November 15, 2022
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.
— Catherine Arid, Passing Strange
March 8, 2022
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?”
“Something to eat,” I told her.
“Okay. I’ll get a menu. Drink?”
“You might bring me an Old Fashioned.”
— Milton K. Ozaki, The Deadly Pick-up
October 26, 2021
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
March 9, 2021
While this isn’t going to turn into The Uncommercial Traveller blog – though that wouldn’t be a horrible idea, honestly – we do have a few more stops with the wandering Charles Dickens, as he wanders through London and the UK and other parts and places as well, writing essays along the way. Today, we’re taking a journey with him to the essay called “An Old Stage-Coaching House,” where he visits a bar and town that used to be a stop for stage coaches, when such ran, before the trains took the wind out of the stage coach business, leaving towns fading behind (as in some ways the highways did to a lot of train towns). Our actual Cocktail Talk is from the owner of the Dolphin (the inn mentioned above), who still wants to give the Traveller a good meal, even if there are no stages running. Oh, don’t miss The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III, for more about the book, and all the Dickens Cocktail Talks for more good Dickens quotes.
‘If I couldn’t give you a pint of good wine, I’d—there!—I’d take and drown myself in a pail. But I was deceived when I bought this business, and the stock was higgledy-piggledy, and I haven’t yet tasted my way quite through it with a view to sorting it. Therefore, if you order one kind and get another, change till it comes right. For what,’ said Mellows, unloading his hat as before, ‘what would you or any gentleman do, if you ordered one kind of wine and was required to drink another? Why, you’d (and naturally and properly, having the feelings of a gentleman), you’d take and drown yourself in a pail!’
–Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
September 22, 2020
If by some strange twist of fate you missed The Dirty Duck Part I Cocktail Talk, then by all means, please, take a moment of time to read and reflect on it before you dive in here. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Okay, back? If so, then you know more than this post will tell you about the book The Dirty Duck by Martha Grimes, as well as, perhaps, if you followed the link trail more about the book The Man With a Load of Mischief, also by said Martha. All of which would be good for you to know, me thinks, cause within both books good pubs feature prominently – heck, they provide the names for the books! And the actual Dirty Duck pub, and much/some of the action, is in lovely and Shakespeare-y Stratford Upon Avon. What I didn’t mention earlier is that in both books, Grimes has a character drinking old favorite Campari, which doesn’t make it into nearly enough books. I’m not 100% sure that our author loves the red bitter aperitivo as much as I do, though she seems like a decent person, and what decent person wouldn’t? Not a one.
Her eyes actually seemed to be twinkling at him over the rim of her glass. What was she drinking? Naturally, Campari and lime.
–Martha Grimes, The Dirty Duck
September 15, 2020
Not too long ago (if you consider the amount of time within all of time, for sure) I had a couple Cocktail Talks from a book by Martha Grimes called The Man With a Load of Mischief, a book I liked pretty well. Not sure why (as this often happens) I didn’t search out more books by Martha G at the time, but, well, I didn’t. However, recently (being at home more and thereby reading more) I was scouring the shelves for a book to re-read, and I picked up said Load, and liked it again. It – as it seems all her books starring Scotland Yard’s Richard Jury – is very pub-focused, which I also like (pubs, that is! and pub-focused books), and so decided I’d keep my eyes open for more. And, low and behold, with open eyes I found one, called The Dirty Duck. Now, Grimes in the book-back blurbs gets compared at times to Agatha Christie, and while she isn’t anywhere for me as good as the best Agatha, she may not be as bad as the worst Agatha either (cause when Agatha goes off the mark, it can be far off). With that said, The Dirty Duck isn’t a bad read. It’s a little, oh, lazy at times, and a little dated for being 1984 (though that was, now that I think about it, a ways behind us in time), but it’s also a lot of fun, has some pretty neat twists and a good mystery, and is very readable. Best of all – it takes place in Stratford Upon Avon! At least for the main, and you probably can guess that means lots of Shakespeare, which I’m always for, and also the main pub (the Dirty Duck pub, that is) is one I know, and one that features mightily (under the name The Mucky Mallard) in the tv show Shakespeare and Hathaway, which I am mightily (two “mightily”s!) fond of. If that wasn’t enough to get you going, the Thomas Nashe poem “Litany in a Time of Plague” provided key clues, and is not only a swell poem, but incredibly apt right now with our own plague. And if that wasn’t enough, there are some good drinking quotes in the book, starting with the below.
One of these Americans, Miss Gwendolyn Bracegirdle, who had never had more than an ounce of sweet sherry at a time on the veranda of her huge pink-stuccoed house in Sarasota, Florida, was standing with a friend in a shadowy corner of the terrace getting sloshed.
“Oh honey, not another! This here’s my second – what do they call it?”
“Gin.” Her companion laughed.
“Gin!” She giggled. “I definitely couldn’t.” But she held her glass in a way that said she definitely could.
–Martha Grimes, The Dirty Duck
May 19, 2020
Well, I know what I’m doing today: waiting around watching my mailbox, sidewalk, and street for the postal person who today is supposedly delivering to me the new book of poems by Ed Skoog, called Travelers Leaving for the City. At least, I was told it would arrive today, when I ordered it. Hopefully you are doing the same thing – unless you’re lucky enough that your copy has already been delivered? – but if you aren’t, then for gosh sakes make your life better by ordering now. If, by some strange and cruel twist of fate, you aren’t already acquainted with Skoog (feels that should be all-capped, SKOOG, but I’m resisting. Or not), then let me tell you, not only is he a genius poet and writer, but also a champ banjo player, snappy dresser, fleet-footed dancer, and more, but also one of the swellest bar companions you could ever desire. While I’m waiting to spend many hours devouring his newest, I thought I’d ramp up my synapses by re-reading one of his poems from In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems About Drinking Places, Drinks, and Drinkers. He has two poems in there – both awesome – as well as a few translations (also awesome), which he can do cause he is, as mentioned, a genius. In the feeling of community, I felt you also might want to read a snatch of Skoog if your copy of the latest hasn’t shown, and so here we are with the below.
The Last Saturn Bar Poem
Around the art barn, Mike Frolich’s bar-tab
bartered paintings hang the hell that rose with him
from the Gulf of Mexico floor too fast, torturing
blood with air: maniac fish, demon in a diving bell,
and then from cadmium sunset through marsh comes
the boat bearing forward in grand roving the name
O’Neal, our bartender. Theirs are the dreams we enter,
entering the Saturn Bar’s owly heat re-tooled for unlovely
loss, the rattled corner leaning away from Chartreuse, neat,
and when I’m able to dream jukebox damaged warbling,
a Saturn-like-thing opens within me, but this is the last
Saturn Bar poem–I’ll try, I’ll try–to stop singing
shadows of St. Claude and Clouet on security camera
pavement grays we keep talking about with increasing
reluctance, ready to move on to fresh bewilderments,
spiraling neon, neon that lights up my nameless shot.
–The Last Saturn Bar Poem, Ed Skoog
January 21, 2020
The new year has begun, and I know one of your resolutions is probably to not miss any of the fine articles on the fine Seattle magazine, including those by me. So, I’m here to help with a couple handy links to some recent pieces. You can thank me later! Maybe with a drink.