Have we had enough Cocktail Talking from the Dickens’ classic Barnaby Rudge? I doubt it! But we are going to turn the last page – or have the last quote – for now, calling last call with the below (be sure to learn more about the book, as well as enjoy more Barnaby Rudge Cocktail Talks by reading Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV! And why not read all the Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks? There is no good answer to that question). This snippet takes us back to the Maypole, the bar parts of the book revolve around, and is such a dandy description of the place, I wish I could dive right into the page and be there (the bar, that is, not the page). What a spot! And, what a book.
Old John would have it that they must sit in the bar, and nobody objecting, into the bar they went. All bars are snug places, but the Maypole’s was the very snuggest, cosiest, and completest bar, that ever the wit of man devised. Such amazing bottles in old oaken pigeon-holes; such gleaming tankards dangling from pegs at about the same inclination as thirsty men would hold them to their lips; such sturdy little Dutch kegs ranged in rows on shelves; so many lemons hanging in separate nets, and forming the fragrant grove already mentioned in this chronicle, suggestive, with goodly loaves of snowy sugar stowed away hard by, of punch, idealised beyond all mortal knowledge; such closets, such presses, such drawers full of pipes, such places for putting things away in hollow window-seats, all crammed to the throat with eatables, drinkables, or savoury condiments; lastly, and to crown all, as typical of the immense resources of the establishment, and its defiances to all visitors to cut and come again, such a stupendous cheese!
I’ve had a goodly amount of Charles Dickens Cocktail Talk posts here on the Spiked Punch blog (started in the 1800s in honor of Dickens naturally), but never one from the underrated and underread book Barnaby Rudge, a situation which I’m going to remedy over the next few weeks, as I’ve recently re-read it, and so am primed for Cocktail Talks from it. You can learn more about the book from scholars more learned than I, but I will give you this: it has one of the finest, or most well-imagined, fictional pubs ever, The Maypole, in which some of the action centers. Also, it’s a book (like so much of Dickens) that while taking place in the past is finely attuned to the present, in this case as the sort-of second part of the book takes place around the actual London anti-Catholic (in theory, at least) riots, driven by Lord George Gordon, and the “politics” and demagoguery and players around such mirror a lot of what we see today. Sad, in a way. But the Maypole is nice! Until the . . . well, I won’t give too much more away. But I will start out at the Maypole, when one of the book’s main characters (out of a full and varied cast, as Dickens does), locksmith Gabriel Vaden, arrives at the pub on a stormy night.
When he got to the Maypole, however, and Joe, responding to his well-known hail, came running out to the horse’s head, leaving the door open behind him, and disclosing a delicious perspective of warmth and brightness – when the ruddy gleam of the fire, streaming through the old red curtains of the common room, seemed to bring with it, as part of itself, a pleasant hum of voices, and a fragrant odour of steaming grog and rare tobacco, all steeped as it were in the cheerful glow – when the shadows, flitting across the curtain, showed that those inside had risen from their snug seats, and were making room in the snuggest corner (how well he knew that corner!) for the honest locksmith, and a broad glare, suddenly streaming up, bespoke the goodness of the crackling log from which a brilliant train of sparks was doubtless at that moment whirling up the chimney in honour of his coming – when, superadded to these enticements, there stole upon him from the distant kitchen a gentle sound of frying, with a musical clatter of plates and dishes, and a savoury smell that made even the boisterous wind a perfume – Gabriel felt his firmness oozing rapidly away. He tried to look stoically at the tavern, but his features would relax into a look of fondness. He turned his head the other way, and the cold black country seemed to frown him off, and drive him for a refuge into its hospitable arms.
‘The merciful man, Joe,’ said the locksmith, ‘is merciful to his beast. I’ll get out for a little while.’
And how natural it was to get out! And how unnatural it seemed for a sober man to be plodding wearily along through miry roads, encountering the rude buffets of the wind and pelting of the rain, when there was a clean floor covered with crisp white sand, a well swept hearth, a blazing fire, a table decorated with white cloth, bright pewter flagons, and other tempting preparations for a well-cooked meal – when there were these things, and company disposed to make the most of them, all ready to his hand, and entreating him to enjoyment!
Back a few years now (not a century’s worth, but a few, which over the last decade can feel nearly like a century at time – at other times, barely a second. Time? It’s a strange one), I had a Nightfall Cocktail Talk, and it was peachy! But I just took a re-read into this noir-ish book by David Goodis (nearly the noirish-est). It’s a dandy read, by the way. A twisty-ish, nearly character study in a way. I mean, there’s a murder that’s happened, and a crime (in Seattle! Of all spots. Though the action as it is takes place in NYC). And a beating. And some hidden? Lost? Spent? money around somewhere. And love, too! And maybe camaraderie. It’s interesting, in that (as mentioned in the early Nightfall Cocktail Talking), you feel there is no way it’s gonna work out happily for anyone, I felt that multiple times. but . . . well, I’m not giving it away. Read the book yourself! I will give away the below Cocktail Talk quote, however.
In this particular Village place there wasn’t much doing. Four men at the far end of the bar were having a quiet discussion concerning horses. A young man and a young woman were taking their time with long, cool drinks and smiling at each other. A short, fat man was sullenly gazing into a glass of beer.
Vanning turned back to his Gin Rickey. A peculiar sense of loneliness came upon him, and he knew it was just that and nothing more. He wanted to talk to somebody. About anything.
It’s strange and not strange that I haven’t had any Cocktail Talks from Catherine Aird, a master in the British small town mystery genre (though really, that qualification probably does her a disservice, as she’s just pretty masterful). I read a short story of hers not but a few years back in some anthology or other which escapes me, after which I picked up the first book she wrote (A Religious Body), which I loved, and since then have been slowly filling out my Aird library, and liking all the books. Featuring Detective Inspector C.D. Sloan, who operates in the made-up (but very familiar in a way) English region of Calleshire, working with the slightly bumbling, but funny, Detective Constable Crosby, they solve many well-crafted small English village murders. But, while pubs always show up, there haven’t been many/any Cocktail Talking moments in the books I’ve read, until the below quote from Passing Strange (where a murder happens at a flower show!), a quote which I found delightful, and relatable, too!
By closing time he had been fortified by an unusual quantity of beer. He had had to concentrate quite hard when the time came to leave the King’s Head. The little flight of steps which had presented no problem at all when he had arrived demanded careful negotiation when he left.
I recently picked up (hahaha) a type of book I dig, and one you don’t see as much anymore (though maybe they’re making a small comeback? Here’s hoping): the double book book. The two-complete-novels-under-one-spine book, the a-cover-on-each-side book, the take-the-awesome-and-twice-it (in the best circumstances) book! I love the idea of having two books at once, so was stoked to get the Armchair Fiction (a publisher it seems I need to look out for) double book book that combines a pulsating pulp twosome: The Deadly Pick-up, by Milton K. Ozaki, and Killer Take All, by James O. Causey. Were these two noir-sters put together cause they both utilize that middle initial so well? Maybe? But I think it’s mainly cause both of these books hit that pulpy, noiry, sweet spot of fast pace, seemingly inescapable problems for our narrators, some swell and shady characters (and often trouble deciding which is which), some trouble, some dark nights, and some booze-y boozing. Today’s Cocktail Talk is from The Deadly Pick-up, which is about as straightforward a title as you could imagine: recent Chicago transplant Gordon Banner offers a ride to a blond beauty, who then is murdered in her apartment while salesman Mr. Banner is waiting in his car downstairs, leading to him being the prime suspect, gangsters, other ladies and gentlemen who help, hinder, and harass him, and stops at many bars, including the one below.
It was 8:30 when I entered the Flask Club and wormed my way past a long crowded bar where four white jacketed bartenders were performing feats of alcoholic interest. At the rear was a huge room littered with closely spaced tables and chairs. The walls looked as though a whirlwind had flung huge gusts of newspapers against it and plastered them there, permanently imbedding their headlines in the calcimine. A dark-haired red-mouthed girl in black slacks and tight white blouse swung toward me and lead the way to a tiny table against a wall. She leaned against my shoulder, giving me a whiff of her body odor and glimpse of the dep V between her breasts while she lit a stub of candle, which projected from a wax-dappled Ehrlenmeyer flask set between the salt and pepper shakers. That rite duly performed to her satisfaction, she straightened and asked, “What’ll ya have?”
As we wind our way into the final Some Slips Don’t Show Cocktail Talk (by the way: love the book cover here!), we find ourselves back at a situation touched on briefly in the book’s Cocktail Talk Part I (don’t miss Part II, either), where the real star of the series, detective Donald Lam (don’t tell his partner Bertha Cool I said he was the star, though), is getting cuddlier with one of the murder suspects in this here tale. And, as happens in the books (written by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair), this cuddling, or prelude to cuddling, happens over drinks. Doubles, even.
A waiter came over and she ordered a double Manhattan.
“Single for me,” I said.
“Bring him a double, she said, smiling at the waiter. “I don’t want to get ahead of him.”
The waiter nodded and withdrew.
We nibbled pretzels and did a little verbal sparring until the waiter came back with the Manhattans. They were both doubles.
I went down a large Cornell Woolrich hole at one point in my life, and in some ways never came out (perhaps I’m not in as deep as I once was, which isn’t to say my liking of books by said author is less, but maybe to say I’ve read such a fair amount of those available that there aren’t that many more readily available) – heck, check out the past Cornell Woolrich Cocktail Talks for evidence. There are a fair few of them! You’ll get lots of background on this, the noir-y-est (in many ways – I mean, no mystery writer uses the word “black” in more titles for a start, but also he’s such a master of psychological dark moods and mental, as well as action-driven, thrillers that seem going down a dark path) of the pulp writers, perhaps. He also wrote under a couple pseudonyms, the best-known being William Irish, under-which name he became famous enough that I have a copy of The Best of William Irish which I was recently re-reading. Featuring two full-length reads and a handful of stories, the book’s highlight may well be “Rear Window” (from which the legendary movie was made, which you should re-watch right now), which, funny enough, I think was pub’d under Cornell’s own name originally (and originally called “It Had to be Murder”). But if you have a story which a famous movie is based on, you work it in. The whole collection starts with perhaps the most famous William Irish-monikered tale (though that could be debated), the novel Phantom Lady, which I am also lucky enough to have as a standalone book, and which was also made into a movie in 1944, a movie I haven’t seen, but would love to! The book’s chapters all countdown to an execution (28 Days Before the Execution, etc.), which gives an insight into the plot: a man is accused – falsely, we know – of the murder of his wife, with only one possible way to convince the police he’s innocent, finding of a missing woman who can place him at a bar at a particular time. It’s a good read and then some, keeping you moving and twisting around this way and that way, with a few more murders and lots of surprises. Having a bar with a key role doesn’t hurt, either, and neither does the mention of Jack Rose cocktails, among others, in the below Cocktail Talk quote.
He said, “I had a Scotch and water. I always have that, never anything else. Give me just a minute now, to see if I can get hers. It was all the way down near the bottom –“
The barman came back with a large tin box.
Henderson said, rubbing his forehead, “There was a cherry left in the bottom of the glass and – “
“That could be any one of six drinks. I’ll get it for you. Was the bottom stemmed or flat? And what color was the dregs? If it was a Manhattan the glass was stemmed and dregs, brown.”
Henderson said, “It was a stem-glass, she was fiddling with it. But the dregs weren’t brown, now, they were pink, like.”
“Jack Rose,” said the barman briskly. “I can get it for you easy, now.”
–Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), Phantom Lady
I have a tear in my eye, as while I could probably have a fair more Cocktail Talks from the Charlie Dickens collection of essays The Uncommercial Traveller, for now (but perhaps not forever), this will our last one. If you’ve missed any of the previous four, then be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part 1, Part II, Part III, and Part IV, and while you’re in the reading mood, check out all the Dickens Cocktail Talks. Don’t read so much that your eyes tire, however, as you won’t want to miss the below quote. From one of the laugh-out-loud-ier pieces in the collection (and there are many funny scenes throughout, so that’s saying something), called “A Little Dinner in an Hour,” the below quote is just a small part of a regrettable dining experience Dickens has with his pal Bullfinch, when they are traveling for some business and decide to book a meal at a local spot that once was rumored to be worthy. But now leaves much to be desired! Ah, I wish I could have been there to watch it all unfold (if not to actually partake in it). A fine end to our Cocktail Talk tour through the book. Sherry, please!
‘It’s quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,’ murmured the waiter; ‘and the kitchen is so far off.’
‘Well, you don’t keep the house; it’s not your fault, we suppose. Bring some sherry.’
‘Waiter!’ from Mr. Indignation Cocker, with a new and burning sense of injury upon him.
The waiter, arrested on his way to our sherry, stopped short, and came back to see what was wrong now.
‘Will you look here? This is worse than before. Do you understand? Here’s yesterday’s sherry, one and eightpence, and here we are again two shillings. And what the devil does ninepence mean?’
This new portent utterly confounded the waiter. He wrung his napkin, and mutely appealed to the ceiling.
‘Waiter, fetch that sherry,’ says Bullfinch, in open wrath and revolt.
‘I want to know,’ persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, ‘the meaning of ninepence. I want to know the meaning of sherry one and eightpence yesterday, and of here we are again two shillings. Send somebody.’
The distracted waiter got out of the room on pretext of sending somebody, and by that means got our wine. But the instant he appeared with our decanter, Mr. Indignation Cocker descended on him again.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More