Barroom Bookshelf #1:
Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts
The very first “vintage” cocktail book, and the volume responsible for sparking my interest in old cocktails, bar book and barware, was a 1954 edition of Esquire’s “Handbook for Hosts”. Costing less than £3, this is a book that I have returned to again and again; it has even done a bit of travel with me.
The book covers all manner of subjects that were viewed as essential knowledge for the sophisticated man of the 1950’s: there are a few pages on a host’s dress and behaviour, a very comprehensive section on culinary delights, a lovely section on drinks and a selection of little tidbits at the end.
The fascinating drinks chapter begins with essential bar equipment and then moves on to building up your cocktail “cellar”. This means that you don’t have to splash out on a myriad of bottles when you start and so hopefully won’t be left with a bottle of Parfait Amour that has been hardly touched. It was a sign of the times that Cellar #1 consists solely of dry gin and French (dry) vermouth.
The selection of cocktails is wide, but shies away from being excessive. What is particularly neat is that the more popular cocktails – Martini, Manhattan, Daquiri and Julep – are each given extra attention with an overview of their origins and variations.
The tips on how to be an excellent host are so numerous and amusing, as well as being sound advice, that it is hard to do them justice in this simple review, but some of my favourites are the – rather tongue-in-cheek – ways of getting rid of guests who have outstayed their welcome. For example:
Husband: “Let’s be getting on home so these people can get some sleep.”
Wife: “Don’t be silly darling, we are at home.”
The last quarter of the book covers conversation, suitable games and after-dinner entertainments, and 365 excuses for a party. Also included is a quiz on “How attractive are you to women?” and, oddly, “How attractive are you to men?”, the latter of which seems to be the only two pages in the whole book aimed at women. It still leaves me perplexed, but is, nonetheless, included in both the vintage and contemporary editions.
The book is available as a contemporary reprint, but these versions, whilst good, have had some of the charm and character of the earlier edition edited out. Many also lack an index, which is a notable omission. As earlier versions of this work are available on places such as Amazon Marketplace for a reasonable price, I suggest plucking for one of those.
All in all, I have really enjoyed revisiting the book to write this review and I had truly forgotten how good it was.
Esquire’s Handbook For Hosts (1954)
Frederick Muller Ltd.
Score: 4 Stars – Highly Recommended