Make mine a bit drier” will be the adjuration of tomorrow.

The Mixer and Server, vol. 29:10 (October 1920), p. 24.

And lo, it came to pass: within a few years the cocktail had indeed become the life, the soul and the fuel of the Bright Young People’s parties. But I’m dubious about the accuracy of this picture of early British resistance to these newfangled libations. Cocktails, and the martini in particular, were not unknown in Blighty before Prohibition forced American mixologists overseas—an exodus reported by The Washington Post under the headline “Bartenders Invade England” (13 September, 1920, p. 6). The Post goes on to suggest that while older Limey drinkers were sticking to what they knew, the younger generation was indeed acquiring the “cocktail habit”. I wonder, then, if Craddock’s remarks, enlivened as they are with several dashes of bitters, have more to do with his feelings about his unwanted expatriation than anything else. Exhibit A, M’lud:

Within the last ten years or so the American habit of serving cocktails before dinner has made its way into Mayfair. Whether a cocktail does not take away more appetite than it gives is a doubtful question. An authority, however, maintains that a dry cocktail—one, and one only—taken ten minutes before the moment of sitting down at table, is a stimulus to appetite.

— Ralph Nevill, Mayfair and Montmartre (London: Methuen, 1921), p. 75.

Then there’s this passage from the A Kingdom of the Blind by E. Phillips Oppenheim (an absurdly prolific genre writer whose novels abound in references to cocktails), which I suppose both proves and disproves Craddock’s assertion, since the two characters taking part in this exchange are, like their author, British:

“Let me mix you a cocktail,” he suggested. “. . . You like yours dry, I suppose?” Thomson had risen to feet and leaned forward towards the mirror for a moment to straighten his tie. When he turned around, he glanced at the collection of bottles which Granet had been handling. “I am really very sorry,” he said. “I did not mean to put you to this trouble. I never drink cocktails.” Granet paused in shaking the silver receptacle, and laid it down. “Have a whisky and soda instead?” Thomson shook his head. ‘”If you will excuse me,” he said, “I will drink your health at dinner-time. I have no doubt that your cocktails are excellent but I never seem to have acquired the habit. What do you put in them?” “Oh! just both sorts of vermouth and gin, and a dash of something to give it flavour,” Granet explained carelessly.

— E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Kingdom of the Blind (Boston: Little and Brown, 1916), p. 45.

Here’s an extract from another, slightly later Oppenheim potboiler, the awesomely titled The Wicked Marquis:

“. . . Have you idea, Gossett,” he added, as he accepted his cane and gloves, “how to make cocktails?” “I have a book of recipes, your lordship,” came the somewhat doubtful reply. “See that cocktails are served before luncheon,” the Marquis instructed. “You see, we are not altogether ignorant of the habits of your countrymen, Mr. Thain, even if in some cases we may not ourselves have adopted them. A cocktail is, I gather, some form of alcoholic nourishment?”

— E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Wicked Marquis (Boston: Little and Brown, 1919), p. 85.

The Marquis’ ignorance, imperfectly concealed, is evocative both of his class and character (which really amount to the same thing), so we shouldn’t assume his prepossessions were universally shared by his countrymen.

Less than a year after Craddock’s comments, however, this article appeared in the New York Times under the headline “American Cocktail Popular in London”:

LONDON, July 8.—While presumably the very name of cocktail has been forgotten in dry New York by now, the word is in everybody’s mouth in London and “unco guid” people have one more jeremiad in their repertory.

A medical man wrote to The London Times the other day that English women had developed the cocktail habit, and he painted a lurid picture of the degeneration of the race that was bound to follow if the pernicious practice was persisted in. Other papers took up the song. Horrible details were given, and it was stated even that young girls indulged in the poisonous concoctions American had taboeed [sic].

One barkeeper, with an eye to advertising an American club where he mixes drinks contributed the following valuable information to The Times:

“It is remarkable that the United States of Aferica [sic] has been a cocktail drinking country for over 100 years, yet today, when they can get all the whisky, wine and beer they want they still worship the cocktail. Americans do not seem to have ruined their stomachs after all these years, but I must remind the learned M.D. that there are cocktails and there are cocktails, and may we be saved from cocktails made by barmaids.”

Investigations show that “cocktail bars” do exist in London and flourish exceedingly, with the fair sex forming a goodly proportion of their patrons, but investigations further show that the majority of cocktails called for by the dissolute misses and matrons are of soft quality.

The most fashionable cocktails of the day, it appears, is called a pussyfoot. It consists of white of egg, grenadine, lemon and orange juice, and looks sweetly pink. Another favourite is the Alexandra, made of creme of cocoa, grenadine and cream. Of course, there are other sorts of cocktail, but regular barkeepers say their consumptions has not noticeably increased latterly because there have been so few American visitors in London.

New York Times, 9 July 1921.


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