Liquor Cabinets From the 1940s

Written by amie martin
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Liquor Cabinets From the 1940s
Gin and vermouth were staples in 1940s liquor cabinets for making a classic martini. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Retro decor is increasingly popular in the 21st century, and a vintage 1940s liquor cabinet is a sought-after element. The current version of the liquor cabinet is often an open or rolling home bar. Pitchers, stirrers, and glasses are proudly displayed while bottles of booze are hardly hidden. During the 1940s, however, these elements were not quite so out in the open.


Iconic images of the 1940s often include someone with a cocktail in hand. Cocktails, in general, and the cocktail party, specifically, were "all the rage" during this decade as people continued to celebrate the end of Prohibition (1920 to 1933) and escape the worries of World War II (1939 to 1945). The liquor cabinet was a carryover from Prohibition, designed to hide the possession of alcohol in the home.


Liquor cabinets were designed to blend in with other home furnishings in order to mask their purpose: to hold liquor. Though Prohibition officially ended in 1933, liquor cabinets were already a furniture staple. They were built-in to cabinetry, or tucked behind furnishings and closets. By the time the 1940s rolled around, many adults were already a product of Prohibition thinking, or perhaps inherited houses with liquor cabinets, and continued the tradition even while they started a new one: the cocktail party.


The term "cocktail" has regained life as all things retro have. It is specific to mixed drinks consisting of gin, whiskey, rum, vodka, brandy and vermouth -- a main ingredient of the martini that is a signature cocktail of the 1940s. Today, "cocktail" is used more generically and can include beer and wine; it is more a euphemism for alcohol in general but basically means a social get-together.


Although the origin of the 1940s liquor cabinet was based in subterfuge and secrecy, the midcentury modern spin to it is wide open. Stationary cabinets are still in play, but open carts (often on wheels) are desirable. Liquor carts, as opposed to the secret liquor cabinets of the 1940s, are out in the open, and move from room to room as needed. Moreover, the open shelving of a retro liquor cart can showcase every element of a cocktail (in broad terms) from glassware to adorned toothpicks for olives or fruit slices, to the design and artwork of the liquor (or beverage, in general) bottles themselves.

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