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How Vintage Cocktail Cabinets are Getting a Sustainable and Stylish Upgrade

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Cheers to Upcycling!

Alouette - Vintage Chinoiserie Cabinet by Lady Griddlebone

Hey cocktail lovers, it's time to raise a glass to upcycling!

Given the enduring appeal of cocktails, it's no wonder that upstyled, vintage cocktail cabinets are one of the biggest sellers for our Furniture Artists.

Who wouldn't want a stunning piece of furniture to showcase their ever-growing collection of gins and spirits?

Picture it now: a chilled martini glass, filled to the brim with some deliciously boozy, (or otherwise), concoction, garnished with an olive or two, and sitting pretty on your chic and eco-friendly cocktail cabinet.

Pure sophistication……

Sip Back And Relax

Cocktails, in some form or other, have been a mainstay of our social and drinking calendars for a very, very long time, and whilst “elegant” cocktails might have gone out of the window in the 70s and 80s, when mullet haircuts and huge shoulder pads came in, it wasn’t long before we were back on track.

Gone are the days when Babycham, sherry, gin, and whisky, (served at room temperature of course) were the standard offerings at most soirées.

And if you are of a certain age, you’ll remember those adverts with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins…. If not, google them… funny!

I can still remember my mother-in-law offering me a Cinzano and lemonade, (she pronounced it “sin-zar-no”), served, lukewarm, with no ice or lemon, but with the ubiquitous maraschino cherry, which I loathed!

Anyway, I digress slightly. We’re supposed to be talking about the history of the cocktail cabinet, so let’s get to it.

It’s fair to say there has been a huge boom in the variety of cocktails served in pubs, clubs, and restaurants over the last couple of decades.

That has, in turn, encouraged many of us to take up the art of mixology at home, and so the volume of gins, vodka, liqueurs and other bottles, we have at home has got completely out of hand and the shelves are groaning under the weight of it all. (Or is that just me)?

But where did the concept of the cocktail cabinet come from?

Well, let's just say that the history of the cocktail cabinet is just as interesting as the drinks it houses. As cocktails gained popularity, so did the need for an elegant and practical way to store all the necessary ingredients.

From China to Europe: A Spirited Journey

Alcoholic Spirits have been around for quite a few years. In fact, the earliest known examples of fermented grapes can be traced back to China and 7000 BC, but our ancestors were probably getting tipsy way before then.

Anyhow, fast forward a few hundred years and we know that Egyptians were making beer, Europeans were making wine, and these were often given to workers as part of their daily rations.

As alcoholic consumption grew, so did its uses, and monetary value in terms of trade.

Alcohol was often used as a preservative, an antiseptic, and as medicine, but given these alcoholic beverages were not the most refined, it’s not a huge leap to assume they probably did more harm than good.

Regardless, Alcohol was now an asset and needed to be protected.

Flora & Fauna Vintage Cocktail Cabinet by Saved From Disgrace

Cabinets At War

In the early 15th Century, we see the first purpose-built Drinks cabinet, called a “Cellarette”. It was designed specifically to secure alcohol from thieves, having a locking system.

They were relatively plain to deter further investigation and were used in wealthy homes, religious houses, pubs, and taverns, and perhaps surprisingly, given their portability, they were used by officers during the various wars, most notably the American Civil War of the 19th Century.

From there, we progressed to “Bar Cabinets”. These cabinets were larger, more elegant, and less portable, but again, came with a lock and key system, and ironically, many were designed to conceal illegal alcohol during Prohibition.

Vintage Drinks Cabinet by Made by Murphy

Cocktail Cabinet Craze

Prohibition lasted from 1919 to 1933 before it was repealed and Americans were able to, legally, enjoy alcohol once again. And that newfound freedom saw the birth of many famous cocktail cabinet makers.

These artists used refined cabinet-making skills, beautiful woods, inlays, and veneers to produce the most elegant pieces of furniture that were as eye-catching as they were practical. Suddenly cocktail cabinets, and cocktails, were all the rage.

Art Deco, as an artistic movement, really took off during the same years as prohibition and was still going strong in 1933 when cocktail cabinet makers were flourishing.

So, it’s easy to see why so many of the earlier cocktail cabinet models were designed with the clean lines and iconic designs of Art Deco.

And those designs have been imaginatively reinterpreted and redesigned by some extraordinarily talented furniture artists.

Beautility Cocktail Cabinet/Sideboard by Gracie's Attic

The Renaissance

There has been a huge revival in the popularity of cocktail cabinets, and not just for practical reasons, as somewhere to store our ever-increasing collection of Gins.

Ah, the vintage refinished cocktail cabinet. A true stunner and a piece of furniture that’s simply begging to be the focal point of your living space.

Our members have come through with some wonderful examples, each one as unique and striking as the last.

From the iconic Nathan to the stylish Epstein and the classic Stag, they've got all the big names covered.

And as for design, well, the sky's the limit. Whether you're looking for Art Deco, flora and fauna, or something inspired by the natural world, our talented artists can make it happen.

Decoupage? Absolutely.

The possibilities are endless.

Now, let me introduce you to just a few of our esteemed furniture artists who are currently offering up their finest cocktail cabinets for sale, or are available to chat with you about a custom commission.

And if you're looking to connect with one of our talented furniture artists to commission your own custom cocktail cabinet, we've got you.

Throughout this article, you'll find examples of the following artist's work and links to connect with them directly. So go ahead and explore the world of vintage cocktail cabinets and find the perfect one for you.

Our thanks to:

Nina Cockton @Lady Griddlebone

Shona Murphy @Made by Murphy (image courtesy of Judy Whalen)

Georgina Green @Gracie's Attic

Caroline Cullingham @Godfrey's Ear

Katherine Smith @ Eclectic Art Studio

Emma Beaumont @Beautique Interiors

Nathan Mid-Century Drinks Cabinet by Liz Clarkson Interiors

Cocktail Trivia

Because more is more….. here are some other snippets of trivia that may tickle your fancy.

Cocktail Cabinet by Beautique Interiors

What Is A Cocktail?

Put simply, originally it was a mix of alcoholic spirits with other ingredients, often bitter (in the form of orange peel, a slice of lemon/lime etc,) and something sweet like honey, sugar, or liqueur. These days it’s a case of “anything goes”, and thankfully, there are as many “mocktail” options as there are alcoholic ones.

Vintage Home Bar by Classic Lines Designs

Who Invented The Cocktail?

Many people think that cocktails were an American invention, but in fact, they were heavily influenced by the cups and punches of “Ye Olde England”, dating back to the 1700s, and were probably originally given as a medicinal drink.

Even today we’ll have a hot toddy for a cold, or a brandy and warm milk to help us sleep.

Klimt-inspired Home Bar by Eclectic Art Studio

Who Made The First Cocktail?

It's very difficult to pinpoint accurately who made the first cocktail, when it was made, where it was made, and what it was made of.

The most popular theory is the first recognisable cocktail was a “Sazerac” (a blend of whisky, absinthe, bitters, and sugar). It was created in New Orleans in the mid-1800s and remains a favourite to this day.

However, as with many legends, the true origin is probably lost in time.

Steampunk-inspired cocktail Cabinet by The Crafty Colletts

How Did the Cocktail Get Its Name?

Again, there are many theories. My personal favourite is perhaps the most “boring”.

It involves the age-old practice of bartenders mixing the dregs, known as tailings, of almost empty barrels, with other tailings.

These were sold on at a cut price. If you then add the fact that the spigot, or the tap, was known as the cock, you can see where the word “cocktail” might come from.

There are other theories. One is that it is a mispronunciation of the French word, “coquetier”, and involves an apothecary from New Orleans serving Brandy and bitters in egg cups in the late 18th century.

And then there is the “thoroughbred horse” theory involving docked horse tails, which were also known as cocked tails.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, we can all agree that the popularity of the cocktail shows no sign of abating, and as such there will always be a need for a beautifully restyled cocktail cabinet.

Home Bar/Cabinet by Godfrey's Ear

And Finally ..........

My all-time favourite cocktail is called a “Sublime Moment”. It’s a transmogrification cocktail.

(Basically, it tastes of chocolate but there is no chocolate in it).

· 25ml Pink Grapefruit juice

· 15ml vanilla sugar syrup

· 50ml Gin

Add to a cocktail shaker with ice and shaky, shaky, shaky for 12 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and enjoy.

Cheers and you’re welcome!

Vintage Cocktail Cabinet/Sideboard by Blackbird Designs

Art Deco Cocktail Cabinet by Little Gecko Interiors

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