The Iced Cocktail: Happy Hour History with Diana Pittet - Context Travel

The Iced Cocktail: Happy Hour History with Diana Pittet


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Humans have been intentionally producing and consuming alcohol for over 9,000 years, but the cocktail, a uniquely American creation, has been on the tippling scene for just over 200 years. This conversation will examine the historical and social factors in New York City that led both to the cocktail's birth and its transformation into something both respectable and cold. Diana will focus particularly on the rise of the commercial ice trade, the construction of tony hotels where the metaphorical 1 percent could socially distinguish themselves when drinking, and the 1853 World's Fair in Bryant Park that helped to popularize vermouth, the sine qua non of most cocktails.

American journalist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken lauded the cocktail in 1945 as "the greatest of all the contributions of the American way of life to the salvation of mankind." That is certainly high praise, bordering on being over-the-top barroom banter, but the cocktail deserves both praise and contemplation.

By the time of Mencken's exaltation, the cocktail had been around, for just under 150 years--a drop in the bucket compared to the 9,000 years that humans have been intentionally producing and consuming alcohol. When it first appeared on the tippling scene in the early 1800s, the cocktail was a specific kind of alcoholic drink, not a whole class onto itself, as it is now. Mixed with bitters, it was consumed more like a dose of medicine than as a pleasurable drink, usually at room temperature in the morning as a way to cure a hangover. Needless to say, its origins were less than noble.

We'll learn how over the course of the 19th century, the perception and production of the cocktail significantly changed to the point that it was considered high potable art by the start of Prohibition in 1920. Led by food and drink expert Diana Pittet, this interactive seminar will uncover the confluence of factors in the 19th century that led to the modern cocktail. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased appreciation for the high art of the cocktail and its rich history.

A former Latin teacher, Diana traded in the classical world for classic cocktails after she earned a master's degree from NYU in Food Studies. She is the co-founder of Night Owl Hospitality, a cocktail catering company on the Jersey Shore, where she also runs a whiskey club. This autumn, Diana returns to NYU to teach a graduate class on the history, culture, and politics of drinking. An avid traveler, Diana aims to visit a total of 50 different countries by the time she is 50.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.