Saturday Night: It's deja vu all over again

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There was a time, not so long ago, when alcohol was still a sexy drug. And the sexy way to serve it up was in a cocktail. You know: long glass, lots of ice, fruit juice, Gibraltan gin, plastic monkey, two straws and a paper parasol. Dead sexy.

Remember those glory days of the early Eighties? In that false Thatcherite dawn, a generation came of age and dared to live out its adolescent fantasies. Derived from Bowie and Roxy album covers, these involved swanning around in suits while giving it 'David Bowie giving it Fred Astaire to a James Brown soundtrack'. We were toying with notions of masculinity and cultural identity or, at least, that was our excuse. And we were thirsty.

It all started with the emergence of club culture, which we mistook for a drug-fuelled social revolution. (Of course, that did not happen for another five or six years.) We thought our lifestyle would become the dominant social influence, and we habitues would be the cultural arbiters of our time. This is what happens when you live in the future. You think yourself master of your own destiny, and wake up sipping icy alcoholic slush, listening to Spandau Ballet.

So there we were, on the brink of a new social order, with starlet designers to drape us in pricey gladrags. The nascent style press mirrored our conceit, selling a fantasy vision which came down, ultimately, to the childish graffito: 'We are Trendy. True'. We were night-clubbing, bright white clubbing, and we wanted big flashy drinks to match our aspirations.

The cocktail craze launched a thousand neon signs, and that was just in Bethnal Green. Chrome rails, leatherette barstools and Venetian blinds multiplied before our very eyes. Bars became black and shiny, their overhead spotlights irradiating martini glasses brimming with blue curacao. The Human League had a No 1 hit with a song that began: 'You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar / When I met you'.

The economic miracle was under way. We were drinking for Britain, and getting drunk had never seemed so effortless, so refreshing, so fruity, so cool. Cocktails made drunkenness seem positively healthy. The buzz was light and giggly. And we were too young to get hangovers. Remember that?

The last real job I ever had was as a cocktail barman. I bluffed my way into a King's Road bar and learnt to mix from a guy called Mike. A keen student, I soared to the top of my trade: I became a head barman. I was a high priest of pina coladas, a wizard of whiskey sours, a master of mixology, the Man with the Boston Shaker. At the flick of my Hamilton blender, fruit and ice were crushed in an ecstatic squeal.

Then, one day, the shaking stopped. American beers arrived. Schlitz and Bud and Rolling Rock. Premium lagers were more butch, more aggressive, more Wall Street. They suited the bullish mood of the times. Better still were the esoteric Mexican beers, with their tang of cacti and coke. Then the Japanese invented something called 'dry' beer, and proved beyond doubt that people will buy anything when they are pissed.

By this time I had long since hung up my jiggler. But the recent revival of punk fashions made me wonder if it might still come in useful. So I phoned some journalist friends and told them I was writing about cocktails. Huh, they sneered. Huh.

'What do you remember about them?' I pressed. And then, suddenly, they started running at the mouth. 'I loved the Beachcomber Bar in the Hilton, with the fake thunderstorm and the parrot and the crocodiles,' said Dylan. 'And the Zanzibar was brilliant, though you could never get into the toilets, of course.'

Simon was just as excitable. 'It all started at the Embassy, and Limahl from Kajagoogoo was a bus boy there. You had to buy your clothes at Ebony in South Molton Street. Neville from the Specials used to model for them.' The ice bucket may be empty, but the memory of a million frozen margaritas lingers on. They were tacky and trashy but, like glam rock and platforms, we just can't help loving them.

Now the bad news. They are on the way back. Along with Flock of Seagulls haircuts, powder-blue suits, white socks and shoulder pads. As you read this, a generation is pondering ways to distance itself from its elders (you and me). Any day now it will stumble across that oh-so-embarrassing cocktail craze, and find illumination in the neon's sardonic glow. I have seen the future, and it simply goes round and round and round, for ever. Welcome back to happy hour. Mai-Tai, anyone?

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