It is, we believe, the famous historian, Froude, who, when asked what was the best thing he had discovered in California, answered, “the cocktail.” This seductive admixture of spirits, bitters, oil of lime and ice was invented and named in California. San Francisco was the first to have the cocktail, the first to name its line of popular saloons “the cocktail route,” and San Francisco has a lot to answer for. Out of a simple, fascinating drink we have made what may be termed without extravagance a national vice—the vice of drinking before, instead, or with meals; the pernicious habit of “walking the line” from saloon to saloon and with artificial sociability working up an artificial habit—by which term, we mean the drinking of mixed and unmixed spirits before meals—bids fair to demoralize the backbone and stomach of the country.
The cocktail route is a greater menace to San Francisco than to Chinatown. For it works its evil among the best classes in the community. Business men, professional men, gamblers and idlers are alike the victims of its spell. In a cafe or in a club men gather, and, incidentally drink. But the drinking is incidental, in a club or cafe the members and patrons are seated, they talk, they smoke or drink as little or as much as they desire —but they are not there for the sole purpose of drinking, and the “reciprocity” crime of everybody’s treating is not thought of. In a saloon, men flock only to drink. The waistcoat of the average man about town is prematurely shiny from rubbing against the bar rail. You have no business standing up against a bar unless you keep the barkeeper and the cash register busy. Drinks are handed out as any other merchandise; a bar will accommodate only a limited number of persons, and lounging at it is not encouraged. It is not barroom etiquette to lounge, any more than it is to order drinks without first depositing your money on the polished mahogany.
Barroom etiquette is a strong influence; so strong that none seems too poor to do it reverence. That is why when one of a party of six, stands for the drinks, the other five make it a point of honor to reciprocate on the spot. That is why men drink before dinner, drink hard spirits that leave them with little or no palate for the finer flavors of wine. That is why there is so much drunkenness. We do not refer to the occasional debauch, but to the regular afternoon jag of the genteel kind. Day in and day out it is the same old round of liquor along the cocktail route. Some men stand it and pickle to a rosy old age; others get to love drink for drink’s sake alone and flop by the wayside. We are not talking morality or temperance, but just plain common sense. The American, the San Franciscan especially, is the most foolish, inartistic drinker on earth. He does not know how to use the liquid delights of life. He is a hog. Here we are living in a country of wine; year by year our vintages have improved until already California can take her place among the famous wine producing places of the world—and how many Californians know the first thing about good wine? Too few. Too few. We drink whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky, and at the wrong time. And all on account of the cocktail route.—San Francisco News Letter, 1900
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia©️ Etiquette Encyclopedia