same since. Oh sure, Sex in the City may have brought back the Cosmopolitan, and Mad Men may have reintroduced us to the Martini and the Old Fashioned, but the
sophistication…the rituals…of cocktail life iarelong gone, except for us fortunate few.
For a swingin’ bachelor or hip chick in the rat pack days, no pad was complete without a bar, or at least a decent set-up and a couple of cut-glass decanters of your favorite spirits.
Those who had the lettuce and the elbow room to juice a full bar did so with the utmost hipness, from wild, hand-carved Tiki bars to crazy mirrored jobs hidden in a rotating wall, combined with the Hi-Fi, TV set, or even fireplace. Those kats who were livin’ lean, spreading out in a one-room studio flat or just scrapin’ for space took another route…enter the Portable Bar.
These little babies took on many enigmatic forms, from fake tabletop TV sets to large, floor-stand globes (see upcoming posts). But one of my favorites was one of the simplest…the mini bar in the shape of a car.
From what I’ve been able to glean over the last several years (including a many-year stretch on the fringes of the antiques and collectibles biz), these were popularized in the 1950’s, and had a decent run through the 70’s until the coolness ran out. (I blame the hippies, Nixon, and aggressive beer company advertising for the demise of home bar, by the way.)
Man, were these bar cars nice. I’ve had several over the years, and can tell you they all have a few neato things in common: They all contain shot glasses, they all have at least one decanter for booze, and they are all music boxes. When you pick up the bottle, the music plays…anything from ‘How Dry I Am’ to holiday tunes like ‘Sleigh Ride’ or ‘The Anniversary Waltz’.
Every one I’ve ever seen has been made of nicely detailed pressed metal, either painted steel or brushed aluminum or brass. The decanters are usually cut-glass (or a reasonable facsimile) and the inside is almost always covered in red velvet or something close to it.
Depending on the original cost, nice details like spoked wheels and rubber tires, convertible top, and working lights adorned the cars. And a little tag denoting the contents…usually Bourbon or Scotch…was included to hang from the neck of the bottle.
These little beauties were top-shelf items back in the day, and were built to be expensive-looking additions to a well-appointed home’s décor (although they were generally frowned upon in uptight society, and found themselves adorning swingin’ joints like you or I would have dug).
Of course by the time I was old enough to enjoy them (for the car part, as it would be a couple of decades later when I’d start to imbibe) they were generally known as something you’d find in Grandpa’s house, or on the coffee table in your odd-ball uncle’s apartment uptown, you know, the uncle older than you dad who never got married and had black velvet paintings of naked women over his bed…The uncle who paid more for a record player 10 years before you born than you paid for your first car. HE’s the guy who had the bar car sitting at a place of honor in his bachelor pad, and drank a cocktail nightly from it, J&B on the rocks, or Johnny Black, or Canadian Club & Ginger because he was the hippest cat in the neighborhood and that’s just what he did. Well now your uncle is pushing 70; he’s got a condo in Boca and all his old stuff is in storage somewhere in Philly. Give him a call. That bar car can be yours, along with his original Modern Jazz Quintet records and that 1965 Grundig.