The Christmas List: Nick and Noras
As we write this post, people are wrestling one another in WalMart for the last item in stock of an unbelievable deal on the new XBox. That can only mean one thing: Christmas shopping season has officially begun. In light of that, we’ll be using this week’s posts to feature our holiday gift suggestions for the cocktail lover in your life.
For today’s suggestion, we take you back to the early 1930s, when mystery novels became detective novels. Before then, the crime scene was the main character of a murder mystery. It was an intricate puzzle. There were detectives, of course, like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. These earlier detectives were superhumanly rational and observant, called in to solve the puzzle, tell us whodunit, and tie up all the loose ends. Then came WWI, and then the Great Depression. In the aftermath of these cataclysms, having everything neatly explained didn’t seem quite so important anymore, or even possible. Writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett came along with a new breed of crime novel, in which the detectives themselves–detectives like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe–take front and center. They’re flawed, conflicted, and reluctant. They don’t know all the answers. But in the end they have what it takes to steer you through trouble.
Spade and Marlowe were serious, grim, and hardboiled. Though many of their stories were set during Prohibition, they could always find a drink; it was always whiskey, and it was always slammed down as a shot. Nick and Nora Charles (from the novel and movies The Thin Man) were from what you might call the brighter side of noir. They were equally flawed and equally reluctant, but they were having a much better time than Spade and Marlowe. They were a New York socialite couple at the very end of Prohibition who were always on their way to a party, and were constantly being delayed by criminal troubles that needed to be smoothed.
Whether in the speakeasy or out, Nick and Nora drink almost without interruption, and when they drink–which is always–it’s not a shot of whiskey, but a cocktail. Any glass will do in a pinch for Nick and Nora: a martini glass, a coupe, a cordial glass, a wine glass, even a goblet. But they have a favorite, one that moviegoers saw in their hands so often that eventually the glass was named after them, the Nick and Nora, a slender, delicate, rounded glass that miraculously somehow contains a full wallop of a cocktail.
Nick and Nora might not have been heroic detectives, but they were heroes of the cocktail culture. For the cocktail lover in your life, like for Nick and Nora, any glass of the right size will do in a pinch. But if you want to give them a gift that speaks of tradition, irreverence, sophistication, and mild debauchery all at the same time, buy them a set of Nick and Noras.