A lot has been written about the–often-complicated–relationship between cocktails and literature or cocktails and films, but the thing is that, in general, both in books and films these drinks had played more of an iconographic role rather than being a narrative or discursive tool per se. Yes, we know that in Mad Men or in Francis Scott Fitzgerald texts cocktails are used to highlight the characteristics of certain characters or even to advance the plot, but they are only an auxiliary element to a bigger intention. On the other hand, cocktails have also used art as a source of inspiration. The Artesian–the world’s best cocktail bar for fourth consecutive year according to the 50 Best Bars list– has used Surrealism as the main topic of this last season menu, inspired by Les diners de Gala, Salvador Dalí’s cookbook. Or rather, by what’s lacking in the book, since Álex Kratena, the Artesian’s bar manager, found to his surprise that Dalinian cocktails were surprisingly sober and so he decided to create something more akin to the task, like ant, mechanical elephant and (why beating around the bush?) cunt-shaped glasses. Thus, Kratena didn’t only pay homage to Dalí and the other Surrealists, with Buñuel in the lead (who seems to be the only film director ever to have invented a cocktail, the Buñueloni, a variation of the Negroni in which, instead of Campari, dry vermouth is used), but, perhaps unconsciously–something very adequate given the theme–, the Artesian team paid tribute too to another of the 20th century avant-garde artistic movements: Futurism.
Fulvio Piccinino, apart from bartender, is also the author of La miscelazione futurista, a book that, in his own words, “was born as a brochure and ended up having three-hundred pages”, where he explains how within Marinetti’s movement, cocktails went from being a mere aesthetic prop to becoming a true discursive element. Piccinino affirms that on the first third of the 20th century, Italy looked at the future with a certain degree of optimism: Fiat and Bugatti revolutionised road transport; Italian pilots crossed the Atlantic and opened new routes (Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso shows very well the times’ enthusiasm about planes), electric light was reaching the cities… but drinks remained the same. Bitters and vermouths, maybe decorated with a simple orange peel or an olive, were and are the backbone of Italian aperitifs. The alternative thing to do was looking abroad and, in fact, they did: it was then when Italian “whiskies” and “rums” that have nothing to do with the original products appeared, particularly after 1929, when fascism opted for autarchy.
Recipe of the “Copa di Brividi”, by Fortunato Depero. Piccinino says that Depero probably saw the sugary edges on Brandy Crustas during his stay in New York.
What happened to drinks, the futurists soon realised, happened as well with food. So on December 28th, 1930, La gazetta del popolo published the Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine, written by Filippo Tomasso Marinetti himself and illustrated by painter Fillia, causing a great scandal (among other things for decreeing the suppression of pasta as the national dish, as they considered it retrograde). The manifesto, that two years later would become a book, contains ideas without which we couldn’t understand the cuisine of people like Ferran Adrià, such as the application of science or the use of a special type of crockery for each dish. For the futurists, gastronomy was a performance act that should involve the five senses, stimulating for example the sense of smell by the use of perfumes, the sense of touch with panels made of different materials and the sense of hearing with gong sounds. The combinations of tastes were unusual and their decoration didn’t stick to the exact edges of plates or cups. Deconstructing avant la lettre, Futurism wanted to question everything that had been taken for granted regarding gastronomy in order to reconstruct it anew. The futurists opened up a restaurant, Santo Palato, and many bars, or, as they preferred to call them, “quisibeve”, “herewedrink”, in which they didn’t serve cocktails, but “polibibita” or “polydrinks”, conceived as ephimeral works of art. The classification they made of such drinks follows a certain logic: there were polydrinks to “eat”, to cause “war in bed”, to go “quickly to bed” (that is, to fall asleep), to “clear (mental) mist”, to “invent”… They didn’t write the formulas, so for many of them we only have a list of ingredients, something that Piccinino solves in his book. Most of these polydrinks are prepared with ice directly in the glass, maybe to highlight something so modern at the time as were ice-cube machines, and are decorated with anchovies or bits of cheese, and other unusual ingredients seeking to get an emotional response from the consumer changing his/her role of passive receiver.
In the meantime, Futurism kept on stressing its nationalistic aims by using Strega or Campari. The futurists did not only mix drinks, but they also helped selling them, since they were convinced that advertising was one of the arts of the future. Many of them designed posters for Cocchi and, above all, for Campari. In fact, already at the beginning of the twenties, the painter Fortunato Depero collaborated with the red brand in many occasions, and in 1932 he created for them one of the most iconic industrial design objects of all times: the bottle for Campari Soda. A truncated cone, easy to pile and transport with the speed Futurism so much liked, the Campari Soda bottle holds the same contradiction that will mark the end of the movement: the future always ends up becoming the past. In the same way that this bottle is now evocative of the faith in industrial capitalism of the beginning of the 20th century, its first intention was creating a future very different than the one that was to come. Fascism would choose an aesthetic that reminded of a mythical imperial past and not a modern Italy and would end up considering Futurism a “degenerate art”. Its time –horror of horrors!– was already gone.
Some of the works Depero did for Campari. It’s interesting to notice that his signature is on a prominent place. Although at the beginning of the 20th century, with Modernism, there was an emergence of commercial art (Mucha, etc.), Depero is nonetheless a forerunner for the turn of the millennium star-designers.