Alec Waugh and the Cocktail Party

The website Vinepair, which is devoted to wine, beer and spirits, has posted an article by Emily Bell about how Alec Waugh invented the cocktail party. As he explained in an article in Esquire, he set out to find something to do between 5:30 and 7:30. In his first attempt, he sent invitations for drinks in those hours, which in England are usually devoted to tea, something Alec deemed not worth the effort. Only one person showed up. So he tried a different approach:

“I returned to the attack in the Autumn of 1925,” he writes. Except here, as he notes, he proceeded “with caution.” Caution being lies. “I asked some thirty people to tea at five o’clock.” As expected, “they came to find the conventional appurtenances of a tea…Then, at a quarter to six, I produced my surprise—a beaker of Daiquiris.”

Here’s where an American—an Embassy worker—stepped in to genesis [sic] of the cocktail hour; a friend of Waugh’s, he actually mixed the Daiquiris, which tasted more of “sherbet,” leading guests to drink and ask for more. Except, whoops, “very soon it became apparent that the drink was singularly strong.” The cocktail hour, or rather surprise-teatime-Daiquiri-blitz, was a success… “’You served cocktails after tea?…What was the point of that?’” Inquiry preceded imitation and the cocktail party was born. A book tour later, Waugh returned home to a nation wherein cocktails had replaced tea after the five o’clock hour.

Alec goes on to describe how his brother later reacted to his claimed invention:

“Some years ago I remarked to my brother Evelyn that I believed I had invented the cocktail party,” Alec writes. “His eyes widened and whitened in the way they did. ‘I should be careful about making that boast in print’…He may well be right,” writes [Alec]. “But I have, I trust, reason for maintaining that in the literary bohemian circle I did frequent in London, I gave the first cocktail party.”

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