November 21, 2023

Cocktail Talk: Barnaby Rudge, Part V

Barnaby Rudge

Have we had enough Cocktail Talking from the Dickens’ classic Barnaby Rudge? I doubt it! But we are going to turn the last page – or have the last quote – for now, calling last call with the below (be sure to learn more about the book, as well as enjoy more Barnaby Rudge Cocktail Talks by reading Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV! And why not read all the Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks? There is no good answer to that question). This snippet takes us back to the Maypole, the bar parts of the book revolve around, and is such a dandy description of the place, I wish I could dive right into the page and be there (the bar, that is, not the page). What a spot! And, what a book.

Old John would have it that they must sit in the bar, and nobody objecting, into the bar they went. All bars are snug places, but the Maypole’s was the very snuggest, cosiest, and completest bar, that ever the wit of man devised. Such amazing bottles in old oaken pigeon-holes; such gleaming tankards dangling from pegs at about the same inclination as thirsty men would hold them to their lips; such sturdy little Dutch kegs ranged in rows on shelves; so many lemons hanging in separate nets, and forming the fragrant grove already mentioned in this chronicle, suggestive, with goodly loaves of snowy sugar stowed away hard by, of punch, idealised beyond all mortal knowledge; such closets, such presses, such drawers full of pipes, such places for putting things away in hollow window-seats, all crammed to the throat with eatables, drinkables, or savoury condiments; lastly, and to crown all, as typical of the immense resources of the establishment, and its defiances to all visitors to cut and come again, such a stupendous cheese!

–Charles Dickes, Barnaby Rudge

February 3, 2012

Cocktail Talk: Alexis Soyer Week, Part 3

I’m going to skip the preamble for this post (you can catch that in Alexis Soyer Cocktail Talk I and Alexis Soyer Cocktail Talk II) and get right the quotes, which are again taken from the superb Soyer bio Relish by Ruth Cowen. These quotes are again showing why Soyer fits on a cocktail and drinks blog (even though he’d probably be more associated with the culinary arts as opposed to the cocktail arts. Though really, they go together so nicely). And the first one uses the phrase “oesophagus burners,” which is a phrase I’d like to see back in circulation.

Beneath this terrace, reached via a wooden staircase, was an American-style bar called The Washington Refreshment Room, which was to all intents and purposes the first cocktail bar in London. It provided thirsty customers with such daring modern concoctions as ‘flashes of lightning, tongue twisters, oesophagus burners, knockemdowns, squeezemtights . . . brandy pawnees, shadygaffs, mint juleps, hailstorms, Soyer’s Nectar cobblers, brandy smash, and hoc genus omne.’ More than forty cocktails were on offer, and among the candidates for the job of barmen, said Sala, was ‘an eccentric American genius, who declared himself perfectly capable of compounding four at a time, swallowing a flash of lightning, smoking a cigar, singing Yankee Doodle, washing up the glasses, and performing the overture to the Huguenots on the banjo simultaneously.

 . . .  the festivities almost came to a dramatic end when a paper lantern caught fire and the flames quickly spread across the roof–but a young officer hoisted himself up to the beams and managed to extinguish it. The band resumed, and Alexis produced his special punch–Crimean Cup à la Marmora–a lethal blend of iced Champagne, Cognac, Jamaican rum, maraschino, orgeat syrup, soda water, sugar, and lemons.

January 30, 2012

Cocktail Talk: Alexis Soyer Week, Part 1

If you’re interested in cooking, in living well, use a gas stove, have eaten while in the military, have worn a beret or enjoy wearing colorful clothes, like French, English, or other European cuisine, have a healthy (or unhealthy) interest in celebrity chefs or celebrities in general, are curious about kitchen inventions, have been known to knock back a bit of bubbly regularly, are wondering where the first American-style cocktail bar was in London, have a thing for Dickens’ era history, or just want to learn about an awfully interesting fella, I strongly suggest you read Roth Cowen’s Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef. It’s quite a rollicking read as far as biographies go, because Soyer was quite a rollicking character. A famous chef in Paris by the time he was 20 (called “The Enfant Terrible of Monmartre”), Soyer really became a hit after political uprising sent him to England (he’d made one amazing, and amazingly described, banquet for the wrong people when the right people were uprising). He eventually became head chef at the famous Reform Club, where he designed the most modern kitchen ever seen, including being one of the first to use gas stoves instead of coal, along with a bunch of other culinary-minded inventions and innovations. Eventually, he did a host of things (I’m not going to mention them all–really, read the book) consumerist and philanthropic, published cookbooks, had his name on condiments, had a hugely fantastic failure of a, well, restaurant isn’t really the word, but at least is related, made and lost lots of money, became well-known, and then died in his late 40s. For the amount of work he did for the poor and military of the U.K., you’d think he’d be better revered, but he hasn’t been (though maybe the last few years have been kinder). As you can tell, I was pretty struck by Soyer when reading the book, so much so that I’ve decided to have a week of quotes from the book (which may mean three posts, maybe more), some by him, and some about him. Starting with one from earlier in his life, and then moving on–all to try and entice you to learn more about the great Soyer.

…he was particularly skilled at mimicking the comic turns of whichever show was playing. He had a musical ear and sang, by all accounts, nearly as well as Levasseur, one of the most admired bass singers in France. A dandy with a penchant for outlandish costumes, a terrible flirt, a skiller storyteller and an impish practical joker, Alexis had even considered switching careers to try his luck on the stage.

By two in the morning he would be at the Provence Hotel, the Ceder Cellars, or Evan’s Late Supper Rooms in Covent Garden–also frequented by Thackeray–where customers descended a flight of stone steps to a smoky basement called the Cave of Harmony, which was in fact a large raucous music hall and café serving simple, alcohol-absorbing meals of fatty chops, sausages, grilled kidneys in gravy, Welsh rarebit, and baked potatoes. Here the exclusively male clientele would stay until the early hours, cheering and heckling the professional glee singers and comic acts while knocking back the cheap booze–stout, pale ale, punch, grog, hot whisky and water.


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