September 14, 2021
Agatha (Christie, naturally — not to throw shade on other Agathas, but really, if just using the first name “Agatha” don’t most people’s minds head towards her? Just me?) is deservedly known best for her detective (whether Belgian, small town observer, or husband-wife team) books. But she wrote others, too! Some falling into what I’d call “international intrigue,” including They Came To Baghdad. She was a well-traveled writer, with a flair for description, and so writing more globe-trotting – as opposed to set in the UK – books makes sense. Though, I have to admit, there are lots of mysterious threads intertwining here, but hey, she knows her stuff. Basically, after some set-up and stage-setting and character introducing, and a lot of “what’s happening here”-ing, the story follows Victoria Jones, who loses her job, meets a nice chap in a park, decides she’s in love, follows him (by picking up a random job with free airline tickets) to Baghdad, and drops right into a worldwide conspiracy, nearly gets killed, gets kidnapped, goes on an archeology dig, and stays in a hotel run by a man named Marcus who likes to buy drinks, which are delivered by a waiter named Jesus. And a whole lot more! There are murders, twists, neat scenes, and more drinks. Well worth picking up!
“Come and have a drink with us Miss Jones. Martini – Sidecar? This is Mr. Dakin. Miss Jones from England. Now then, my dear, what will you have?”
Victoria said she would have a Sidecar “and some of those lovely nuts?” she suggested hopefully, remembering that nuts were nutritious.
“You like nuts? Jesus!” He gave the order in rapid Arabic. Mr. Dakin said in a sad voice that he would have a lemonade.
“Ah,” cried Marcus, “but that is ridiculous.”
–Agatha Christie, They Came to Baghdad
September 3, 2019
I’ve had a couple Cocktail Talks from George Harmon Coxe on the ol’ Spiked Punch, but not an inordinate amount. Which is a bit odd, as I sorta like his probably main star, photographer/drinker/mystery solver Kent Murdock. Maybe I just need to track down some more books? Recently, I did score a good one, The Silent Witness, in a two-novels-in-one hardback-book book, if that makes sense (the others was a great Simenon, Maigret and the Informer, and why don’t we do these “duo” books anymore? Modern authors too snooty to share?). Interestingly, it doesn’t star Mr. Murdock, but instead PI Jack Fenner, though Murdock shows briefly, as they both share the same fictional universe! I love that! It’s a crossover, in a way, and I think there were more, and Fenner shows up in small roles in the Murdocks I’ve read. We talk about crossovers now in movies as if they never happened before, but here we are. Oh, the book’s a good read, too, with a more slow burn development than many (the murder doesn’t happen for say 90 pages), and a neatly draw-out denouement between PI and villain, with lots of clues along the way. A good one – especially when paired with a book staring our old pal Inspector Maigret, and when featuring this quote.
But I can buy a drink while you two get acquainted . . . what will it be? He added when the waiter approached.
Nancy showed no hesitation. “A very dry Martini with a twist, straight up.” “I think – maybe a Cinzano and soda, with a bit of orange peel,” Kathy said, and Fenner asked for a Scotch and water.
— George Harmon Coxe, The Silent Witness
February 19, 2019
Well, when I posted an earlier Leave Her to Hell Cocktail Talk, I should have mentioned (or at least alluded to) that there might be more, but I wasn’t sure. However, in hindsight, why would I only want one, when there are multiple swell drinking scene in this book (which, as you learned when you read the earlier post, which you did read, right? but whichin you learned I’m reading via a you-should-own-it collection of three Fletcher Flora novels, said collection put out by Stark House). Heck, I’m guessing now that I’ll have even more from Kansas-born Mr. Fletcher (sadly gone from us a few years now), so you have that to look forward to (and if you need even more, see past Fletcher Flora Cocktail Talks, too). However, with that said, and with my admiration for said writer, I can’t completely agree with his final assertion in the below quote, which has three classic drinks in it. Three! Though, with novelists, you never know that the protagonist’s point of view is the authors, so really, maybe Mr. Flora loves an Alexander, and is having one right now at whatever afterworld bar he’s hanging at. Here’s hoping!
I looked right. A cocktail lounge was over that way, beyond a wide entrance and down a step. A number of people were drinking cocktails. There was no music. I recognized a Martini, which was all right, a Manhattan, which was better, and an Alexander, which you can have. Everything was very elegant, very sedate. Maybe someone saw me, maybe not.
–Fletcher Flora, Leave Her to Hell
June 19, 2018
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.”
–Fletcher Flora, Park Avenue Tramp
May 12, 2017
Boodles and Dolin sound a smidge like they could be an old Vaudevillian comedy duo, with the spinning ties, just-about-bawdy bawdiness, and maybe even a seltzer dispenser for a wet-faced final guffaw. The latter of course would be out of place today, as I decided that I needed to keep it about as canonical as you can (or close, I suppose), after having an assortment of high-faluting liquid creations lately. I don’t consume a wheelbarrowful of Martinis, but once in a while I get the urge, and when urge-ing go with a ratio that all should (that’s what really old drinkers would tell us – like, say, 90ish), 2-1/2 to 1/2, stirred (screw off Bond), and go with a lemon, because lemons are fruits of the gods and olives aren’t. Feel free to seltzer me in the face, but not until I finish this drink. Actually, not until I finish the next drink. I surely deserve two.
2-1/2 ounces Boodles gin
1/2 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add Boodles and Dolin. Laff! Then stir. Then laff!
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon, in a manner that would make your grandfather’s grandmother proud.
December 27, 2016
Just for fun recently, I re-read Charles Williams’ Man on a Leash. It might not have even been that long since I read it the first time – I know I had a Spiked Punch post about it not that long ago. Go read that so you can get some background. You back? Good. Anywho, decided to re-read it when in one of those Williams moods, and came across another quote, ideal for Cocktail Talk-ing. Check it out – bet you agree.
“No,” she said. “I’m glad you came; I wanted to talk to you. She led the way down the short vestibule into the living room. “Come on into the kitchen,” she said, “while I fix the drinks. It’s Carmelita’s day off.”
The kitchen was in front, on the opposite side of the living room, with a separate dining room in back of it. There was a door at the far end of it, probably to the garage. She opened the refrigerator for ice cubes. “Martini, vodka and tonic, Scotch?”
“Vodka and tonic would be fine,” he said.
She began assembling the drinks, the old ebullience and blatant sexiness subdued now, though the simple sheath she wore was still overpowered by the figure that nothing would ever quite restrain. Her legs were bare, as usual.
–Charles Williams, Man on a Leash
November 22, 2016
See, I told you (in Part I) that I’d probably have a second quote from Hal Masur’s (aka Harold Q. Masur) lawyer-y pulp-y book from last century, You Can’t Live Forever. And here we are! Check out the below, and know that I can predict the future.
It was a nice quiet bar on a side street off Park Avenue, cool and dim and silken, a high-class oasis with retiring waiters and a hushed atmosphere. The chairs were softly pliant to make you comfortable and the pretzels crisp and dry to keep you thirsty. Enclosed booths ringed the room and smoke wove a gauze-like web that hung motionless in the still air.
We were on our third pair of Martinis and were calling each other by our first names. Conversation so far had been limited to that polite badinage used between two people on mutual fishing expeditions. I was in rare form.
— Hal Masur, You Can’t Live Forever
March 25, 2016
Okay, let’s start with another drink – the Martini. Don’t worry, I’ll get to widows. But recently I received (poor me!) a bottle of Ransom Gin and a bottle of Ransom dry vermouth in the mail. If you don’t know (and, if so, why don’t you?), Ransom is a farm-to-glass distillery and winery in Sheridan, OR, started up by owner and distiller Tad Seestedt. With the f-to-g earlier, you can probably guess that they use local ingredients by the bucketful, including in the gin alone, hops, marionberry, coriander, fennel seeds, and chamomile all produced on the Oregon farm where the distillery is, which is fantastic. And the vermouth also features wine and brandy made on the farm, using OR ingredients, too. That’s pretty darn awesome, and means these old pals (gin and vermouth, that is), in this situation are old, old pals, down to the ground. So, when one (if you’re one like me) gets a bottle of gin and a bottle of vermouth from the same spot and sharing the same agricultural legacy, the first thing that happens is opening the bottles. Then making a Martini, of course.
Mine are made in old school style, 2-1/2 parts gin to 1/2 part vermouth, with a twist of lemon. The end result here – darn delicious. Hints of herb and spice, but with a really lovely smoothness overall. Everything, as you’d expect, plays so nicely together. Of course, me being me and all that, I couldn’t just try the Martini, I had to push the envelope beyond the obvious with a lesser-in-the-road’s-middle cocktail. And that cocktail was the Merry Widow, which I’d recently re-discovered (I can’t remember if this is where I saw it first, honestly) in a fun book from 1936 called Burke’s Complete Cocktail and Tastybite Recipes – a fine read if you can find it. Anyway, the Merry Widow lets the vermouth shine a bit more (which is good here, because the Ransom vermouth is very drinkable all alone, with an balanced herbal, citrus, combo), and also introduces just a hint of a few other players, all of whom played well. Give it a whirl, and see if you can taste that good Oregon terroir coming through. I served a round to some pals, and they all could – and thought the drink would make any widow get up and dance.
The Merry Widow
1-1/2 ounces Ransom gin
1-1/2 ounces Ransom dry vermouth
2 dashes Absinthe
2 dashes Benedictine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything but the twist. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Now, bring that twist to the OR party.