During the Prohibition era in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, bartenders fled the country for Europe, where they were able to maximize their creativity and brew exciting cocktails. Those who landed in London were conveniently greeted by the “Bright Young Things,” a nickname given by the media to the youthful attractive socialites known for their lavish parties. The lifestyle of these individuals, which included the likes of Bryan and Diana Guinness and the Sitwell siblings, defined the Roaring Twenties. Cecil Beaton, the society photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair at the time, perfectly captured these individuals in dazzling images that mirrored the upper-class character and glamour of the group. The National Portrait Gallery in London recently introduced an exhibit dedicated to these images, along with Cecil Beaton’s Cocktail Book. The timing was fortuitous as more and more people at home in quarantine have taken up cocktail mixing and forgone social gathering.
In addition to images captured by Beaton, which he often enhanced with the use of vibrant backdrops and props, the cocktail book features a collection of recipes straight from the era like the Angel Face, along with classics like the Old Fashioned curated with contemporary twists by Denis Broci, lead bartender at Claridge’s. Known as the Golden Age of Cocktails, the 1920s and 1930s represent a time when people were starting to record their recipes in print to impress socialites like the Bright Young Things at their gatherings. These events included bring-a-bottle parties, jazz nights, grand charity galas like the Porcelain Ball, small hangouts in London’s luxury hotels, and cocktails parties in the private clubs like Gargoyle on Dean Street. Evelyn Waugh lampooned the escapades of the Bright Young Things perfectly:
“Masked parties, Savage parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as someone else, almost naked parties in St. John’s Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and nightclubs, in windmills and swimming-baths, tea parties, at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and disgusting dances in Paris—all the succession and repetition of massed humanity…Those vile bodies.”
As Kate Hudson and Tom Furness (of Claridge’s and the National Portrait Gallery, respectively) accurately summed them up, the Bright Young Things were “drunk on their own excesses.” And although their jaunts came to an end in the 1930s, the design and ambiance of their favorite haunts remain inspiration for modern institutions. Today you can drink like a Bright Young Thing by visiting lounges like the hidden Fumoir Bar in Claridge’s, or grab a recipe from Cecil Beaton’s Cocktail Book like the lasting staples below.
Recipes from Cecil Beaton’s Cocktail Book, provided by Denis Broci, Head Barman at Claridge’s in London:
25 ml (5/6 oz) Plymouth Gin
25 ml (5/6oz) apricot brandy
25 ml (5/6 oz) Adrien Camut
Mixing instructions: Stir and pour into a coupette glass. Garnish with orange coin.
40ml (1 1/3oz) Plymouth Gin
20ml (2/3 oz) apricot brandy
15 ml (1/2oz) orange juice
5ml (1/6oz) lemon juice
Mixing instructions: Shake all ingredients
and pour into a frozen martini glass.
Garnish with orange twist.
50ml (1 2/3 oz) Plymouth Gin
20 ml (2/3oz) Cointreau
15ml (1/2oz) lime juice
5 ml (1/6oz) sugar syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters