Book Review: Canadian Whisky Third Edition

Book Review: The Cocktail Parlor by Nicola Nice

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The Cocktail Parlor by Nicola Nice

The+Cocktail+ParlorThis cocktail book isn’t expensive, but it’s going to cost me a bunch of money. It is inspiring me to buy a whole lot of other books referenced in its pages. 

The most important and most-referenced cocktail books of old were all written by men. They contain recipes, but often also instructions on things like customer service and running a tavern or how to cut off drunk customers. Women played a different role – they were preparing drinks and cutting off drunks too – but at home for themselves, family members, and when entertaining others. The Cocktail Parlor: How Women Brought the Cocktail Home (Countryman Press, April 23, 2024) reviews books written for and by women instructing them how to do so. These include cookbooks and domestic guidebooks and later hosting guides and eventually books for single city women new to the workforce.


The Evolution Of The Culture Of Drinking

Taken together, these texts reveal the evolution of the drinking environment, specifically that of the home environment, and how it evolves over more than a century. The Cocktail Parlor is organized into chapters for types of hosting, including “The Domestic Hostess,” “Tea Party Hostess,” “Apartment Hostess,” and later “The Suburban Hostess” and “The City Hostess.” It tracks the different ways people were drinking at home (rather than in saloons), from gendered parties for ladies to formal dinners to cocktail parties to the casual BYOB house parties of the modern era.

Author Nicola Nice shows us not just what women were drinking themselves and serving to their husbands, but so much more. While men’s books might include information on running a bar, the women’s books include information on running a household – managing staff, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. And we see how these tasks change over the decades, and what this reveals about the changing roles of women in the home and in society. It’s surprising how many societal changes we can see using this viewpoint versus when we’re just looking at cocktail and ingredient trends in the classic bartending texts.

We watch as single-gender tea parties evolve into mixed-gender tea dances, dinner parties, cocktail parties, and the impact of women infiltrating men’s spaces (bars) after they gained employment and became increasingly independent. Each chapter features a selection of drinks to match the style of hosting (themed into era-appropriate cocktails), but this is not a book of inventive cocktails by women. It is a book about what cocktail instructions for women reveal about women in the wider world.


Meet The Women

The Cocktail Parlor introduces us to many amazing women – sometimes the authors of the books, sometimes women who influenced popular culture. Every couple of paragraphs we meet a new woman who published a book that included drink recipes oh, and maybe also drove across the country by car, or was a successful black caterer, or made some other huge leap forward in women’s progress. I never considered what Julia Child’s books and television shows revealed about the changing nature of American culture, dinner parties, kitchen design, cocktails, and hosting before, but it’s in here. 

And that’s where this book is going to get pricey for me. There are so many interesting characters introduced in The Cocktail Parlor that when I read it, I kept one browser window open to the text, a second to Wikipedia to look up more information on the women mentioned, and a third to an online bookstore.

Many similarities can be drawn between this book and Toni Tipton-Martin’s recent Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs, and Juice: A Cocktail Recipe Book: Cocktails from Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. There were only two cocktail books written by Black bartenders until recent decades, so Juke Joints looked at other sources like African American-authored cookbooks and books for caterers. Juke Joints also introduced us to many interesting characters and their work. And like The Cocktail Parlor, we don’t so much learn a ton of new and inventive drinks by Black mixologists, but we learn a lot about the people preparing the drinks and their changing role in a changing society. 

This is an interesting time for cocktail books generally, as authors combine the study of drink history with other aspects of history including women’s rights, American law, medicine, music, and more. There are plenty of great recipe books still coming out, but this new batch of combination recipes-and-something else adds new and interesting context. 



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