The cocktail is firmly back in vogue now, but it's been a long haul since the glory days of the 1960s. In the soporific 1970s, former party mavens mellowed out, got hooked on wheat grass juice, and spent their evenings reading Volkswagen repair manuals. In the 1980s, after a hard day of junk-bond speculating, urbanites shunned happy hour to gather at trendy gallery openings and slurp that nectar of trickledown savoir-faire, white zinfandel. Still others, alas, succumbed to the quest for purity and began to frequent water bars.
In the silicon-driven 1990s, the neon martini glass began to glow brightly again. After powering down their gumdrop-tinted iMacs at whatever.com, they hit the leopard-skin barstools at lounges filled with the sounds of Rat Pack retro. The newly acquired affluence of the cyberboom generation fueled a trend toward ultrapremium spirits, sending my stock in stuffed olives soaring.
The martini may be king of the cocktails, but it has a close rival in the gimlet, possibly named for the small, corkscrew-shaped tool that British sailors used for tapping into kegs of lime juice. (A daily ration of citrus helped keep these "limeys" free of scurvy on their long sea voyages.) Since gin was a favorite English libation, a little of it was bound to wind up in the lime juice eventually. The gimlet was born.
MERCURY LONDON DRY GIN ($29)
The first thing that strikes you about Mercury, a new gin from England, is the conical bottle of etched blue glass. The icy-cool packaging is totally contemporary, but the taste of this one is anything but trendy. Like other London dry gins, it's a more assertively flavored (dare I say masculine?) spirit, with bold flavors that harken back to