Time travel at the bar : what were people drinking in the 80s?
Something very exciting happened to me a few days ago: I was given a copy of an old American bar menu!
To understand my happiness it’s worth saying that, being the current head bartender in the recently restored and reopened American bar, I’ve been trying to find old pictures, menus or references to the original bar for a very long time but with very little success.
Why? Mostly because I wanted to feel a deeper connection to the bar I helped opening and shaping and because the past fascinates me.
So, when Andrew said that he had something for me and proceeded to give me this old menu, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Andrew is now a porter and he has been working in the hotel for almost 30 years. The reason he kept hold of this cocktail list is because the first job he got was as a bartender in the original bar.
In this article, we will have a close look into this rare find, but first I feel like I should answer a few FAQ to paint a better picture for everyone.
Gleneagles is a five star resort located in the middle of the beautiful Scottish highlands. Most famous for its golf courses, the hotel also offers a vast array of exciting activities, from shooting to falconry, off road driving, horse riding and many more. Recently, the hotel has being going through some major restoration and redesigning works and it’s looking more fabulous than ever.
The hotel was opened in 1924 by the Caledonian railway company and was thought to be a ‘Riviera in the Highlands’. At the peak of the luxury travels era of grand hotels, first class trains and emerging airplanes, Gleneagles became an immediate success.
WHAT IS AN AMERICAN BAR?
There is always some confusion and many jokes surrounding this topic.
‘American bar’ is more of a reference to the style of bar rather than a name given to a single bar.
As it often happens, It all goes back to prohibition: when prohibition hit the states between 1919 and 1933, many bartenders found themselves out of jobs (legal jobs- they could still be working in illegal speakeasies run by mobsters). Many decided to travel to Europe to find fortune, and here they got employed by grand hotels and bars… With them, they brought a rich portfolio of mixed drinks as American cocktail culture was thriving before prohibition.
Soon enough, bar employing american bartenders started to specialize in drinks mixed ‘the American way’-cocktails- and ‘American bars’ became synonym for ‘cocktail bars’. Which stands to this day.
WHY DO COCKTAIL TRENDS CHANGE THROUGH THE YEARS?
There are many reasons for which certain tastes are more popular in certain eras or in a particular place and why some flavors have fallen out of fashion:
Sometimes, it has to do with local resources and happy accidents – think about ancient Egyptians and the first beers, the Greeks and their mead (fermented honey water), the Romans and their wine or even simply about rum in the Caribbeans. All those beverages are made using local produce and their deliciousness was usually discovered by chance.
Sometimes, a taste develops out of a necessity – think about digestives liqueurs, tonic wines or even gin(!): all of them were born as medicine, with very clear healing properties written on the labels…Needless to say, men developed a taste for these particular drugs and incorporated them in their daily lives.
Some other times, it has to do with political reasons and challenging social situations – think about prohibition in the US : all of a sudden it was illegal to distill or sell any king of liquor. This brought people to distill at home and, without any knowledge of this art, the resulting spirits were usually borderline poisonous and always disgusting to the taste. In order to make the experience of drinking them better, bartenders started to mix them with other strong covering flavors like citrus, fruit juices and sugar. Another example can be found in the Tiki movement : it was born just after the great depression almost as a way of escaping reality…In polynesia-themed bars one would be transported to a tropical island for a few hours.
Most of the times, social settings dictate trends, much like in fashion – think about Absinthe in Paris in the 19th and 20th century where it quickly became the favorite tipple of artists, poets and writers. Or Punch bowls and sharing cocktails in the 17th and 18th century, when being able to serve mixed drinks with fresh and exotic fruits out of an elaborate bowl was seen as a symbol of wealth and influence…In the same way, the reason why cocktails almost disappeared during the 60s and 70s is because people took a very big liking on drugs as a recreational activity…
COCKTAIL CULTURE TODAY
Many would say that the current times are a ‘Golden age’ of cocktails. And I couldn’t agree more!
Thanks to technology, we never had access to better quality spirits. Thanks to fast and efficient transports, we never had such rich and diverse bar pantries. Thanks to the internet, we never had better access to such vast resources to deepen our cocktails knowledge. As a combination of all of the above, new and interesting techniques are developing and new flavors and flavors combinations are evolving… And thanks to bartenders, both old and classic cocktails and new and experimental drinks manage to find a balance behind almost every bar.
Going out for a cocktail in good bar is becoming as interesting and sometimes surprising as going out for a meal at a nice restaurant.
BACK TO THE MENU FROM THE PAST
So, which years does this menu belongs to? Andrew is not entirely sure of the exact year but, knowing that the old American bar closed in 1993 and judging by the alarming spread of blue curacao cocktails on the list, I would say it belongs towards the end of the 1980s.
This menu is a very useful reminder of the fact that just about 30 years ago the most popular cocktails were overly sweet, neon colored concoctions.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the cocktails on offer back then:
– IN THE MOOD – A fruity, low abv sparkling cocktail with a light bitter bite from the grapefruit juice. Green, thanks to the brightly colored Midori.
– LIGHT FANTASTIC – Bundaberg rum is an Australian rum that was launched in the UK in the 60s. Puddle colored most likely, thanks to the mix of red grenadine and green Midori.
– SYMPHONY IN PINK – A French Martini from times past. This is a fruity cocktail with a light bite to it. Definitely on the sweet side, even adjusting the recipe to appeal to a more modern palate. Check out my updated recipe here.
– BADINGAYE – GRAPEVINE – two champagne cocktails with a dryer taste to them that might appeal today.
– GOLDEN EAGLE – A bright orange cocktail. Buchanan liqueur is not a liqueur at all, but a blended Scotch.
– ST BRENDAN – St Brendan is an Irish cream liqueur produced in Derry, Ireland. This is a nutty creamy after dinner drink.
My name is Lulu and I am a cocktail creatress, menu developer, consultant and blogger based in the wonderful Scottish highlands.
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What do you think of this rare find cocktail menu from the 80s?
Which cocktail would you order if you could travel back in time?
Let me know in the comment section below!