Out final Vanity Fair Cocktail Talk, before we leave the legendary Thackeray (at least until I re-read or read another book of his!) in whatever afterlife bar he’s hanging out in today. But before leaving him and the book, we’re going to go along with one of the book’s large cast of characters for what I can only call a mighty mighty impressive day of drinking and eating. It’s, well, legendary (as are the Vanity Fair Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III, which you should read).
Having partaken of a copious breakfast, with fish, and rice, and hard eggs, at Southampton, he had so far rallied at Winchester as to think a glass of sherry necessary. At Alton he stepped out of the carriage at his servant’s request and imbibed some of the ale for which the place is famous. At Farnham he stopped to view the Bishop’s Castle and to partake of a light dinner of stewed eels, veal cutlets, and French beans, with a bottle of claret. He was cold over Bagshot Heath, where the native chattered more and more, and Jos Sahib took some brandy-and-water; in fact, when he drove into town he was as full of wine, beer, meat, pickles, cherry-brandy, and tobacco as the steward’s cabin of a steam-packet.
We continue along our Vanity Fair-ing, with Cocktail Talks and drinks, right here! Oh, because I like you, I’m gonna remind you that you need to be sure and catch the Vanity Fair Part I and Vanity Fair Part II Cocktail Talks, to read up more about the book itself (just a wee bit, cause if you want to go deep, there are better sources), and catch some sips of Champagne and other delights, including the mysterious (today) Rack Punch! Then come back here and get some rum-shrub, after the theater and oysters. Everybody’s doing it!
In the company of this gentleman they visited all the principal theatres of the metropolis; knew the names of all the actors from Drury Lane to Sadler’s Wells; and performed, indeed, many of the plays to the Todd family and their youthful friends, with West’s famous characters, on their pasteboard theatre. Rowson, the footman, who was of a generous disposition, would not unfrequently, when in cash, treat his young master to oysters after the play, and to a glass of rum-shrub for a night-cap. We may be pretty certain that Mr. Rowson profited in his turn by his young master’s liberality and gratitude for the pleasures to which the footman inducted him.
Please, I implore you, read the Vanity Fair Cocktail Talk Part I, so you can hear more about the book, where I land on it, and on what seven glasses of Champagne does to you. Here, we’re not going to get too deep into the book proper, as we have a long Cocktail Talk below, and it’s a good one, funny in a tipsy way, full of eating and drinking, featuring some of the book’s main characters, and highlighted by Rack Punch. Rack Punch! A curious thing, Rack Punch. It’s hard to pin down. I mean, I’m sure a genius cocktail historian like David Wondrich would know without looking up from his drink, but I can’t bother him. It’s either punch made with Batavia Arrack (rum-ish spirit made with sugar cane and a bit of fermented red rice), used in many tiki recipes or Arak, the grape-based anise spirit from the Levant area of the Eastern Mediterranean. You look it up and you’ll see Rack Punch using either one or the other (and even one spot that spells it Arrack but talks about it as if it was Arak!). My feel, my lean, as you might say, is it was made with Batavia Arrack. As it’s rum-y, that would match the time, and I don’t think Arak had made the inroads to Britain that rum and relatives had at the time. Also, the basic punch – sugar, lemon or other citrus, water, maybe some spices – would just pair better with it, as opposed to the anise-side, in my view. Both could be delicious, but that’s my take (btw, both spirits are delicious. The below Cocktail Talk is delicious, too).
The two couples were perfectly happy then in their box: where the most delightful and intimate conversation took place. Jos was in his glory, ordering about the waiters with great majesty. He made the salad; and uncorked the Champagne; and carved the chickens; and ate and drank the greater part of the refreshments on the tables. Finally, he insisted upon having a bowl of rack punch; everybody had rack punch at Vauxhall. “Waiter, rack punch.”
That bowl of rack punch was the cause of all this history. And why not a bowl of rack punch as well as any other cause? Was not a bowl of prussic acid the cause of Fair Rosamond’s retiring from the world? Was not a bowl of wine the cause of the demise of Alexander the Great, or, at least, does not Dr. Lempriere say so?—so did this bowl of rack punch influence the fates of all the principal characters in this “Novel without a Hero,” which we are now relating. It influenced their life, although most of them did not taste a drop of it.
The young ladies did not drink it; Osborne did not like it; and the consequence was that Jos, that fat gourmand, drank up the whole contents of the bowl; and the consequence of his drinking up the whole contents of the bowl was a liveliness which at first was astonishing, and then became almost painful; for he talked and laughed so loud as to bring scores of listeners round the box, much to the confusion of the innocent party within it; and, volunteering to sing a song (which he did in that maudlin high key peculiar to gentlemen in an inebriated state), he almost drew away the audience who were gathered round the musicians in the gilt scollop-shell, and received from his hearers a great deal of applause.
Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, what to do with you? I’m talking here about the book by Thackeray, of course, not the magazine. I’ll leave that to people who have read the magazine, and here we’ll stick to the book, which I recently re-read. And it took me a while, I will fully admit. I’ll also admit that the book is a classic, no matter how long it took. I mean, it’s so rich with stuff, in a way, and such a view into a certain milieu of the times, which is in some ways reflection of ones modern (maybe more than some ways). But it’s also a novel that to me reads completely (well, maybe not every single moment), or nearly completely, as if written in the sarcasm font, to bring it modern again. And if Mr. Thackeray, with respect, just scorns every character. Which means – very funny. Very realized characters. Now, he brings it together at the end in a friendlier way, and manages one of the best last lines ever, and when I was done, I was happy to have re-read it, and no doubt many Thackeray scholars if they read this post would school me! Understandably so. So, let’s change the narrative as they say. And instead let me say that I had forgotten how many swell Cocktail Talking scenes he brought into the book. We need to have at least two, maybe four. It makes sense, as Thackeray was known to enjoy, love, adore the clubs of the time (think port, not pulsating music), and not be ashamed to hit the late night brandy dens, etc. I’m all for it! And here we are! Our first Cocktail Talk. With Champagne! Seven glasses! And cherry brandy! And more!
“I think she’s going,” said the Rector’s wife. “She was very red in the face when we left dinner. I was obliged to unlace her.”
“She drank seven glasses of champagne,” said the reverend gentleman, in a low voice; “and filthy champagne it is, too, that my brother poisons us with–but you women never know what’s what.”
“We know nothing,” said Mrs. Bute Crawley.
“She drank cherry-brandy after dinner,” continued his Reverence, “and took curacao with her coffee. I wouldn’t take a glass for a five-pound note: it kills me with heartburn. She can’t stand it, Mrs. Crawley–she must go–flesh and blood won’t bear it! and I lay five to two, Matilda drops in a year.”
My re-read of a couple David Goodis charmers (“charmer” in the sense of reads that pull you in, sure, but also in the sense of some con artist types, which would fit into the Goodis globe), as detailed recently in the Nightfall Part II Cocktail Talk, continues as I just re-read Night Squad. He likes the night, our David! It’s another classic of the noir-y genre, with a shady-ish character who has, as they say, gone through some stuff. And is vaguely on the side of light, while walking in the darkness. Woo, that’s heavy. The books isn’t as melodramatic, but does have some serious and seriously eff’d up moments and tales. And the weirdest drink ever, which I detailed in an earlier Cocktail Talk (don’t miss the Night Squad Cocktail Talk Part I and the Night Squad Cocktail Talk Part II – the weird drink in the latter). This moonlit gem centers around an ex-cop (kicked off for being on the take), who drinks a lot, has a lot of regrets, and gets involved working both for the head hood in the rotten part of the town and the most mental cop troop all at once. Brother, he gets into it! Luckily, as the quote shows, he knows how to think properly.
The gin came; he put it away in one fast gulp and ordered another. There were times when he drank slowly and chased the gin with water. But this ain’t one of them times, he told himself, downing the second gin and ordering a third. This is a time for heavy thinking, which means, of course, heavy drinking. And I got the notion it’s gonna take a lotta gin to set your mind straight
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.
If you haven’t read Wall of Eyes Cocktail Talk Part I, then by all means, take the time to do so. In it, I talk a bit more about this book by Margaret Miller, and my feeling about it (and how they went through a metamorphosis of sorts while reading!), and talk about teetotal-ing definitions. But here’s something I didn’t mention there – the book takes place in Canada! Toronto, I think? I don’t want you to doubt my reading prowess, but I have to be honest – I didn’t completely realize the story was taking place northerly, until the below Cocktail Talk quote. I am very embarrassed. But at least I picked up on it when seeing the Molson product placement!
“I owe you a beer for flying off like that.”
He hadn’t had a drink all night. Maye that was why he’d acted so crazy all for nothing. Hitting a policeman –
“Thanks,” he said. “A beer would be swell.”
When they sat down the man looked across the table at Stevie and smiled sheepishly. “Well, what’ll it be?”
Recently delved into the full collection of ghost-and-such stories by E.F. Benson, said collection being called Night Terrors. E.F. Benson was an English writer, late 1800s-to-early-mid-1900s, who wrote all kinds of things, though he’s most known for his ghostly and spectral and other spine-tingling tales, which are, in the main, awfully fun to read (whether you do it at night or in the daytime – up to you). They follow along the time-period’s aesthetic (no modern slasher fair here friends), which I find myself enjoying muchly, especially in the last few years. There’s something so, oh, atmospheric, and the writing itself, always well-done. I’m not going to say every story here was to my taste, but there’s a lot of variety (vampires? Check. Ghosts of all kinds? Check. Giant worms? Check. And more!), and enough worthy chillers to balance out any less worthy. Do I like Mr. Benson’s work overall as well as M.R. James (the master of the time and genre)? Probably not, but I have been to Lamb House, where Benson lived in Rye, UK, so that’s something (admittedly, I visited cause Henry James himself lived there before E.F. Benson, but still). Not a ton of Cocktail Talking in the collection, but there was something delightful in the below quote, how one character manages to swipe a drink from another by saying “touch of liver.”
“I have felt most awfully down all day,” he said; “and just after receiving this splendid account from Daisy. I can’t think what is the matter.”
He poured himself out some whisky and soda as he spoke.
“Oh, touch of liver,” I said. “I shouldn’t drink that if I were you. Give it to me instead.”
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