As a meeting place for the young, upwardly-mobile, professional generation commonly known as yuppies, back in the 1980s, the cocktail bar was the “in” place to be.
The culture was one of affluence, both in the UK and in the United States, as the young, well-off clientele let their hair down while sampling the exotic alcoholic creations of the imaginative bartenders.
In the latter part of the 20th century, additional base spirits joined the traditional cocktail staples of brandy, gin and whisky – while a big part of the cocktail bar experience was marvelling at the bartender’s dexterity in mixing the drinks.
Released in 1988, the Tom Cruise film, Cocktail, was one of the most popular romantic comedies of the era. Cruise plays a New York business student, Brian Flanagan, who takes a casual job in a cocktail bar to boost his finances.
However, he soon begins to realise he has a flair for making cocktails, after being mentored by fellow bartender, Doug Coughlin (played by Bryan Brown). Their double act to Hippy Hippy Shake becomes immensely popular with customers and they are soon pulling in the crowds to watch their slick routine.
The duo’s raucous lifestyle (mostly involving members of the opposite sex) leads to arguments and ultimately tragedy, as the film takes them on a rollercoaster ride to Jamaica, before returning them to New York – with Doug reeling at the realisation his life is a sham.
Brian meets his love interest, Jordan (played by Elisabeth Shue) working at a diner and after initially getting together, he messes up their relationship in order to win a foolish bet with Doug. Can the cocktail king win back the love of his life, or has he left it too late?
The movie was based on a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1984, also called cocktail, by American screenwriter and director, Heywood.
The author admitted the lead character in the book, Brian, was loosely based on his own experiences as a New York bartender between 1969 and 1981, when he worked in bars to supplement his income as a writer.
Although many of the events in Cocktail are fictional, the character is described as a “composite” of Heywood himself and other characters he had met over the years. He said he had started writing the book when he was in his 30s and beginning to feel like he was missing the boat.
When Universal bought the film rights, Gould was asked to rewrite his novel so that Flanagan would be a more likeable character, as the novel had a much darker storyline. As a vehicle for Cruise, at 26 he was younger than the anti-hero in Gould’s novel.
The author later said he “fought Universal at every turn” because their idea of a suitable script went against just about everything he had experienced in real life. Universal wanted upbeat characters and a big Hollywood happy ending, so Gould made Flanagan more idealistic and hopeful in the movie than he was in the novel.
Box office hit
Despite the author’s misgivings about the script, Cocktail became one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, taking $171.5 million at the global box office. Despite the fans loving it – mainly due to heartthrob Cruise’s role – the critics were largely unimpressed.
It was described as “utterly brainless”, “empty” and “fabricated”, with an average rating of 3.9 out of 10 in reviews.
Gould, now 75, later said he was unhappy with the final product. He was accused of “betraying” his own work and was devastated that it was “savaged” by the critics. Cruise himself said, many years later, it wasn’t his career’s “crowning jewel.”
Despite their surge in popularity in the ’80s, cocktail bars remain popular today, and there are many more different cocktails on offer than there were 30 years ago! If you’ve been to a cocktail bar recently, we want to hear from you! Share your experiences through Psydro’s food and drink consumer reviews.
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