April 26, 2022
Just a few weeks back I had a Chester Himes Cocktail Talk (called The Crazy Kill, Part III) where I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t had any Cocktail Talking from the amazing Chester Himes in many a year, and talked more about my love of his work, especially his Harlem-based novels featuring police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones (some of the finest characters created in detective fiction I think, with razor dialogue, sharp personalizations, and many memorable moments). I was thinking about it enough that I had to re-read some more from Mr. Himes, and so went with All Shot Up (check out the All Shot Up Cocktail Talk Part I, and all the Chester Himes Cocktail Talks), which boasts a robbery, chilly temps, a hit-and-run (with all sorts of twists), violence, politicians and politics, dark humor, plot shenanigans, and much more rollicking over the page at a blistering pace. Including the below quote, which reminded me of the first time I read the book. When I saw the drink referenced below on that first read years and years back, I reached out to the great Gary Regan (one of the bar world’s fine gentlemen, and sadly now slinging and drinking drinks at the big bar in the beyond), knowing he both knew endless amounts about drinks but also that he had a taste for mystery and detective fiction, too, just to see if he’d heard of the drink. He hadn’t, but did some research (always kind, Mr. Regan), and even though he didn’t track down another mention of it, we had a fine time talking it through and talking over the book. Here’s to him, and to Chester Himes, and for that matter to you, too.
He was drinking a tall frappe highball of dark rum with a streak of grenadine running down the center, called a “Josephine Baker.” If La Baker herself had been running stark nude in the bottom of his glass he could not have given her any more attention.
–Chester Himes, All Shot Up
March 29, 2022
It’s been eight years since my last Cocktail Talk post (The Crazy Kill Part II) from Chester Himes’ book The Crazy Kill, and twelve since my first (The Crazy Kill Part I, as you might imagine) – by all the bottles in the bar, time passes too quickly! You should for sure go back and read both those posts and the quotes from the book highlighted within, but let me also underline a few things: first, Chester Himes (who wrote all sorts of amazing works – see all Chester Himes Cocktail Talks, too) is awesome, and if you haven’t read anything by him, it’s a must do. Second, this book is one of his series featuring his Harlem-based police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, two of the most memorable characters in detective fiction, inhabiting a perfectly rendered (as far I can tell, and I certainly feel transported when reading the books featuring them) 1950s-60s specific time-and-place. Third (and if the above haven’t sold you, this will), the book really kicks off by an opium-addicted preacher falling out of a window and landing in a bread-basket – which saves his life, but which also leads to realizing there is a dead body in the bread-basket! I just had to have another quote from the book:
“Jesus Christ!” he exclaimed. “Peach brandy and laudanum. You drink this stuff?”
“It’s for my nerves,” Reverend Short said.
–Chester Himes, The Crazy Kill
January 27, 2015
I’ve talked a pretty fair amount about my love of the writer Chester Himes, and pretty much everything he’s written. And have had a number of quotes from books of his featuring the Harlem detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. But I’ve never had a quote from the book All Shot Up? That seems almost unbelievable. But I’m here to rectify that (and might have more quotes from this book in the future, cause it is awesome) with the below from the very first page of the book.
His eyes popped. He knew he was sober. He hadn’t been drinking any whisky and he hadn’t been smoking any weed. But he didn’t believe what he saw. It was a mirage; but this was not the desert and he was not dying of thirst. In fact he was cold enough for his guts to freeze; and the only thing he wanted to drink was a hot rum and lemon.
He saw a Cadillac pass, the likes of which he had never seen. And his business was cars.
This Cadillac looked as though it were made of solid gold.
–Chester Himes, All Shot Up
May 20, 2014
Part two of my re-reading and Cocktail Talk-ing from Chester Himes books continues (part 1 here) continues with a quote from the awesome book, The Crazy Kill. I talk about it more in the first Crazy Kill Cocktail Talk (see it when you look at all Chester Himes Cocktail Talks), but as a quick refresher, it starts at a wake where a man is found dead in a bread basket. And goes from there. Actually, I’m going to be put in two quotes, but the first one is really short – and so perfect if you know a bunch of bartenders. Like I do (luckily). The second is an overview of the wake, and is a dandy party quote (even if a wake isn’t, I suppose, always a party).
‘I ain’t interested in that whiskey jockey,’ Doll Baby said.
The table, sink, sidestands and most of the available floor space were strewn with empty and half-filled bottles – gin, whiskey and rum bottles, pop bottles, condiment bottles; pots, pans and platters of food, a dishpan containing leftover potato salad, deep iron pots with soggy pieces of friend chicken, fried fish, fried pork chops; baking pans with mashed and mangled biscuits, pie pans with single slices of runny pies; a washtub containing bits of ice floating about in trashy water; slices of cake and spongy white-bread sandwiches, half eaten, lying everywhere – on the table, sink and floor.
— Chester Himes, The Crazy Kill
May 13, 2014
I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite Chester Himes books lately (if you haven’t read Chester Himes at all – then get to it, cause he’s one of the real greats – if you have read some of his books, then let me say, re-reading them is well worth it), and realized that when Cocktail Talk-ing them earlier on this blog, I overlooked some choice quotes. Including the below from the book The Heat is On, which stars (of course) the finest Harlem detectives – and best named detectives – Grave Digger Jones and Cotton Ed Johnson, as well as an albino called Pinky.
Mamie Louise was sick and the other all-night greasy spoons and barbecue joints had no appeal. They decided to eat in the Great Man nightclub on 125th Street.
‘I like a joint where you can smell the girls’ sweat,’ Coffin Ed said.
It had a bar fronting on the street with a cabaret in back where a two-dollar membership fee was charged to get in.When the two detectives flashed their buzzers they were made members for free . . .
‘You want stink, you got it,’ Grave Digger said.
‘And everything that goes with it,’ Coffin Ed amended.
Some joker was shouting in a loud belligerent voice, ‘I ain’t gonna pay for but two whiskeys; dat’s all I drunk. Somebody musta stole the other three ‘cause I ain’t seen ‘em.’
— The Heat is On, Chester Himes
November 26, 2010
Last month, I hit up booze-y quotes from two Chester Himes books, The Crazy Kill and The Heat is On. If you missed those, go on and read them, and then come back. Back? Okay. Today, though, I have a quote from perhaps the best known Himes book containing the two most dangerous police detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, A Rage in Harlem. It’s a fantastic read, full of the details of Harlem that make all of Mr. Himes detective books come alive, and was also made into a movie that’s well worth tracking down. This quote not only makes me miss some of my local bars (not that any were this rowdy), but also introduced me to a phrase for booze I love: ruckus-juice. If any bartenders are reading this, please have a drink called “ruckus-juice” on your drinks menu next time I come in to your establishment. I will tip big.
There were more bars on his itinerary than on any other comparable distance on earth. In every one the jukeboxes blared, honey suckle blues voices dripped sticky through jungle cries of wailing saxophones, screaming trumpets, and buckdancing piano notes; someone was either fighting or had just stopped fighting, or was just starting to fight, or drinking ruckus-juice and talking about fighting.
—A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes
October 30, 2010
My Chester Himes quote from a couple days ago has spurred me to want to put up a couple more from his Harlem series starring the two toughest-named detectives ever: Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. In The Heat Is On, Grave Digger almost buys it, which almost has Coffin Ed taking out half the city. But by the end, Grave Digger is okay, and Coffin Ed is going out for a calmer.
Leaving the hospital they ran into Lieutenant Anderson, who was on his way to see Grave Digger, too.
They told him how he was, and the three of them went to a little French bar over on Broadway in the French section.
Coffin Ed had a couple of Cognacs to keep down his high blood pressure. His wife looked at him indulgently. She settled for a Dubonnet while Anderson had a couple of Pernods to keep Coffin Ed company.
–Chester Himes, The Heat Is On
October 26, 2010
Chester Himes is one fantastic and fantastically varied writer. He’s written novels a plenty, known for their rigorous politics, but never getting bogged down by them, more rollicking stories, and pure polemics. But he’s probably best known for his series of Harlem crime books, which star two unforgettable police detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. These books, for me, manage what most “crime” books don’t, which is to create a universe so complete and entertaining and real that the mysteries or crimes become, not secondary, but only a part of the whole, instead of the only thing tying a book together. The fact that many characters hit a variety of bars and have drinks a’poppin’ doesn’t hurt either. This quote is from The Crazy Kill, and if you don’t always want your drinks ice-cold, you’ll appreciate it (really, you’ll appreciate it no matter what I’ll bet).
When Johnny sat down the waitress came with the menu, and PeeWee brought in a big glass pitcher of lemonade, with slices of lemons and limes and big chunks of ice floating in it.
‘I want a Singapore Sling,’ Dulcy said.
Johnny gave her a look.
‘Well, brandy and soda then. You know good and well that ice-cold drinks give me indigestion.’
–Chester Himes, The Crazy Kill