Pre-Prohibition, drinking establishments were predominantly occupied by men. While bars or taverns have historically served as vital social hubs, contributing to events like the American and French Revolutions, it's crucial to acknowledge that until relatively recently, women were not included in the dynamics of this traditionally male domain.
With the advent of Prohibition, however, bar owners found themselves grappling with the illegality of their once-legitimate businesses. Faced with a major financial dilemma, they were compelled to either embark on entirely different career paths, uproot their origins and relocate, establish their enterprises abroad (an equally challenging endeavour), or resort to operating on the sly.
This unique period saw bars evolving into dynamic spaces where young men and women could come together, converse, and indulge in the novelty of communal drinking. As women began to gather and engage within such environments, their participation in broader societal affairs gained momentum. This social phenomenon gained traction during Prohibition, bolstered by the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.
But what seemed like a wave of change, turned out to be a mere ripple. By the 1960s, certain aspects of bar culture had reverted to a semblance of its pre-Prohibition state. Establishments were often dimly lit and disreputable, regressing into the male-dominated, unsavoury hubs. Once again, women found themselves marginalised in these spaces.
And then came along San Francisco resident Norman Jay Hobday. His 1960s establishment, Henry Africa’s, is frequently cited as a pioneer in the concept of “fern bars” globally—a category of cosy bars adorned with hanging plants and imitation Tiffany lamps, exuding a warm and inviting ambience.
Facing financial constraints, Hobday lacked the funds for a comprehensive remodelling of the bar before its opening. However, the incorporation of plants and other aesthetic enhancements contributed to a more hospitable ambience. These bars were purposefully designed to be comfortable and inviting, catering to both women and men. In contrast to their gritty predecessors, these establishments prioritised safety, inclusivity, and most importantly, cleanliness.
These bars specialised in beverages that deviated from the preferences of their forerunners. The robust flavours of whiskey took a back seat, making way for the lighter and more enjoyable tastes of vodka and Puerto Rican rum.
The result of such a practice was the Lemon Drop. The name itself bears an obvious association with the iconic hard candy. While the roots of the 18th-century candy likely lie in medicinal uses for soothing sore throats, the Lemon Drop cocktail pays homage to the 20th-century incarnation of this hard-candy treat.
Following the model set by the original T.G.I.Friday’s in New York, Henry Africa’s became the benchmark for the emerging wave of “nouveau” bars, if you will. These establishments were strategically marketed to appeal to women and single young men, emphasising a focus on enjoyment and entertainment. This shift revitalised the popularity of bars, and in numerous ways, it was venues like Henry Africa’s and cocktails like the Lemon Drop that played a pivotal role in their resurgence. They symbolised an inclusivity that had been absent from bar culture since the war years.
Coat the rim of a cocktail glass with sugar and set aside.
Add the vodka, triple sec, lemon juice and simple syrup to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into the prepared glass.