Del Pedro entered the vintage glassware-collecting rabbit hole in 2012, when he was preparing to open his Prospect Heights bar, Tooker Alley. “You see all these old pictures of drinks in these really sexy glasses, and I was like, ‘Where are they all now?’” Now Pedro and his staff use vintage glasses during service at Tooker Alley, and he keeps a handful of favorites at home to enjoy on his own (and show off to friends).
“What I often think when I drink out of those glasses is, these people took their drink seriously,” he says. “They wanted it to be great from start to finish. I think that’s a great mentality.”
Jeff Berry and Annene Kaye, owners of New Orleans tiki outpost Latitude29, liken drinking out of vintage glasses to liquid time travel. Jeff, a literal tiki scholar, can’t beat sipping a Zombie out of an original, circa 1939 glass from Monte Proser’s Beachcomber bars, while Annene is drawn to “all the stuff with the real gold trim that you have to have to handle with extreme care, like a premature baby animal.”
So where to find these precious glasses?
Where to buy
Pedro primarily shops online via eBay and Replacements.com, an enormous supplier of antique dishes, silver, and crystal. Etsy is another treasure trove, though prices are generally a bit higher and shipping costs can add up quickly. Other collectors prefer the thrill of the hunt. Berry and Annene do most of their glass-scouting at antique malls, with the occasional thrift store diamond in the rough.
Mary Allison Wright of Denver’s RiNo Yacht Club and Morin also favors thrift stores. She and her husband always scope out local thrift and vintage stores when they’re traveling, and often take mini road trips to small towns for thrifting on their days off. “We really like to be hands-on with our hunting,” Wright says.
While Goodwill and Salvation Army used to be goldmines, they’re now more likely to be picked over, says Josh Harris of Trick Dog and Bon Voyage in San Francisco. Harris, who collects antiques as a hobby, hits estate sales to find glassware in full matching sets. He adds that at flea markets, sellers are often eager to offload their glassware, even at a bargain, so that they don’t have to carefully pack it all up and transport it back home.
No matter where you look, Harris advises closely checking the lip of every single glass before buying. “When I started buying glassware, I’d get home and I’d be like, ‘Great, I just bought twelve glasses and seven of them have these tiny little nicks in the top.’ The chips that most people don’t notice, sometimes they’re super small; but that’s not something you’d want to drink out of.”
What to buy
If you want to add a little Mad Men magic to your home bar but are overwhelmed by the options, narrow it down by style. Here are seven styles (and drinks that pair with them) that the vintage glassware connoisseurs recommend.
Franky Marshall, who has served drinks at the Dead Rabbit, Clover Club, and Le Boudoir, has a vintage-inspired aesthetic and possesses more antique crystal stemware at home than she has the space for. When it comes to glassware, she’s a big fan of gold- and silver-rimmed goblets, like these, which she uses for everything from Champagne to beer. “The taller, thin sides of the glass force the aromas upwards, so you get a full olfactory experience in addition to an elegant sipping experience,” she says. “I also love the way they feel in your hands… you’re forced to actually pay attention to the vessel you’re holding.” (Those are sold out, but these also capture the vibe.)
Mary Allison Wright says that her 1930s etched crystal cordial glasses, which hold about two ounces, are her favorite way to sip a bit of amaro after dinner, welcome guests into her home with an aperitif, or even pour off “a bit of something special” for a toast. (Wright also collects vintage spirits, and prefers drinking her vintage Cynar and Amer Picon out of these.) “They’re not overtly dainty… they feel little small and precious, but they do have nice substantial quality to them as well,” says Wright. She’s had more luck finding these in full matching sets, compared to Art Deco or midcentury glasses.
The versatile workhorse of glassware, vintage rocks glasses (or lowball glasses) can be used for Old Fashioneds, Negronis, or just sipping your favorite whiskey on the rocks. For a dash of extra retro flair, look for midcentury styles, which often feature whimsical, kitschy designs and illustrations. (Just be sure they don’t cover the entire glass, says Pedro — you don’t want the exterior to completely overshadow the liquid inside.) One of Annene Kaye’s all-time favorite finds? These circa-1960s rocks glasses with pharmacy and apothecary-themed illustrations.
Footed sour glasses
Pedro says he’s “obsessed” with these glasses, which rest on a short, cut-glass stem and a wide base. “They’re just so beautiful for sour drinks, or any drink you serve without ice,” he says. “We do use them for a stirred drink also — it looks beautiful with a whiskey-based drink since it’s kind of dark. It’s really just lovely.” Look for the six-ounce styles made by Libbey, which tend to be a bit sturdier and made with thicker glass. Mary Allison Wright also uses footed glasses at Morin (below).
When it comes to versatility and practicality, says Trick Dog’s Harris, a slim Collins glass is tough to beat. (He even uses them at home for drinking sparkling water with dinner.) Harris says that because most of the public is after Mad Men-style rocks glasses, he often finds better pricing on Collins glasses and dealers are more eager to sell. He looks for simple, minimalist designs, particularly glasses with optic patterns, where the outside of the glass is smooth and the inside is faceted. “It gives it something subtle, but interesting,” he says. (These etched ones from Etsy are also stunners.)
Roly poly glasses
These squat glasses, initially made popular by midcentury artist Dorothy Thorpe (and later by others), are one of Del Pedro’s favorite styles. The round glass is crested with a metallic rim, and its flat base fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. “If these were made today,” he adds, “you would see them in cocktail bars everywhere.” They’re too pricey for Pedro to justify using at Tooker Alley, but he has a few at home. He prefers them for Old Fashioneds, and notes that the squat shape and generous width of the glass means you can mix your drink right in the glass. “The only thing is, it’s a round glass and ice cubes are square, so it can be a little awkward with ice at first — but you can make it work.”
Wholesale glassware manufacturer Libbey typically makes the kind of glassware you might see in a Bed Bath & Beyond — more function than form — but Pedro loves the company’s earlier designs, especially the run of frosted pilsner glasses from the line’s Rock Sharpe series. The glass is frosted with a metallic leaf pattern with an inch or so of clear glass at the bottom and top. “It’s obvious to me that they made it that way so you could see the color of the beer, and at the top, where the head is supposed to go,” Pedro says. “Back then, the glass was probably better than the beer,” he jokes. “But if it’s in a beautiful glass, I want to drink that. It could just be a run-of-the-mill beer but it’s going to taste better coming out of that glass.” At Tooker Alley, he often uses them to serve draft beer.
Nowadays we tend to equate Champagne with slender crystal flutes, but it wasn’t always this way: Decades ago, the coupe was the preferred vessel for bubbles. (You may notice, says Pedro, the coupe’s reign in films from the ‘30s and ‘40s.) His collection includes sturdier glasses by Libbey and ultra-thin antiques from Japan. “Those are intentionally beautiful, and very special to my heart,” he says.
On the one hand, choosing a coupe for Champagne is definitely a case of form over function: The glass’s wide mouth makes it easy to spill, and the wider surface area tends to result in a faster loss of bubbles. On the other hand, it’s Champagne — is this really a time to be practical or utilitarian?