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May 4, 2009

Recovering from (the) depression

flappers.JPGHere, Midnight Sun commenter Patchen makes the depression a little less depressing:

My senior year of college I was buying books for class when I found this great little book in the remainder bin. It was called something like Depression-Era Cocktails. Each page had a beautiful shot of some old cocktail and the recipe that went with it.

The book got lifted from my suite -- I assume during a party -- before I ever got to make a single drink.

I’ve never been able to find it anywhere else, and losing it has always bugged me -- especially now that the economy is in the toilet. I mean, if we’re going to go through a Great Recession, why not have drinks to match?

Lots of people have had this idea. A bunch of bars in places like Milwaukee, Memphis and L.A. have bars that offer Depression-themed specials, though I haven’t found any in Baltimore. Still, with a little Googling, you can find some great drinks to try -- sometimes with recipes, sometimes just with names worth looking up in your bar manual.

Here’s what I love about cocktails from the Depression ...

Cool Liquors Mixed Together: Brandy? Cognac? Sherry? Absinthe? Awesome.

Twists on the Norm: Like instead of London dry gin. Instead of bourbon, now’s the time to pull down that bottle of Pikesville Rye you’ve had sitting around. (That link, BTW, has a ton of mixes.)

Beer: Some Depression-era recipes actually involved beer, often mixed with ...

Crazy Ingredients: Like egg (sometimes whites, sometimes yolks, sometimes the whole thing), caster sugar, nutmeg, etc.

Editor's note: Yuck!

No Vodka: Vodka really didn’t show up in U.S. drinks till the '50s. Look for drinks with rum, gin, brandy and whiskey instead.

And the best part about Depression era cocktails is that they really do help you save money.  My buddy Reed in Washington has a weekly cocktail party. He picks one drink and serves variations on that exclusively. If you want something else, it’s BYOB (and BYO food). So he's able to throw a great party every Friday for a whole lot less than he would shelling out for six-packs.

(Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:30 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


A couple weeks ago I had a "Share your favorite beer party." But to make it more than just BYOB, I held a contest for the favorite beer and gave a decent prize to the winner. It ended up being a pretty good success. We had alot of fun tasting and voting for everyone's favorite beer, it was an inexpensive night with friends, and I ended up with about 20 leftover beers in my fridge!


Looks like something got lost in the translation under "Twists on the Norm." That should say, "Plymouth gin instead of London dry gin." Sorry for the confusion!

And the URL should be:

This is probably the book you are looking for:

Classic Cocktails of the Prohibition Era: 100 Classic Cocktail Recipes by Philip Collins

It is available on


Blair Frodelius
Good Spirits News

Thanks for the mentioning Milwaukee in your post. We are lucky here to have a few establishments making quality depression era cocktails. At Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, we are quite lucky to have a historic list of cocktails that were created by the original owner in the 1930's.

If you are looking for a great internet resource for traditional cocktail recipes, check out cocktaildb:

Even better, their iPhone application is excellent- even giving years of origin and sources for traditional cocktail recipes (including many, many depression-era cocktails):

If you are ever in Milwaukee, make sure to stop by for a cocktail (or two).


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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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