Shopping: How to spend a happy hour - Business - News - The Independent

Shopping: How to spend a happy hour

I Want To Own A... Playboy's Bar Kit

Drinking is a bit like sex. Having sampled your way round the entire bar and made sure that you have experienced the most exotic flavours around, you usually narrow down your choice to a couple of reassuringly predictable and satisfying tipples that you can get at home every night without too much effort.

But it doesn't have to be this way. In the Sixties, when everyone was swinging, behind rayon curtains across the land people were concocting martinis and gin slings at their cocktail bars (remember Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate? That could have been your dad).

I was introduced to this alternative way of life when I picked up a white elephant of a cocktail bar at a jumble sale a decade ago. In truth, though, it never really fitted in anywhere. It was never quite kitsch enough to be cool, weighed a ton, and required half an acre to unfurl its hinged Formica flap top into a glorious semicircle. Its stitched- padding fascia, meanwhile, was tar-stained and fag burnt and its golden braiding had long since become sharp as razor-wire.

Yet at least the thing wasn't as naff as some of its peers, several of which were designed to emulate the prows of classic ocean liners. And, at four quid, it remains my personal undisputed jumble-sale bargain of the century - a welcoming host to pink plastic, coconut-tree swizzle- sticks and plywood tooth picks, a chrome cocktail shaker, stainless steel strainers, and spirits. An awful lot of spirits.

The beloved cocktail bar survived tower-block-rocking parties in Tower Hamlets, when the only other item of front-room furniture - a coffee table - was hurled 15 storeys to its sorry destruction. It was the centre- piece of a riotous cocktail party held in a rented West Hampstead house, and illuminated a kitchen in Clapton before, finally, the elegant curved glass in its upper deck was shattered in Stoke Newington by my offspring.

Although the memory of its mellow golden glow has started to wane, the taste of a Slow Comfortable Screw is harder to exorcise. So if, like me, on occasion you hanker after the life of F Scott Fitzgerald and would like to get a Crazy Horse down your neck (for the uninitiated: 20ml Scotch, 10ml strawberry liqueur, 10ml creme de banane, shaken and strained into a champagne flute, topped up with 60ml of Bolly and garnished with orange and mint), then you will need to invest in the following accessories (cocktail bar optional):

BLENDER/JUICE EXTRACTOR

As discussed in a healthier column on juicing earlier this month, nothing approaches the combined style and versatility of Waring's Professional Blender (pounds 149.95) and Extractor (pounds 239, 0181-232 8171 for stockists), although for kitsch bar-top credibility, Hamilton Beach's bulbous chrome dome Drinks Master (pounds 59.95, Liberty, 0171-734 1234) takes the silver medal.

BEER BOTTLE OPENER

Name: Alessi Diabolix

Price: pounds 7.95

Stockist: 01920 444272

Description: The Diabolix has a smooth, curved plastic hand-grip topped with impish devil's horns. Designed by Biagio Cisotti in 1994, the opener comes in a handful of colours, but the most appropriate is bright red.

Style: HHHH

Anything else worth considering? If you always spend half-an-hour stumbling around the kitchen looking for something to crack open a beer, then you'll be requiring Culinaire's Crab (pounds 2.95, 0181-868 43555), a bright orange crustacean with a fridge magnet welded to its underbelly.

ICE BOX

Name: The Planet Earth acrylic cube

Price: pounds 99

Stockist: John Lewis (0171-629 7711 for nearest store)

Description: For novelty value - and let's face it, the cocktail-making arena is one of the few places where you can go kitsch crazy and still be regarded as having reasonable taste - this clear cube, hollowed out to resemble a mould of our planet, is the epitome of cool

Style: HHH

Anything else worth considering? Alessi, which is always on hand with a few funky accessories, does a reasonable stainless-steel egg complete with reindeer horns (pounds 45). The plastic top-hat ice buckets that you can get, though, are way beyond ironic.

ICE-CRUSHER

Name: BarWare Ice-Crusher

Price: pounds 45

Stockist: House of Fraser (0171-963 2236 for enquiries)

Description: My, what sharp teeth you have, Grandma. This chrome-plated machine has got a big bite for one so small.

Style HHH

Anything else worth considering? If you've got a decent blender, then this is one accessory that you can probably live without.

SHAKER

Name: The Bullet by Metrokane

Price: pounds 29.75

Stockist: John Lewis (0171-629 7711 for nearest store)

Description: An Art-Deco-inspired, bullet cartridge shaker with a 28oz capacity and an internal strainer, perfect for making those James Bond Martinis.

Style: HHHH

Anything else worth considering? Several manufacturers make the more traditional three-piece, stainless-steel shakers, or you can go for the more simplistic "Boston" shaker, which doesn't include a strainer.

SODA SYPHON

Name: Isi Soda Siphon

Price: pounds 39

Stockist: John Lewis (0171-629 7711 for nearest store)

Description: Despite being a pretty redundant item of hardware, the soda syphon remains a must for every well-stocked bar, for its swanky sense of style, its potential as a lifesaver in emergencies involving smouldering cocktail dresses and for all-round high jinks. They often come in gaudy golds and ruby red casing, but Isi's soda syphon has a restrained black and chrome top and a tasteful mesh casing.

Style: HHHH

BAR ACCESSORIES

Name: Bar Atlantic eight-piece stainless steel bar set

Price: pounds 40

Stockist: Debenhams (0171-408 4444 for stockists)

Description: The tiny bucket may be more appropriate for holding cashew nuts than a wine bottle and ice (as optimistically illustrated on the box), but otherwise this set comprises the surgeon's tools of the budding barman: clip-on cocktail strainer, bottle-opener, stirrer, jigger, knife, ice-cube tongs and double-sided measures for 25ml and 50ml shots respectively.

Style: HHH

Anything else worth considering? Well, if money is no object you can quickly rack up a Third World debt on silver-plated bar furnishings, such as a 50ml, pounds 105 measure, from Selfridges (0171-629 1234)

FINISHING TOUCHES

To make sure you're more of shakermaker than Tom Cruise in the cocktail department, ensure that the following items are also readily to hand: chopping-board, citrus peeler, paring-knife, a grater, long-handled metal bar spoons, swizzle sticks, straws, cocktail sticks, a muddler (for crushing sugar and bruising mint leaves), suitable glasses (avoid ones etched with functional words such as "juice" and "martini"), a jug, Irish coffee spoons, and an ice cube tray. A decent selection of spirits and mixers (Angostura bitters and grenadine are essential) is also advisable, plus a little cheat book that can be discreetly tucked away. The notebook-sized How to Make Over 200 Cocktails (50p, Claremont Books) is perfect. Finally, don't forget the finishing touch without which no cocktail party guest can recognise their own ridiculousness - the paper umbrellas (pounds 1.69, Tesco, 0800 505555 for enquiries).

The writer is deputy editor of `ZM'

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