Recently got my hands on another one of the superb (if you’re into such things, which I hope you are, so we can be friends and all that, though of course we could maybe still be friends even if you aren’t, but it’s not quite as easy) Stark House Noir Classics collections. Often these are collections of out-of-print books by a single author, but in this one, there are three authors from the pulp-y period. All are worthy reads – your favorite is up to you – but the one I’m highlighting here is Park Avenue Tramp, a book by Fletcher Flora (great name, too, and one I hadn’t been acquainted with before) about booze, a dangerous (in a sort-of different way) broad, a piano player, and bleakness in the best way, the way true noir books deliver it. Enough so that I was fairly, oh, downbeat for a moment when finishing this tale. Then I moved on to the next one (which is nice in these collections). A bar plays a central role, too, which is also nice, and where we get the below Cocktail Talk quote from.
She looked at him gravely and decided that he was undoubtedly a superior bartender, which would make him very superior indeed. It might seem unlikely on first thought that a superior bartender would be working in a little unassuming bar that was only trying to get along, but on second thought it didn’t seem unlikely at all, for it was often the little unassuming places that had genuine quality and character and were perfectly what they were supposed to be, which was rare, and it was exactly such a place in which a superior bartender would want to work, even at some material sacrifice. She felt a great deal of respect for this honest and dedicated bartender. She was certain that she could rely on him implicitly.
“Perhaps you can help me,” she said. “In your opinion, what have I been drinking?”
“You look like a Martini to me,” he said.
“Really, a Martini?”
“That’s right. The second you came in I said to myself that you were a Martini.”
Our trip (we’re taking it together, I feel) through some of the Charles Willeford oeuvre, via Willeford Cocktail Talks, is almost done, and ending with a second from the Floridean funky mess (among other things) Made in Miami, originally called Lust is a Woman, which isn’t actually as good, or as accurate, a title in my mind. You’ll need to read the book to see why! And also read the Made in Miami Cocktail Talk Part I, if you haven’t. You’ll dig it. The below quote isn’t drink specific like many of the Cocktail Talks we have here, but is a great view into bartenders of a certain time period. Or perhaps how some people view or viewed bartenders. You decide.
Ralph sat down on the bench to smoke while he waited for Tommy. Two bald middle-aged bartenders entered the locker room from the back and began to change their clothes. Ralph examined their dour faces with the dawning realization that all of the bartenders he had ever known looked exactly like these two. Not that they were all bad, although most of them were, at that, but their expressions were all alike. All faces, like character actors in the movies; expressive eyebrows, small chins, and large liquid eyes. Ralph pictured these two men later working behind the bar, changing their expression to match the mood of each customer at the busy half-price cocktail hour in the Rotunda Lounge. But right now, in repose, their characterless expressions oddly reminded Ralph of the ex-Presidents born in Ohio.
I do a monthly column (along with various other things) for Seattle magazine (sure, you can be jealous), and until recently it was called Bar Hop, and had me chatting about a single new bar in the wondrous city I live within. But now it’s changed up a little, still a single bar, but with the focus lighting a little more on a single cocktail within said bar – and it’s not just new bars anymore, either, and is called (for now, at least) the Bar Method. And for the first one, I visited one of my favorite Emerald City bars of all, Liberty, which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary! Amiable bartender Laura Bishop was my shaker, and made me a delicious wine cocktail called the Red October. But heck, don’t let me ramble, go read the article now.
I was lucky enough recently to work on a big bar-and-cocktail-and-distillery issue of the mighty Seattle magazine, and in said issue (which if you missed, you’ll have to deal with the regret for the rest of your life. Sorry), we had some swell interviews with some of the top local shakers . . . wait, strike that. Top shakers anywhere! However, due to magazine restrictions, and such, the interviews had to be edited down somewhat, as interviews are. But they’re now available for reading in fuller fashion online! You are very lucky. So, don’t miss my recent interviews with these cocktail geniuses, including:
Seattle is stocked like a good bar with good bartenders and mixologists and shake-em-up-ers, and ice-crackers, and sturdy stirrers, and bottle-top-twisters, and cocktail cuties, and powerful punchers, and ear-twisting-tipsy-story-telling tippler pourers. Lots of ‘em. I hate to even make a grouping, but if I have to pick a list, let it be one favoring those who both make great drinks and also make the whole bar happier by their presence and person. Which is what I did in my happiest happy hour bartender list (from the new issue of the Seattle Magazine). Because spending a happy hour or six with these five jolly drink slingers is sure to make the day better.
Yes, I know, I’ve talked lots about the Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizzrelease party that was at the Rob Roy a week or so ago. And I’ve posted a couple drinks from the book, and made a short video about joining the GBVF Army, that talks a bit about the book. But I haven’t given (I don’t think) the book a proper overview here yet, for those who may have missed the party and aren’t quite sure why they need a copy. So, first, a quick overview, and then (second) some fun facts.
Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz is designed in a very particular manner. Unlike other numerous classic and modern cocktail tomes available that break out chapters by base spirit (gin, vodka, brandy, whiskey, tequila, and sometimes Champagne), or the fine volumes that are alphabetical by drink, or the other worthy reads (including a few by yours truly) that break chapters out by theme, this book is divided into chapters by flavor profile. By “flavor profile” I’m talking about what the flavor is of a particular liqueur that’s responsible for the personality and taste of a drink. There’s a chapter on A Liquid Citrus Circus, for example, containing recipes highlighted by the vast panoply of fun orange and other citrus liqueurs, and a chapter that reminds you to Take Your Herbal Medicine that contains darker, more intense, herbal liqueurs that are popping up more regularly. There’s also a chapter detailing The Justice League of Vermouths–though they aren’t specifically liqueurs, vermouths and their cousins are also part of the path to joining the GBVF Army–and other flavor specific chapters. By breaking out the chapters in this flavor-oriented way, it makes it easier to plan a party around a few signature drinks as well as easier to find a particular drink matching up with what you’re craving. The idea is to make it a snap for you to pick out a few signature drinks to make any gathering sparkle: from parties of many people to those that are just you and a significant other.
Okay, now that you know a bit about the book in general, here are some specific facts you might not know:
GBVF has over 200 recipes, some lesser-known classics, some from here and there, and a bunch from modern pro-and-home bartenders, including recipes from: Andrew Bohrer, Ed Skoog, Matt Bohlmann, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, LUPEC Boston, Jeremy Sidener, Paul Abercrombie, Meaghan Dorman, Jay Hepburn, Robert Hess, Yuri Kato, Augusto Lino, Kelly, Magyarics, Thad Volger, Kara Newman, Jim Romdall, David Shenaut, Doug Winship, Erik Ellestad, Chantal Tseng, and probably a few others I’m forgetting a will feel bad about later. Look these fine people up and support them.
There are at least 14 mentions of comic book or comic strip characters, including two Dr. Strange references (to make Neilalien happy) and a whole chapter called The Justice League of Vermouths (to make pal PhiSmi happy).
There is one current NBA basketballer mentioned (Andrew Bogut) and three past ballers (Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Nate McMillan).
There are a number of sidebars to help you pick drinks for specific party occasions, including 4 Drinks for Fishing.
One drink is named after a short short story by the novelist J. Robert Lennon. Guess which one?
There are 27 Liqueur Spotlights, which go deeper into the taste, history, and personality of individual liqueurs.
There are two mentions of Tom Waits, and one drink (The Hounds They Start To Roar) named from a Tom Waits lyric. There is also one mention of the little known Kansas City band Shooting Star.
Perhaps the best Cocktail Talk type quote in the book is from Paul Holt and is on page 208 and reads thusly:
Perhaps, after all, it is best to stick to Pernod, if the sartorial consequences of imbibing interest you as much as they do me. This if only for the reason that however you start off drinking the stuff, you’re bound to end up more or less naked.
Perhaps the best quote from the book itself (meaning, written by me) is “Charles H. Baker was the Grand Funk Railroad of his time.”
There are sidebars pointing to classic cocktail books, favorite new cocktail books, favorite booze blogs, boozy poem quotes, and other ways to stock your literal and electronic libraries.
Finally, the first drink in the book is the 14 Juillet and the last is the Ti Penso Sempre.
Or at least he thinks he can in the below video. But he is challenging you to prove him wrong. So, if you’re tough enough, film yourself and then let him know. I’m just happy I can have an open beer served to me really darn fast (and without even having to break the bottle’s neck off with a rock. Which is what I usually do).
Another bartender showing up at your bar for a free drink after you had one at their bar? Check. A vest and bow-tie? Check. Giant hands getting ready to work out that shaker? Check. A little crankiness cause you’ve been slinging ‘em all day? Check. A super curvy redhead walking away from the bar and wearing a groovy shirt that you just can’t keep your eyes off of? Check. And that’s how the life behind the stick operates.
PS: I picked this panel up from the blog Warren Peace, in an article about the artist Steve Ditko (whose art I dig, especially in early Dr. Strange and old horror comics), coming out of panels from The Art of Ditko, edited by Craig Yoe, which is a full book of older Ditko. It almost should go without saying (cause those who read this blog occasionally will guess it already), but I found the Warren Peace blog via a link in a post on the otherworldly Neilalien site.
PPS: I’m not, any more, a professional bartender. But I know a lot of them. And this post is for them, especially the hard-working Andrew B who writes the hard-working blog Cask Strength.
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