Hip flasks are a bit like wigs. If you’ve always lived in New Orleans, you probably can’t remember a time when you didn’t have at least one. Since moving to New Orleans 14 years ago, my husband and I have somehow acquired four or five flasks, including a set of hollowed-out “binoculars.”
For the great wave of the recently arrived, a word to the wise: Flasks aren’t just for private detectives and flappers, but a New Orleans must-have. And come Carnival season, a flask is a practical necessity — for warm, fortifying sips when a float stalls out, when you’re not up to the teeming lines at the frozen daiquiri counter or when you simply want to offer an age-old show of bonhomie to someone whose lips you trust.
Not only do flasks allow you the advantage of choosing exactly what you’ll be swilling, but unlike cups, flasks fit into pockets, leaving you hands-free to finally catch that rhinestone-encrusted Muses shoe this year.
Most modern flasks are curved with an ergonomic shape meant to comfortably hug the hip, back or breast pockets. Most hold between 5 and 16 ounces.
While most of us probably associate flasks with Prohibition, its need for secret drinking and daring flappers who tucked flasks into their garters (indeed a silver hip flask was the de rigeur accessory and Christmas gift in 1922), the tradition of traveling flasks goes back centuries, if not millennia.
The first flasks were most likely made of cured intestines or leather. As Modern Drunkard magazine notes, “The earliest ancestor of the flask, the Stone Age mead skin, was probably invented about 15 minutes after the first batch of mead was thrown together.”
However, it wasn’t until the 18th century and two key innovations — distillation and pockets — that the modern flask was born.
High alcohol spirits meant that drinkers could imbibe less and do away with large jugs of wine; pockets offered not only discretion but protection from thieves.
Some of the earliest American examples, olive-green Pitkins flasks, were made in New England’s glass factories and date back to 1780; in addition to popular glass models, silver flasks were produced in the 19th century and often embossed with patriotic symbols, battle scenes or political figures designed to reveal the devoted citizenship and allegiance of their owners.
Freemasons, who were required to bring their own liquor to Temple meetings, spawned a small flask industry in themselves, as did American soldiers during World War II.
Vintage flasks included Civil War era Union flasks and the fabulously named Dandy, Bachelor, Shoofly and Coffin models.
As the United States evolved, so too did the flask. Stainless steel versions, decidedly more masculine and reflective of America’s power as an industrial giant, appeared in the 20th century.
With their swing-arm caps, these versions assured that no matter how tipsy the carrier, caps would never get lost. And the most recent flask material, plastic, offers a cheap, lightweight option for toting spirits.
If you’re going to drink locally, why not buy locally? Here are five local businesses that carry flasks.
1. New Orleans Engraving Company
600 Decatur St., Ste 115, (504)304-3868, www.neworleansengravingcompany.com
Inexpensive, stainless steel flasks that can be personalized
2. AS YOU LIKE IT
3033 Magazine, (504)897-6915, www.asyoulikeitsilvershop.com
A good bet are the antiques shops along the Irish Channel Stretch of Magazine between Louisiana and Washington, such as As You Like It Silver Shop, which carries a selection of heirloom quality, silver flasks
722 Canal St., (504) 523-5292, www.adlersjewelry.com
Slightly upscale investment and preppy flasks. Monogramming available. Note: the boutique on Canal carries a wider selection than the on-line store.
5430 Magazine, (504) 897-3388, plumneworleans.com
Afordable flasks for her and round styles available; also flask garters designed to stay in place
5. Old New Orleans Rum
2815 Frenchmen St., (504) 945-9400, oldneworleansrum.com
Two models, both relatively inexpensive and featuring the company name