Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Never before has five o’clock meant so much to so many. Or at least within my lifetime. The tumultuous context of our current time has made the early-evening libation more than just de rigueur or something to be paired with some self-assembled amuse-gueules. The happiest hour is truly a reprieve—the sweetest hiatus.
As we continue to grapple with the effects of a global pandemic, I have reflected on my personal quarantine experience and that of my family. The cocktail played no small role, as it became a daily fixture around which the family could gather, leaving behind–if only temporarily–the banalities and tedium of at-home work.
It was funny, though, that the cocktail would come to mean so much. My parents came of age in the 1970’s and met in the 1980’s on a bucolic Ivy League campus where beer was king. The cocktail was a favorite of their parents’ generation who met and married in the post-war era of Smirnoff vodka and Lucky Strike cigarettes (though my maternal grandfather’s pairing of preference was Old Grand-Dad on the rocks with a Swisher Sweets cigar). So, while growing up, beer and wine seemed to constitute the vast majority–if not all–of my parents’ indulgence.
The last decade, however, has driven a meteoric rise in the diversity and popularity of our higher proof selections. Small batch bourbons, single village mezcals, craft gins, a range of apéritifs and digestifs–all are ubiquitous in-store and at home. So, as the still palpable pandemic took hold and we all retreated into the confines of quarantined life, the cocktail and the cocktail hour came to represent an opportunity for congregation, gesticulation, and mixological experimentation. We could gather and create something we all had never tried before. What better way to spend the time and take advantage of such an arsenal of fantastical hooch?
Of course, social media pulsed with happy hour fervor in the form of memes and GIFs as days at home gave way to weeks and then to months. Even Ina Garten (of Barefoot Contessa fame) posted her favorite cosmopolitan recipe–a fabulously large and effective mélange of good vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice cocktail, and freshly squeezed lime juice. To ensure survival, restaurants adapted by launching to-go drinks that flew out the doors in bottles and convenient pouches. Online orders through mobile apps like Drizzly and Saucey surged and these companies launched marketing campaigns to match.
At this point restrictions have lessened and I have had a few beverages while sitting at a restaurant. I think the first I had may have been at our favorite brasserie–replete with sizzling steak-frites and bustling waiters in black tie. There is something to be said about ordering a cocktail at such a place. They come perfectly mixed and beautifully presented. The ambiance almost infuses its own flavor. But I think many of us have a newfound appreciation for the ones made at home and I think that appreciation is here to stay. Especially as the summer heat continues, we can all gather outside to chatter away and cobble together our own sequence towards the perfect sip:
A few bottles pulled from the bar cart or cabinet. A squeeze of lemon or lime. Muddled mint or basil. The sharp timbre of the shaker. The soft clink of dewy glass. Next, we'll make it a double.