Believe it or not, the social cocktail party, as we know it today, has not been around very long. If it weren't for Prohibition (the law of the land from 1919 to 1933) and the birth of Hollywood's motion picture industry, many believe that the cocktail party would have never been born.
Imagine what Prohibition must have been like. For centuries upon centuries, all kinds of alcohol—beer, wine, and hard spirits—had been a part of people's everyday life. Then, in 1919, the manufacturing, sale, and import/export of alcohol were suddenly banned in all of the United States, all Canadian provinces, and in the entire country of Finland. I bet there were a lot of vacations taken south of the border!
From the mid-1800s to 1918, in bright cities across America, you could stroll into a saloon and order up a Manhattan, Cuba Libre, or Singapore Sling, among many others. At the same time, many anti-alcohol organizations were formed because people believed that the constant rise of crime was the direct result of alcohol consumption. This battle of the booze was fought for many years until finally on October 28, 1919, the U.S. Constitution was amended to include the Eighteenth Amendment, the legislation behind Prohibition. It took effect on January 16, 1920. The fine for selling alcohol was $1,000 or six months in jail. Can you imagine the New Year's Eve party on December 31, 1919? Or better yet, the party on January 15?
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happens when you tell someone that they can't have something. It's just human nature to want it even more! The buzzwords of the time included bootlegging, speakeasy, bathtub gin, home brewing, moonshine, organized crime, smuggling, black market, flasks, and gangsters. Saloons tried to survive by substituting gambling and prostitution for the forbidden alcohol, but the cold hard fact was that people wanted to drink. After all, they had been able to drink for their whole lives already. This is why the underground clubs and bars called speakeasies were able to flourish. Can you believe that there were over 100,000 speakeasies in New York alone? Cocktails became all the rage, and flappers took the stage.
Finally, under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, Prohibition was repealed and America was no longer a dry nation. (Mississippi was the exception, remaining dry until 1966.) Swing and jazz clubs swept the nation, and Hollywood's silver screen glamorized cocktails in full style. Who can forget Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, the Rat Pack, and all those bombshell starlets sipping from elegant cocktail glasses while wearing glamorous cocktail dresses?
By the 1950s, women were quite accustomed to entertaining in their homes, and lo and behold, the cocktail party truly came into its own. This was by far the most popular cocktail party decade to date. Combined with new household-appliance technology, the war-free times created a perfect recipe for swanky social entertaining.
Sadly, the cocktail party fizzled out from the 1960s to the 1980s, but by the 1990s an interest in quality in food, drink, and home improvement flourished across the nation, and the cocktail party was back in fashion. Home entertaining became popular again for lots of occasions. People not only wanted to show off their latest home renovations, they wanted to show that they knew a thing or two about cool cocktails and swell food.
Today, while experiencing a strong economy, vogue cocktail party hosts are stepping into the stylish world of cocktail party entertaining. The modern-day cocktail party has no limits. It can be swell and small or awesomely big. One thing that is for sure, it's all about celebrating life. And what better to toast than life?