The Art of Cocktail Hour

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when affections glow and valor is reborn.

This beautiful line is the greatest in Bernard DeVoto’s The Hour, at once capturing the romance and the sublime of this everyday routine that is anything but mundane.

The tinkling of ice in the mixing glass. Bottles moved into place, glassware chosen, ice tempered, and garnishes secured. Music cued while the waning golden-hour sunlight augurs the promising evening to follow.

This is the hour of cocktails, the pre-dinner demarcation when the day’s sowing is complete and one’s attention can turn to reaping – in this case (and at this very moment), a perfectly chosen cocktail.

While not every day has a cocktail hour, generally the best of them do. It’s a rare moment in our increasingly hustle-and-bustle lives to pause, to savor, to reflect, to dream. Spent with others or just as enjoyably with oneself, it’s an invisible yet necessary transition from a stressful day to a relaxing evening, a tabula rasa for the mind.

This sacred moment also offers each of us – perhaps for the first time in the day – an opportunity to truly create something for ourselves. It’s a modest labor of love and, if done well, can be an artistic and stylistic endeavor (one that our Instagram feeds proudly display).

It’s an opportunity to learn, hone and master new skills – mixing, shaking, straining, garnishing – and demonstrate that learning, even if only for an audience of one. There’s a pride to mastering your favorite cocktails and being able to execute them expertly – proper glassware, quality ice, scientifically exact proportions, a photogenic finish – at your whim.

An individual’s ideal cocktail hour is as personal as it gets – the location, the drink, the company, all up for debate with each of us only having the correct answers for ourselves. But there are a few guardrails.

First, ambiance is arguably as important to cocktail hour as the drink itself. To properly establish the separation of “church and state” between daily toil and evening contentment, you have to create a mood which is best achieved in a space that encourages dwell time (see: lighting and music, especially jazz).

Second, cocktail hour is about moderation – an overture to an enjoyable evening ahead, not the main event, and one’s consumption should reflect that.

Third, cocktail hour is not dinner. That (if one’s doing it right) quickly follows, but independence is vitally important to truly savor without distraction the freeing distance “the hour” provides as a day’s worth of worries, stressors and reminders evaporates.

And, fourth, cocktail hour is like a chameleon – adapting to one’s mood and environment. A cocktail hour in Saint-Tropez on holiday will look vastly different than one after work in Tokyo; a winter’s cocktail hour solo completely different than how you’ll cocktail hour with family in early summer.

What does my ideal cocktail hour look like at the moment? With Chicago’s foliage-hued autumn in full force and temperatures hovering around 50° F (10° C) – and my drinking partner on temporary hiatus pregnant with our second child – a full-body warming bourbon Manhattan enjoyed fireside from my Eames lounge chair sure does the trick. Cue the Coltrane.

What about yours?

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