Saturday, February 3, 2007

Cocktail hour

In the introduction to Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers , the authors Edward Hemingway (Ernest's grandson) and Mark Bailey write:

This book grew out of a simple observation: writers like to drink. Not all writers, of course, but most. Or at least they used to. The writers in this book, for example, forty-three great men and women of American letters. From James Agee to Thomas Wolfe, the list includes five Nobel Laureates and fifteen Pulitzer Prize winners, Academy Award winners, and just plain best-sellers. It's a who's who of our nation's most accomplished novelists, short-story writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, and critics. And they all loved their liquor.

They go on to say:

The two of us were talking about this one snowy night a few years ago. We were at a Christmas party in a bar in Greenwich Village, sitting on barstools drinking beers and feeling a touch nostalgic. The night had not started out that way. For any number of reasons (the cheer of the holiday season, the beauty of snow falling in New York, the pleasure of an open bar), we had been looking forward to a pretty serious bender. Yet to our surprise, the party was not with us. There we were, in a bar filled with writers, and the crowd could not have been more tame.

In the good old days, we imagined, things would have been very different. In the good old days, the myth of the hard-drinking writer was not just a myth. But clearly that world had disappeared long ago.

When asked about writers and their affinity for alcohol, Truman Capote quoted Irish playwright Brendan Behan, "We are drinkers with writing problems." It was a confession of sorts, that the scales had tipped for him. Maybe they tipped for other writers in this book too. Why did they drink so much? Did alcohol help or hurt their writing? These are worthwhile questions and there are no easy answers. But then this is, after all, a bartending guide, and who are we to say.

One thing is clear: however pickled these writers may have been, they left an extraordinary body of literature behind for us.

The book contains wonderful, wonderful drawings, a quote, a drinking story, a little biographical information, a cocktail recipe, and a literary excerpt for each of the writers. A writer gets two pages. The book is beautifully designed. Here is a view of one of my very favorites, Robert Benchley.

Have you noticed in the past few years that there has been an increased interest in cocktails and the cocktail culture? From Oprah's Pomegranate Martini to the Sex and the City Cosmopolitan, to the Pottery Barn's Mojito Mix cd, to the appeal of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, right through to this new book. It's an interesting cultural phenomenon.


  1. As you know, I love my whiskey sours! ;)

  2. Here's what the book has to say about the Whiskey Sour.

    It is offered in the entry on James Agee, whose works include, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, A Death in the Family, and with John Huston- The African Queen!:

    Like many southern writers, Agee (born in Knoxville, Tennessee) loved his bourbon. One of America's oldest cocktails, the venerable Whiskey Sour is a fine way to imbibe yours. When made just right, a balance between sweet and sour is achieved.

    2 oz. bourbon, rye, or blended whiskey
    3/4 oz. simple syrup (NOT Splenda!!) - recipe follows
    3/4 oz. lemon juice
    Orange or lemon slice
    Maraschino cherry

    Pour all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange or lemon slice and cherry. Traditionally, a raw egg white is added to give the drink a silky consistency.

    The Whiskey Sour can also be served on the rocks in an Old-Fashioned Glass.

    Simple syrup:

    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 cup water

    (one-to-one ration, as much as desired for use or storage)

    Stir 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a light boil and then let simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

    If storing, pour cooled syrup into a glass bottle of jar, cap tightly, and refrigerate. Should keep for a week.

  3. I love this book. I am glad you have shared this with us. My favorite drink is a Gin and Tonic. Although if you offerred me a Whiskey sour I wouldn't turn it down (lol). Who drank G&Ts?

  4. No Gin and Tonics mentioned, but the Raymond Chandler entry was a Gimlet:

    2 oz. gin
    1 oz. Rose's Lime Juice
    Lime wedge

    Pour gin and lime juice into a mixing glass filled with ice cubes. Stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

    And Fitzgerald's drink:

    Gin Rickey

    2 oz. gin
    3/4 oz. lime juice
    Top with club soda
    Lime wheel

    Pour gin and lime juice into a chilled highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with club soda, and stir gently. Garnish with lime wheel. Serve with two straws.

    I think you'd love the book. So much fun, and so beautifully done.

  5. Hey! It doesn't say NOT Splenda! ;)

  6. Hey pallie, thanks for takin' Dinonote of the Dinorevival that is underway. Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool. Oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth!!!

  7. My daughter bought me a lovely cocktail book called Highballs High Heels: A Girls Guide to the Art of Cocktails. I've tried a few of the cocktail recipes and have really enjoyed exploring new drinks! *hiccup* ;-)

  8. Rapunzel, I have that book! A friend gave it to me a few years ago. We ought to compare notes. :<) Isn't it well-designed? And very witty, too!

    And Dino Martin Peters, thanks for dropping by. I mentioned Dino around Christmastime, too, here:

  9. Oh this does sound cool! We don't make cocktails often, but sometimes they hit the spot.


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