Cocktails, a word which means different things to different people.
There are the exotic concoctions you get whilst on holiday in faraway places, although most of them seem to have originated from the West Coast of the USA and Mexico, such as the Mai-Tai from San Francisco, and the Tequilla Sunrise, Sausalito and Margarita from Tijuana.
There are the new wave, which seem to be expanding at a daily rate in the bars around the country and appear, to my untrained eye at least, to be the twenty-first century’s answer to alcopops, being sweet, sugary, fruit-based drinks with alcohol added, meant to appeal to young people whose palates have not yet developed sufficiently to appreciate the subtleties of drier libations. They also need pose value and Instagram appeal, so are usually decorated with stuff such as marshmallows, sparklers and umbrellas, not to mention the whole of one’s five-a-day ration of fruit in one glass.
Fortunately, the High Society Cocktail Event at Dakota DeLuxe Hotel in Leeds did not fall into either of these categories as it was aimed at grown-ups in the City.
For the information of younger readers, High Society is the name of a musical film from 1956 starring Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Celeste Holm and Louis Armstrong, and has one of the best soundtracks ever, including ‘Well, Did You Ever?’ which is a duet between Messrs. Crosby and Sinatra, sung whilst they are overindulging in Champagne at a stag do. I think that it is a masterpiece. It also set the tone perfectly for the Dakota event, where all of the drinks had been prepared by the barmen serving them and were based on actors and actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
There were also canapés prepared especially to compliment the drinks. I had donned my suit and tie to add a little gravitas to the proceedings and, on entering the sumptuous cocktail bar, I felt a million dollars. I am sure that Francis Albert Sinatra’s suit was a Brooks Brothers’ job rather than the M&S version I was sporting, but, hey, movies are based on the art of delusion.
My first port of call was at the table dedicated to Fred Astaire, with the cocktail being named Box Office Poison, as at one stage in his career the studios said his ‘box office draw is nil.’ This didn’t stop him making a good living at it for 75 years! His speciality was singing and dancing, so the drink is described as being ‘rich and rewarding with a little kick.’ The ingredients are Remy Martin Cognac, Fig Liqueur, Angostura Orange Bitters and Spiced Orange Ginger Ale. I am so glad that the final element was included as a tribute to Fred’s most famous dancing partner, Ginger Rogers, who once said that ‘I have to do everything he does, but I have to do it backwards and in high-heels.’ The taste was just the right balance of sweet and sour, being perfect with the Tuna Tartare on Squid Ink Crisps – divine. I could have quite happily stayed at this table all night but I had a job to do.
I had decided not to visit the tables in geographical order, choosing instead to start with the dry drinks and work my way to the sweeter combinations of ingredient and nibbles. This meant that the next one I had was the Aviator Frequency, dedicated to Hedy Lamarr. Ms Lamarr was born in Austria, but made her name in Hollywood and, had it not been for her, I might well have been submitting this review to my copy editor by Royal Mail instead of the internet as, in addition to being a film star, she was also an inventor. She was extremely good looking and so was given the sultry female lead parts. One of her best quotes was ‘Any girl can look glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.’
Stupid she certainly wasn’t as, during the Second World War, she developed a system for jamming signals to radio-controlled torpedoes, throwing them off course. This led to her invention of a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed and many years later became the basis for wifi. The cocktail is described as ‘an enjoyable libation sure to go down in history as something that you just can’t live without’. It is made with Aviator Gin, Chateau du Breuil Calvados, Billecart Salmon Brut NV, St Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Apple Juice and Lemon Juice. It was topped with an edible flower and sprig of parsley – what did I say about instagram moments? This sounds as though it should have been sweeter than it was but the orange juice was just for background flavour rather than bulk. I found it very refreshing and a great accompaniment for the small Cornish pasty-like Pulled Pork Canapés complete with dipping Sauce. It was then I reevaluated my wish to spend the rest of the night with Fred Astaire. I admit that I didn’t limit myself to one canapé.
When I had done my initial circuit of the room, I noticed a glaring omission in that there was no tribute to Old Blue Eyes himself, Mr Francis Albert Sinatra. I mentioned this to the Hedy Lamarr mixologist who said that there was one but they were only showcasing a small selection of the new range. I thanked him very much and finished chomping my pulled pork creation and chatting with some new-found friends.
Lo and behold, about five minutes later he appeared with a Chairman of the Board cocktail made especially for me. This one was the star of the show, as surely it must have been. I didn’t catch all of the ingredients but the base was Smoked Jack Daniels to indicate his fondness for cigarettes. It was as smoky and sultry as the photograph of Hedy Lamarr and kept me company for quite some time. As it was not on the main cast list there were no accompanying eats, not that I am complaining in the slightest. It meant that I could wallow in its dryness, if you can wallow in dryness, and appreciate the way it seemed to take its time sliding down my throat. It was reminiscent of my setting fire to Dunhill Internationals all those years ago.
On to the sweeter stuff and a nod to the only Brit on the list, Sir Michael Caine. It was named Apples and Pears, being Cockney rhyming slang for stairs and so ‘uplifting’. Pear Infused Hendrick’s Gin, Madeira Dry Sherry (sic), Apple Juice, Lemon Juice and Sugar Syrup were the runners and riders in this race. Although it was sweeter than the others it was not sickly and again, refreshing. The Apple and Blackberry Macarons provided took care of that aspect. They were just a tad sugary for me, an experience enhanced by their size – they were enormous and the beautiful soft filling oozed out when bitten. I must have my teeth sharpened.
The final cocktail was Monrose named after Marilyn Monroe and the practice of one of her husbands, the baseball player ‘Joltin’’ Joe DiMaggio, ordering that six red roses be placed on her grave three times a week for twenty years. The drink was described as ’this light, sweet, sparkling homage to one of Hollywood’s most iconic women.’ The voluptuously shaped glass contained a mix of Ketel One Vodka, Belsazar Rose Vermouth, Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade, Rose Champagne Syrup – made in-house – and Citric Acid Water. This was a real sweetie, as were the chocolates served with it. I am not normally a lover of milk chocolate but the filling had a liquid consistency and was delicious. The drink was not really to my taste, but how could I complain after such a wonderful evening of conversation, canapés and proper, sophisticated cocktails with not an umbrella in sight? All I could think of was the line from my previously mentioned favourite High Society song, ‘What a swell party this is’.
As my quest in life is to educate as well as inform and attempt to entertain, I thought that I would pass on the origin of the word cocktail. It was first used to describe horses which, because they were not thoroughbred, would have their tails docked and were given the name cocktailed horses. This would seem to work, as a mixed drink is not a purebred one.
There is another explanation, again pertaining to horses. People would often have an early morning snifter to perk them up, which was called a cocktail after the practice of unscrupulous horse salesmen in putting a piece of ginger in the backside of a particularly sluggish horse when they wanted to get it frisky come sale day. This would cause it to cock its tail. Fortunately the Dakota DeLuxe Hotel is a very select establishment and so we were allowed to consume our drinks in the normal fashion.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.