Cocktail Party Culture of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s
As someone born in the 1960s, I remember Friday and Saturday nights as evenings that my hard-working parents hired a sitter for me and my brothers so they could have some downtime socializing with their friends. “Socializing” among middle-class adults in the ‘60s and ‘70s usually meant a cocktail party. This phenomenon is not something that we see frequently, if at all today. For one thing, people are more likely to have a glass of wine or a beer than a mixed drink, although martinis and margaritas have remained popular. But in those days, I remember drink names like “Pink Lady”, “Gimlet” and “Pussycat”.
Hosting the perfect cocktail party involved plentiful amounts of alcohol and food. This necessitated hors d’oeuvre plates, fondue pots, cheese plates, cocktail napkins and punch bowls but it also meant having the proper barware to prepare and serve cocktails with. Different glasses were needed for different types of drinks. The three mainstays were martini, highball and lowball (or on the rocks) glasses, although I do recall my mom drinking Pussycats out of straight-sided glasses with a short stem and the stylized Pussycat logo printed on it. (These ‘70s treasures can be seen today available on Etsy and Ebay!)
The cocktail culture got its start in the 1920s, with speakeasies, flappers and what had become a youth-centric culture. The cocktail party grew in popularity, and by the ’60s and ’70s it had become a significant part of the American culture. This style of entertaining required the proper cocktail accessories including cocktail shakers, strainers, stirrers, jiggers and ice buckets—not to mention a good cocktail recipe book. We recently posted a blog featuring one of our vintage finds—a Cocktail Rolodex for ready access to great drink recipes of the ‘50s and ’60s.
The names for popular drinks were pretty great, too. There were:
Many of these drinks included ingredients that are not very popular today, such as nutmeg and cream (a far cry from the Skinny Martini of today). In addition to great drink recipes, in ’60s and ‘70s homes entertaining with stylish, trendy bar accessories was all the rage. Clever bar sets with cocktail glasses and ice buckets combined were very popular. The following are some excellent examples of sets we have in our private collection:
If you’d like to host your own retro cocktail party, sets like those featured above can be found at flea markets and online. They’re a great form of mid-century art and are reminiscent of social traditions that still inspire fashion and entertainment today. The hugely popular TV show “Mad Men” is a great resource for checking out the classic cocktail party scene. The popularity of this evening television drama has most likely facilitated the new interest in and revival of the classic cocktail party as a means of socializing and relaxing in style. Take a look at our retro style Cocktail Lounge Decor for ideas to get your own party started!