The cocktail hour Home: A new generation gets into the martini mood, with all the appropriate appurtenances.

December 15, 1996|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF WRITER

In the film classic "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Audrey Hepburn threw a great party. There were martinis. Cigarettes. Snazzy mood music. Smoking jackets.

Last month, 25-year-old Dominic Vecchiollo, who wasn't born when the 1961 movie was made, threw a great party, too. There were martinis. Cigarettes. Snazzy mood music. Maybe a vintage smoking jacket or two.

In the midst of near-beers and microbrews, the cocktail culture is making a comeback. After all these years, the 1940s and '50s have taken on an allure for people who grew up long after they ended.

"There's an aura of something high class about those parties. We have these images of James Bond sipping his martini, the whole shaken-not-stirred thing," says Vecchiollo, a publications associate at Center Stage. "That's what everybody did back then. It looks fun."

As anyone who occasionally ventures into bars knows, in recent years, martinis have become wildly popular -- once again. Cigars, once eschewed as unhealthy, smelly and intrusive, are being passed out at dinner parties, written about in their own magazine and viewed as status symbols in some professional circles. And the demand for "lounge classics" -- CDs featuring cheesy swing numbers and "space-age" instrumentals -- has soared.

So perhaps it makes sense that what began in bars and cocktail lounges as a martini craze would make its way -- accompanied by finger foods and Vegas-style music -- into people's homes.

"It may be a knee-jerk reaction -- a sort of spitting in the face of political correctness. It's all those politically incorrect things -- cigars, liquor and so on. Or maybe baby boomers and the people younger than that are seeking, as the millennium approaches, a return to simpler times," says Brian Lawrence, art director for Baltimore's Style magazine, who is mulling over the idea of throwing a holiday cocktail party.

Perhaps so. The signs are everywhere.

Smoking jackets (for the guy who truly has everything else?) are being sold by Neiman Marcus, Alfred Dunhill and Sulka New York. Saks Fifth Avenue offers $198 smoking jackets for women. Sales of gourmet items such as caviar and certain premium liquors are up, according to manufacturers. Demand for mood music continues to grow: This Christmas, even the Wireless catalog includes a $24.95 boxed set of symphonic pieces called "Cocktail Classics."

Websites offer everything from instructions on how to make a "Vesper" (a martini named after a character in the 1967 James Bond movie spoof "Casino Royale") to a debate centering on whether drinks made with the trendy new flavored vodkas can even be called martinis. And a newly released movie, "Swingers," offers a glimpse into the cocktail culture in its portrayal of two overly cool guys who spend much of their time sipping sophisticated-looking drinks.

Perhaps the biggest tip-off that the cocktail culture is trickling into mainstream American consciousness is seen in home furnishing stores such as the Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma. They're offering everything from elegant glasses for martinis and things that stir and shake them to monogrammed napkins. "We've got the book [about martinis], the shakers, the olives. Everything but the vermouth," says Laura Jenney, manager of Crate & Barrel at Towson Town Center.

Stemware and fondue

Vecchiollo, whose party was inspired by the Audrey Hepburn film "Breakfast at Tiffany's," rented stemware from a catering company for the martinis, served fondue and played CDs with titles like "Bachelor Pad Royale."

The movie captured his imagination because the period it depicted seemed to be one of greater innocence, a time of carefree parties and less cynicism, he says. Plus the clothes were great.

"They had such reckless abandon, not really having a care in the world," he says. "There's sort of an innocence around the music and the period. The fashions have clean lines and it's really highly stylized. It evokes such an elegant image. It happened before the Vietnam War, before social consciousness. It seems like the last time people really had a good time."

And he adds, "There is an element of dress-up to all this."

Indeed, at a time when corporations are sponsoring casual dress days and when a party outfit is often jeans and an oversized sweater, an excuse to dress up a little is just part of the fun.

These young professionals also say they've watched hours of Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite with its reruns of "I Love Lucy" and the "Dick van Dyke Show" -- programs in which cocktails and cigarettes made many appearances.

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