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Cocktail history: You don't want to know what your parents were drinking in 1966




Musso & Frank bartender Ruben Rueda (48 years) knows that some people are now calling for a
Musso & Frank bartender Ruben Rueda (48 years) knows that some people are now calling for a "wet" martini, but most still want them old-school dry - 8:1 gin to vermouth.
John Rabe

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The annual holiday light show is back at the L.A. Zoo, and this month they're celebrating the zoo's 50th birthday with a bunch of events, including a cocktail night on December 15, with a drinks, snacks, and music from 1966.

John Rabe (with father W.T. Rabe) was born in 1966
John Rabe (with father W.T. Rabe) was born in 1966
Joe Clarke HBSS

I was born in 1966, but I wasn't drinking back then, so I called up Richard Foss of Manhattan Beach, author of "Rum: A Global History" and "Food In The Air and Space: The Surprising History of Food and Drink in the Skies," and California Curator of the Museum of the American Cocktail.

Richard, for its 1966 evening, the Zoo is pouring Manhattans, Gibsons and dirty martinis. They had dirty martini's back then?

The Manhattan and Gibson were popular drinks at this time, but both invented long before this period. As for the dirty martini, it existed before then because Russians have been putting pickle juice in vodka for a long time, but it did become slightly more popular in the late 60's. The 60's were when martinis switched from gin to vodka thanks to the James Bond movie "Dr. No," in which the line "Shaken, not stirred" was first used. That means James Bond got a watery, bad drink.

They also could have had Rusty Nails, or daiquiris, which the Kennedy's famously served in the White House, as an alternative. The ones they chose also could all be characterized as men's drinks - in this era the Brandy Alexander, Greyhound, Harpoon, or Pink Squirrel would have been considered women's drinks.

Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States in 1966
Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States in 1966
Arnold Newman, White House Press Office

Richard, I have a vintage Mr. Boston's cocktail recipe book from the 1960's, and the recipes just make me shudder.

The 1960s were easily the least creative decade of the 20th century when it comes to cocktails, and the things they did invent then are mostly regarded as awful now. The only ones that anybody drinks any more are the Rusty Nail, the Harvey Wallbanger (which was probably invented in the '60s even though it became popular in the '70s), and the Blue Hawaiian, invented in 1958 but popularized in the '60s. The others from that period are mostly creamy, sweet, and badly balanced, often made with absurd amounts of creme de menthe or creme de cacao. To add insult to injury, even fundamentally sound drinks were usually made with bottled juices rather than fresh. The '60s saw the widespread use of bottled sour mix and collins mix, which desecrated otherwise good cocktails.     

The Oldsmobile Toronado, with this startlingly beautiful instrument panel, was introduced in 1966
The Oldsmobile Toronado, with this startlingly beautiful instrument panel, was introduced in 1966
Oldsmobile

How about the menu: deviled eggs, Swedish meatball sliders, a cheddar cheese fondue station, and beef bourguignon?

All sound choices, though the meatballs would have been served on toothpicks or little plastic swords. If they want to go for a popular idea that isn't quite as horrible as it sounds, they could add some grape jelly into the meatballs. Fondue was such a fad food of the period that just about every newlywed got a fondue pot which they used once - it's why they are so common in thrift stores. Fondue using good cheese like gruyere or Swiss raclette cheese with a dash of kirsch liqueur is lovely, but those cheeses were not widely available then.