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Cocktails, and what shook 'em up.

However obscure its origins— and the cocktail's history has evaporated into an alcoholic fog—we know it started sometime in the era known as Prohibition. All that bathtub booze, unpotable if taken neat, needing something—anything—to blunt its lethal bite: creme, liqueurs, fruit juice. One, or more, of the preceding, mixed well with one, or more, kinds of hooch, and—voilda—we have the cocktail.

There was the Dry Martini, of course, but also the Chicago and the French Seventy-Five, the Monkey Gland and the Manhattan, the Brandy Smash, the Sidecar, and the Stinger. And this stunning array of potables inspired almost as many kinds of cocktail shakers.

Single-piece, spun-aluminum confections, shakers that swooped and flowed and plunged, bullet-shaped beauties with an Art Deco glow. There was the "streamline moderne" of designers Russel Wright and Norman Bel Geddes. There were glass-and-silver shakers and those of chromed steel, pewter, brass, and porcelain. There were shakers in the guises of penguins and roosters, of zeppelins and champagne bottles. There were shakers shaped like windmills, in each multicolored glass vane of which a particular spirit gyrated. When it came to cocktail shakers, everyone, it seemed, had one—or even two.

A young couple's first purchase (or honestly appreciated wedding gift) would likely be formal—something in silverplate, perhaps—while later additions could easily venture into novelty: perhaps a shaker like an elongated teapot with a Bakelite handle and a snub-nosed spout.

Playful shakers were pressed into the service of swank young men with brilliantined hair and tweezed mustaches—the rakes and swells. Society was awash in silver champagne buckets, beaked-nosed Soda Kings—for the magical transformation of water into seltzer—syphons, bar tools, Liberty glasses and jiggers, and shakers like cylindrical ice-cream cones, from which came, strained, Green Ladies (gin and Chartreuse) and Golden Dawns (apricot brandy and orange juice), Pink Squirrels (creme de noyaux, creme de cacao, and strawberry ice cream) and Flying Red Horses (vodka, orange juice, and Grand Marnier).

Different kinds of cocktails "demand different types of motion," according to one experienced bartender. "A cordial is shaken vigorously, because you're trying to wake the drink up," he explains. "A Bloody Mary ... well, you don't need to shake the life out of a Bloody. A couple of quick sharp ones will do it." A Dry Martini, for some reason, is always shaken in a clockwise motion; that is the inviolable rule. (What would a counterclockwise-shaken Dry Martini become? A Wet Vermouth?)

But sometimes, it's not how you do it— it's how much you do. "There used to be a cocktail called the Sazerac," says Ray Foley, publisher of Bartender magazine. "It was several parts whiskey to several parts anisette, and to blend it, you needed a five-man shaker." Though the gargantuan five-man version is practically extinct, Foley does have several two-man versions, each three and a half feet high and weighing about twenty pounds, graced with two long handles on the sides.

In the heyday of such shakers, he remembers, "You needed a lot of space behind the bar." Bearded and tousled, Foley is a genial bear of a man, and the possessor of one of the largest collections of cocktail shakers in the country. His two hundred-odd pieces include shakers in the forms of hourglasses and spyglasses.

He has a shaker made from artillery shell casings, shaped of wrought steel a quarter of an inch thick. There is a shaker in the form of an idol: a bust of an Aztec god in Mexican silver. There's a shaker from back before they had miniaturized batteries that's got a little spring-loaded motor in its top. Wind it up and a blad-ed stirrer begins to whir; it's a preelectric blender.

Foley has small shakers holding but a single cocktail for those who request just one more for the road. There are tiny shakers you can hide in your pocket or conceal in the hollow of your hand. There is a veritable lilliputian model that holds no more than a thimbleful of cocktail. Some shakers play tunes when lifted. There are more complex shakers with long glass tubes that hang down inside them for the ice. There's a simplistic model shaped like an old-fashioned school bell. The long wooden handle pops out, the cocktail ingredients are poured in, and the whole thing is mixed as you ring in the class from recess. Ding-dong!

You leave Foley's collection dazzled and dazed at the myriad shapes within which spirits have been persuaded to intermingle, and a thirst begins to build. Slowly, you empty the contents of an iced-over shaker into a stemmed glass. A Martini cold enough to etherize the entire proceeding reflects the afternoon light. You lift it to your lips and take a sip, and think, "Dry as a bone."

If not in love, you're assumed to be, at least, all shook up.


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