Collecting vintage barware is on the rise among home mixologists looking to combine style and functionality. Joe Keeper of Bar Keeper, a cocktail store in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood, says his clients particularly love pieces with a sense of history; his vintage stock always sells first. The important thing, he says, is to not be afraid to use your collection. “Use it for what it’s intended, don’t treat it like a museum piece.”
From Prohibition-era shakers to decorative decanters, here are five must-have items to buy now.
1. Shaker. Prohibition-era shakers were designed to look like coffee pots to hide the hooch inside, and if you want a vintage shaker you can use a lot, choose a glass version—a simple cylinder with a metal lid, suggests Keeper. While the alternative, a metal shaker, is beautiful, it tends to chip because cold cocktails make the metal retract so it’s best to reserve these for special occasions (especially since some go for as much as $2,000). The Hour Shop in Alexandria, Virginia, sells a glass shaker with colored stripes and an aluminum top for $145. The shop’s metal version, a chrome shaker with a wooden handle, costs $150.
2. Small-volume cocktail glasses. It used to be that cocktail glasses were 4.5–5.5 ounces, made to follow the “Rule of Three”—three ingredients, three ounces, drunk in three sips while the drink was still cold. These are the glasses to get your hands on. To secure a good set, lightly run a finger around the rims of the glass to check for chips and damage. Another tip is to buy sets with extra glasses so you have replacements in case any break. Pick up a set of six silver-lipped sour glasses from the 1940s for $50 at Bar Keeper.
3. Jigger. To measure ingredients for your cocktails, a jigger is a must-have. Vintage versions are a great buy. The price point is generally low, and they survive a lot of use because they’re made of stainless steel. Vintage jiggers often have handles, either made of wood or stainless steel, which make them look like small mallets. Some have multiple uses, acting as a jigger, ice mallet and bottle opener. The most practical are the ones with multiple measurements. Prices run the gamut from $.50–$40. Check out the 1960s chrome bottle opener, ice breaker and corkscrew combination jigger for $25 at Vintage Swank in Fort Royal, Virginia (www.vintageswank.com).
4. Stirring spoon. Functional and elegant, a good stirring spoon is a necessity for mixing cocktails. Stirring is the most efficient way to mix drinks, says Keeper. Many vintage spoons have decorative handles, and some are multipurpose, with a jigger or bottle opener on the opposite end. The Napier bar spoon and jigger from the 1930s is available for $25 at Bar Keeper (http://www.barkeepersilverlake.com).
5. Decanter. A vintage decanter is a must-have for presentation purposes. “Everything looks great in a vintage decanter and tastes better, too,” says Keeper. Decant your modifiers (like orange juice) for a decorative touch. One note: Many vintage decanters are made of lead crystal, but this isn’t considered a health risk if the decanter is used for pouring and not storing and is washed well between uses. Keep the vintage spirit decanters—those with lids—for decoration. For a bargain, opt for the pressed-glass liquor decanter from the 1960s for $40, which is available at Thoroughly Modern Marilyn (http://www.etsy.com/shop/ModernMarilyn). For a more luxurious option, choose the Edinburgh crystal decanter from the 1960s for $495 from The Hour Shop (http://www.thehourshop.com).
Here are two vintage-inspired items made and available now to consider for your collection:
Fusion Deco Champagne Coupe Glasses:
This set reflects the art deco style of the 1920s, and is great for serving more than sparkling wine—martinis, sorbets and puddings work well too.
Ambassador Whiskey Decanter
Made with thick, mouth-blown European glass is ideal for carrying on the rich tradition of Whiskey drinking.