Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic has written about a topic that I've been sort of channeling the past four weeks: patent medicine. Oils, cures, tonics, bitters. I, for one, follow Alexis for his discussions of technology (he is, after all, the technology editor). But having just participated in a course detailing the universe of bitters, it felt serendipitous.
The antiquated look and charm of these products from that era can be seen in our time, as Alexis explains. From what I can see, our society has evolved to the point that it repackages the historical. Consumers are looking for the "authentic." Some sell their goods as an authentic experience, and its very profitable (see Joseph Pine's discussion of this at TED). Home-made bitters in a bar that specializes in hand-crafted cocktails is an example of that. Some businesses just apply this idea farther than others.
Interestingly, the owners of Tonic (where I am employed) seem to fancy that Vaudevillian, side-show, snake-oil salesman motif. Bottles of patent medicines can be found decorating the building. It is a successful concept. They did own and operated one of the district's beloved freak shows, Palace of Wonders, which I wrote about earlier this year. I find it interesting, though, that the owners of Tonic do not accentuate their menu to this theme or draw off the consumer's desire for that authentic, patent medicine-related product. Imagine the possibilities with cocktails. From my vantage point, this appears to be a missed opportunity.