From the literature of Fitzgerald to flapper fashion, has any decade captured our romantic consciousness like the roaring 20s? Now that we’ve entered the 21st century version of it—hello 2020—a new cocktail book is capturing the festivities-fueled essence of the era.
Coinciding with “Bright Young Things,” a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Cecil Beaton’s Cocktail Book is half 1920s recipe manual, half historical homage to the work of the society photographer who captured London’s young and dazzling during the 1920s and 1930s for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Mixologist instructions are paired with Beaton’s portraits of Elizabeth Ponsonsby, the Sitwell Siblings, Steven Tenant, Tallulah Bankhead, and other members of the glamorous socialite group that lounged in luxurious clubs, attended balls at Claridge’s, and threw raucous parties in the city and countryside. (The most famous? The “Bath and a Bottle” party, where guests were instructed to bring a bathing suit, towel, and a bottle to the St. George’s Swimming Baths in London. Said a society report at the time: “Great rubber horses and flowers floated about in the water, which was illuminated by colored spotlights. Many of those present brought two or three bathing costumes, which they changed in the course of the night’s festivities. Cocktails were served in the gallery, where the cocktail-mixers evidently found the heat intolerable, for they also donned bathing costumes at the earliest opportunity.”)
Denis Broci, head barman at Claridge’s, provided all the recipes for the book. “The 1920s and 1930s have been called the ‘Golden Age’ of cocktails and an era to which many of the timeless classics of cocktail culture can be traced,” Broci says. “When choosing the cocktails for the book we firstly looked at the most popular drinks that were enjoyed during that time, created during that time, as well as some contemporary twists on period favorites that will still delight all who are bright and young at heart.”
The result is a book chock full of classic, well-known recipes, like those for a martini, negroni, and sidecar. But more fascinating are the drinks lost to time. Who among us can name the ingredients in a Great Maiden’s Blush or St. Bernadette, for example? Broci tells Vogue that the cocktail most emblematic of the era is perhaps the Hanky Panky, which is a gin and amaro concoction. “It was created by Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman who worked in the bar at Claridge’s before moving to The Savoy where she was head bartender for 23 years,” he says.
Below, a recipe for the Hanky Panky from Cecil Beaton’s Cocktail Book—so you, too, can feel like a glamorous Bright Young Thing. (Or at least drink like one.)
1 1⁄3 oz Plymouth Gin
1 1⁄3 oz Martini Riserva Rubino
3 drops of Fernet-Branca
Stir the ingredients and pour into a frozen coupette glass. Garnish with orange coin.