Category Archives: Prohibition

DMA exhibit to showcase cocktail culture history — through its barware

Dallas Museum of Art
Did someone say cocktails? Among the collection of vintage barware at the DMA exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art)

So….. that cocktail you’re holding in your hand? Your great-great-grandfather might have drunk the very same thing.

That historical connection is one of the great charms of the modern craft-cocktail renaissance, and now, thanks to the Dallas Museum of Art, you might even get to see the very shaker the old guy’s drink got made in. (OK, the chances are wee, but you get the point.)

Dallas Museum of Art
“Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail” features nearly 60 vintage and modern cocktail items. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art)

Later this month, the DMA will open “Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail,” a yearlong exhibit tracing the development of cocktails from the late 19th century to their modern-day renaissance, as well as the wares used to prepare and serve them.

The collection goes on display Nov. 18 and features nearly 60 items ranging from 19th century punch bowls and early 20th-century decanters to Prohibition-era shakers and modern designer barware.

The exhibit also spans craft-cocktail culture’s long and glorious history, starting with the punchbowl potions of colonial times and, long before fedoras were a thing, the 1862 publishing of storied bartender Jerry Thomas’ How To Mix Drinks: Or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion – the first printed compilation of cocktail recipes.

Opening night will bring an appearance by Dale DeGroff, another storied bartender whose attention to fresh ingredients and classic techniques at New York’s Rainbow Room throughout the 1990s are pretty much why you can find a properly made Sazerac even in select dive bars today. The godfather of the modern cocktail revival, DeGroff (a.k.a. “King Cocktail”) will addfress the current scene and its centuries-old roots.

As cocktails rose in popularity, so too did the tools needed to make them, and they got fancier and cleverer as time went on.

Dallas Museum of Art
Cocktail culture’s modern reboot has inspired a new wave of designer barware. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art)

In an article about the exhibit, Samantha Robinson, the DMA’s interim assistant curator of decorative arts, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that silver was among the primary materials for luxury barware, especially in the prosperous 1920s, when speakeasies flourished in defiance of Prohibition.

Given drinking’s underground nature at the time, shakers took on seemingly whimsical shapes – like penguins, or lighthouses – to mask their actual utility.

(The coolest thing about the story, by the way, is learning that Robinson is a fan of the Aviation, though I prefer mine with crème de violette – as it should be.)

Starting around the 1960s, cocktails fell out of favor and plummeted to truly awful depths of neglect. The current reboot, rooted in the late 1990s, has inspired a new wave of cocktail artistry, including designer shakers and martini glasses, some of which will also be on display.

The exhibit runs through Nov. 12, 2017.




It’s been 80 years since the nation regained its sanity: No one’s going to blame you for wanting to celebrate

Victor Tango event
Want to celebrate Prohibition’s end? Victor Tango’s can help. (Image courtesy of Victor Tango’s)

In many ways, Prohibition was the best thing to happen to U.S. drinking culture. The Dry Movement’s successful forging of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920 left imbibers with nowhere to drink legally except in foreign lands, which they did while visiting Europe, Cuba or the Caribbean. America’s suddenly employment-challenged bartenders went where the work was, resettling in places like Paris or Havana where their cocktail knowledge was infused with the riches of local ingredients, concoctions and sensibilities.

They say that that which does not kill you makes you stronger, and except for a nasty batch of bathtub gin, that may be true. When Prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5, 1933, many of those newly enriched bar peeps returned with their worldly cocktail know-how (and a penchant for rum or Champagne), and those that stayed in the U.S. now had new tricks up their sleeves for enhancing inferior booze. Plus we got speakeasies.

Thursday marks the 80th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which 86’d the 18th for good. For those of you inclined to celebrate, options abound, some of which might have you rubbing your eyes in disbelief.

First, there’s Victor Tango’s on Henderson, where classic cocktails like the Sazerac or Mary Pickford can be had from 5 pm and onward this evening for the Depression-Era price of just 80 cents apiece.  A fancy drank for less than the price of an iTunes song: crazy, no? Make sure you’re sitting down, because here’s some absolutely off-the-charts insanity: From 3 to 7 pm at Plano’s Whiskey Cake, you can responsibly indulge in your choice of five classic cocktails — like the French 75 or the Moscow Mule — for just a nickel apiece. Yes, you may need to be pinched right about now.

Uncharacteristically, tonight’s least lunatic Repeal Day gathering will be at Dallas’ Windmill Lounge, where authors Jeffrey Yarbrough and Rita Cook will be signing their book, “Prohibition in Dallas and Fort Worth: Blind Tigers, Bootleggers and Bathtub Gin,” all while presumably having cocktails.  That event runs from 5 to 7 p.m.

Additionally, a number of cocktail artists formerly of Smyth and Cedars Social will be behind the bar tonight at Bolsa from 9 p.m. onward.

So remember, while the repeal of the 18th Amendment might be to blame for Cinnabon-flavored vodka, it’s also the reason you can publicly enjoy a decent Old Fashioned all year long, and that’s one civics lesson worth remembering, at least for a night. As Alex Fletcher, Victor Tango’s bar manager, put it: “We’re celebrating our right to mix, stir, and shake up some serious libations.”

Power to the people.

VICTOR TANGO’S, 3001 N. Henderson, Dallas. 214-252-8595.

WHISKEY CAKE, 3601 Dallas Parkway, Plano. 972-993-2253.

WINDMILL LOUNGE, 5320 Maple Avenue, Dallas. 214-443-7818.

BOLSA, 614 W. Davis, Dallas. 214-943-1883.