The martini hat, with some remarks on cocktail garnishes

1 Oct

This lady’s cocktail has gone to her head. Literally. She’s modeling the “Martini Hat”, which was all the rage 100 years ago. Why? The Chicago Daily Tribune has the dope:

The trimming of this hat is responsible for its title. There are the cherries that are inseparable from a martini; the feather from a cocktail, while the velvet used is of the hue of a cock’s comb, and suggests the tint of the beverage.

The hat itself is of white leghorn braid and yields an effective background to the rich coloring of the trimmings, altogether it its [sic] a very chic and distinctly nouveau piece of millinery.

— “The New ‘Martini’ Hat”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 2 April 1911, p. 8.

Cherries in a red-coloured drink? What kind of martini is that? Well, as odd as it sounds to the modern connoisseur, cherries, once the default garnish of the mixologist, were indeed used to accessorize martinis, a relic, I suppose, of the cocktail’s original sweet incarnation. The colour of the velvet, too, suggests that the milliner was thinking of a sweet martini, which is made with “Italian” rather than “French” vermouth. Sweet and dry martinis happily coexisted for a long time, appearing together (along with the medium martini) in bar manuals until around the middle of the last century, before the dry and ever dryer version won out. Olives, though, were being used to decorate the (dry) martini by at least 1900, so it’s still misleading to claim the cherry and martini were “inseparable” (see for example, Tim Daly, Bartender’s Encyclopedia [Worcester, MA: Daly, 1903], p. 69).

Anyway, this is all academic. Three years previously the same newspaper had declared that it was no longer fashionable for sophisticated urbanites to accent their drinks with either a cherry or an olive:

Through the mysterious mental line of communication that passes between intellectual bartenders, the doom of the cherry in the cocktail has sounded. Likewise has sounded the doom of the olive in the cocktail. None but the “hick” wine clerks drop cherries or olives into cocktails now, unless some Rube asks for them.

The practice of putting a slice of lemon in a Scotch highball was discontinued in our classiest cafés some time ago. Expert drink mixers no longer squeeze a piece of lemon peel over the top of a cocktail. Thus step by step the drinking classes are making for simplicity.

Many women will view with alarm the banishment of the cherry from the Martini or Manhattan. It will deprive them of the opportunity to utter that venerable bromidion:

“I don’t care for the cocktail itself, but I like to eat the cherry.” However, as a result of close observation, it may be veraciously stated that the woman who spoke of the delight of eating the cherry always drank the cocktail first. The cherry served as a sort of dessert.

Perhaps in time something will be put forward to take the place of the cherry—a pickle or a grapefruit, for instance—but our drinkers who run close to form are satisfied with the cocktail plain.

The cherry and the olive were first made part of the cocktail for ornamental purposes. In communities where the olive is still looked upon with suspicion a prudent and canny bartender has been known to use the same olive as many as fifteen times.

— “Cherry in Cocktail Passé”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 5 December 1908, p. 5.

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