The "cocktail hour" was an hour or two of refined, civilized relaxation after work and before dinner when adults had an alcoholic drink—a cocktail—and chatted with friends. The ritual is usually associated with the Jazz Age and Prohibition (1920–33; see entry under 1920s—The Way We Lived in volume 2), and with the post–World War II (1939–45) era. The beginnings of cocktail hour are obscure, but cocktail historian Stephen Visakay says that since New York hotels were already serving tea at 5 o'clock in the early twentieth century, "it was a short leap to the 5 o'clock cocktail hour."
Cocktail hour was symbolized by urbane, sophisticated people sipping a martini and enjoying hors d'oeuvres at a club, and was associated with the Hollywood elite such as Cary Grant (1904–1986; see entry under 1930s—Film and Theater in volume 2) and Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993). By the 1950s, it had become a common suburban ritual. Cocktail hour—and cocktail culture—made a brief comeback in the mid-1990s, celebrated in films such as Swingers (1996) and in the music of bands like Combustible Edison.
For More Information
"History of Cocktails." Cocktail Times.http://www.cocktailtimes.com/hist_cocktails (accessed January 28, 2002).
Lanza, Joseph. The Cocktail: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche. New York: Picador, 1997.
Rothenberg, Randall. "The Swank Life." Esquire (April 1997): pp. 70–79. Visakay, Stephen.
Vintage Bar Ware. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1997.