Friday, October 14, 2011

Pictured above, the Widow Norton, who is an important character in my book and, obviously, in political rights for gays and lesbians. Sarria ran for office fifty years ago this November - the first openly gay man to ever do so. Here is my brief story of his current effort to preserve and organize his archive in The Atlantic.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A little behind in posting and lots to catch up on. First off, this handsome picture is connected to a Bar Star which came out September 12 - Amos Pudsey of the Keriwa Cafe. I had to take a little time off but will be resuming the Bar Stars column soon. Extremely sorry to have missed Kuypers.

Recently, we had reviews in Alcademics, World of Beer and was mentioned in an article in The Stranger, which covered Art of the Cocktail, which was a really fun conference/festival I had the pleasure of attending in early October.

Between all that and an NPR All Things Considered interview, I seem to have hit Powell's best-seller list, which, I think, makes me famous in Portlandia - something I'm thrilled to no end about, since in my fantasy slacker life, I am going to spend a few months there in the next few years, just catching up on my reading and eating really good food. I seem to think I belong there.

I also love Boston, of course, where some good folks were kind enough to host me back in August. And even after they met me in person, they still recommended my book. And before that all started, there was the National Post. Adam McDowell, always keen with the insight, wrote one of my favorite pieces about the book and me. Okay, enough bragging for now.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Another Bar Star, this time, Jan Ollner from Reposado. Jan likes to play with tequila, a spirit near and dear to my heart. Also, for those interested, a review of Four Kitchens in the Star. And, finally, I want to point you to Winefox, a relatively new website about wines. This, from my Barfly column.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

For Bukowski's birthday, we post a quick link to his cameo in Barfly. In addition, I link to a couple of nice reviews of a certain book about a topic close to Bukowski's heart. First, from the Winnipeg Free Press, Tom Oleson's review. It concludes as follows:

America Walks into a Bar is history at its best. It is filled with fascinating detail -- it is hard to find a boring page -- about an important historical phenomenon. One puts it down with a sense of satisfaction and a strong urge for a large glass of flip and bounce and a question: Why can't all history books read like this?

And next, from the Buffalo News, Dan Murphy, author of Nickel City Drafts: A Drinking History of Buffalo, New York. He writes:

“America Walks Into a Bar” isn’t a paean to drinking or a love letter to alcohol. It is an insightful, well-told look inside the unique thing that is the American tavern, and how the tavern has helped change American history. It is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of anyone who appreciates the nuances of American history and an occasional visit to the local watering hole.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

From The Toronto Star:

A confession: This reviewer has been served intoxicating beverages by Christine Sismondo, the author of America Walks Into a Bar. It would be difficult to find a qualified reviewer of this book in Toronto who has not. Along with many other denizens of an Annex pub called Kilgour’s, I am gratuitously mentioned in the Acknowledgements.

Sismondo, an academic/mixologist/ex-beerslinger, is ideally suited to write this book. Her earlier book, Mondo Cocktail (2005), demonstrated a flair for research and love of a good story, and these traits prove useful once again.

America Walks Into a Bar (Oxford University Press, 320 pages, $27.95) is, by anyone’s standards, a serious historical study, but there is no doubt where the author’s sympathies lie. She is on the side of the topers and the tipplers. Americans have long had conflicted feelings about drinking, but they’ve certainly done a lot of it. And they wasted no time getting down to it.

As in Canada, one of the first priorities of the earliest European settlers in America was to build a tavern, a public building that could serve also as a town hall, courthouse or even church. No sooner were these taverns built than someone tried to shut them down or at least curtail their activities, a social dynamic that has flourished for centuries. If they had half as many laws governing guns . . .

Apart from the spectre of public drunkenness, the anti-tavernists feared the political activity that went on in pubs from the beginning. For a very long time, people have been gathering in taverns to hear the latest news and to exchange views of current events. The tavern is an inherently democratic institution, open to anyone with the price of a drink, and the idea of real democracy makes ruling classes nervous. At its core this book is about freedom of assembly and those who would stifle it.

According to Sismondo, most of American history happened in taverns. The first victim of the Salem witch hysteria was a tavern-keeper. John Wilkes Booth plotted in a tavern. The American Revolution was fomented almost entirely in taverns. The Boston Tea Party was hatched at the Green Dragon and, possibly, the Salutation. Paul Revere is thought to have stopped at a pub for a tot of rum on his famous ride. George Washington held his inaugural ball at Samuel Fraunces’s Queen’s Head in lower Manhattan.

As the new nation matured, it set about creating political parties, and it should hardly be necessary to observe where they met, where they recruited members and where they spent the bulk of their campaign funds, plying the electorate with strong drink. Sismondo’s account of the growth of machine politics built around what were often no better than gangs is the least savoury part of her study. If you think American politics is sordid now, read this book.

You can’t write about American drinking history without tackling Prohibition, and Sismondo astutely points out that one of the turning points that led to the Noble Experiment was the creation of the Anti-Saloon League. Rather than attack a vague target like alcohol, the ASL went for the most easily recognized source of the drinking problem: the place where all these men gathered to get sozzled, not to mention where they formed labour unions and promoted such un-American practices as anarchism and socialism. Railway mogul George Pullman forced his workers to live in a saloon-free company town, to keep them both sober and untainted by political ideas (it didn’t work).

The ASL, aided by the hatchet-wielding Carry Nation, achieved its goals, and today Americans don’t drink at all. Oh wait, that didn’t work out, did it? Americans — except those living in dry counties, and they just have to drive farther — continue to exercise their right to the freedom of assembly, though they’ve had to battle for it.

Over the years tavern owners have suffered for serving both blacks and whites in the same bar. In 1969, gay New Yorkers fought in the streets of Greenwich Village for their right to assemble freely at the Stonewall. In the same era, feminists demanded the right to be served at men-only bars.

In an interesting twist, Sismondo introduces the hot topic of mothers in Brooklyn’s tony Park Slope area who take their kids in massive strollers into local pubs. Whose rights risk being curtailed? Barflies who dislike tripping over babies and being told not to cuss, or women who want the right to have a drink like everyone else?

America Walks Into a Bar is more than a book about America’s tavern history; it is a book about America itself, the mighty republic at its best, its worst and its least sober. Sismondo’s erudition and wit make this a lively, very readable study. I expect to see it being read in fine pubs everywhere.

Nicholas Pashley is the author of Cheers: An Intemperate History of Beer in Canada (2009) and Notes on a Beermat (2001).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wanted to let everyone know that I'll be at 92Y Tribeca on Wednesday July 13 at noon.

Following that, in the evening, I'll be at the Harvard Club.

The next day, we get rolling at the Fraunces Tavern Museum around 6:30 p.m. This is one of those wonderful little hidden gems of New York and I know some people are coming to this event on the grounds that they've never been.

In addition, I haven't mentioned my top ten list which I did for Kirkus. Number three (and no, it wasn't really in any order) was the Green Parrot Bar, which I see they've discovered and are happy about. Reading their blog post made me want to head straight down to Key West and head to the bar. Sad to hear that Frank won't be there to charm the customers but happy he's got a good home. We'll forget soon enough - the bar has a great crowd, good beer and seems to somehow always have a great bar band.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

This is what I wrote about it for Page 99.

Then, the caption:


Happy times in a simple tavern. As always, a wait for the bathroom.

I have never looked at this caption without laughing out loud. I know it’s not cool to laugh at your own jokes but, since it’s not my joke, it’s okay. It was produced in the sleep-deprived editing stages, by my husband who added it, I think, as a joke, to wake me up and distract me from my bleary-eyed editing. I then put it in as a joke for my editor to see, thinking he might remove it. He never did. At the page-proof stage, I had a pang of remorse and wrote the assistant. She passed it on, but it was (obviously) never removed. I guess everyone liked it, perhaps for the same reasons I do.

Namely, that it’s one of the few jokes in the book. One person reviewed my book and called it “pun-laden,” which made me want to go back and read it again, to see what puns I had in there! The point is, since this book is an attempt to treat bars seriously – as radical political spaces and valuable community centers – it’s not like a lot of alcohol books, which are pretty firmly planted in the humor branch of writing. In America Walks into a Bar, I strive for levity, but not jokes, per se. But we snuck this one in – as a reward for the careful caption reader.

And here's the link to the Page 99 Test, in case anyone wants to read the entire entry:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Bad Bad Boys of Saloons – 3 P.M. Thursday, July 21, 2011 – Tales of the Cocktail

Sure, you could go to one of those earnest seminars with qualified and respectable bartenders who will teach you cutting-edge or historical bar techniques that will add to your understanding of the art and science of the bar. Or, you could come hang out with James Waller and Christine Sismondo, who will regale you with stories you’ve almost certainly never heard before, or are likely to in polite company.

Slumming, after all, is one of the great American pastimes, which, incidentally, is one of our best topics.

As if you need any more reasons, here are my top five:

1. By Thursday at 3pm, you will be over your first hangover and very ready for a Mule Skinner to round out your afternoon.
2. You don’t have to leave the hotel – which means one less shirt change.
3. Bad bars and the people who frequent them are far more fun than good ones.
4. You almost never get a chance to see James Waller and Christine Sismondo in the flesh, since they are usually either reclusively writing and drinking whiskey at home or found in bars you can’t tell your mother about. This may be your only chance to see us and confirm we actually exist.
5. This seminar will almost certainly be the cult hit of Tales of the Cocktail 2011.

Add to this, the fact that we promise not to use the words "mise en place."

Where: Queen Anne Ballroom, Hotel Monteleone, Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans, Louisiana.
When: 3pm-4:30, Thursday, July 21, 2011
What: Maybe the most dynamic, fun and sensational seminar on the history of bad bars you’re likely to see.
Why: Because it will justify James and Christine’s idea that spending a lifetime drinking in bars was not actually a waste of time and promising lives.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It’s Bloomsday, everyone. And, once again, I’m in the wrong country.

Still, it can be celebrated quite easily from Toronto. Flipping through, though, I realized how much I had forgotten and how much I need to re-read it. The one chapter that’s still pretty clear, however, is “Cyclops.” Unsurprising perhaps, since much of it takes place in the bar, Barney Kiernan’s. And, as you might guess, this bar scene makes it into the new book: America Walks into a Bar.

First off, there’s the mention of anti-treating: “… Joe was talking about the Gaelic league and the antitreating league and drink, the curse of Ireland. Antitreating is about the size of it. Gob, he’d let you pour all manner of drink down his throat till the Lord would call him before you’d ever see the froth of his pint.”

Anti-treating was a movement that gained currency, not only in Ireland, but also in England, Canada and the United States. The basic idea was that buying rounds were what was leading to drunken behaviour and that if buying another person a drink could be prohibited, drinking would be a more staid and solitary affair.

Funnily enough, standing a round is the central controversy at the pub and in this chapter, since everyone thinks Bloom has made a killing at the track earlier that day on a longshot named Throwaway. Bar etiquette demands that a winner has to buy a round, to share the wealth. When he doesn’t offer to, they attribute Bloom’s stinginess to his being Jewish. It’s all fun and games ‘til somebody gets a biscuit thrown at him, which is what happens to poor unwitting Bloom.

When I began working in a bar that could be properly described as a “local,” I realized that Joyce had nailed the interaction. Not surprising, given his keen eye for detail and astounding memory. One guy won a pool – soccer, I think – but snuck in during the daytime to pick up his winnings, thereby circumventing the need to buy a round. That was sixteen years ago. And people still talk about it today. Not kidding.

That was my first clue that there were interesting codes of behaviour being played out night after night in the bar and that they were, in many ways, incredibly rigid. And this is, in part, what got me interested in hanging out in, studying and writing about bars.

Happy Bloomsday!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Very nice picture of one of Toronto's many talented bartenders. Full story here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

June 3, 2011

In honor of Allen Ginsberg's birthday today, I bring up his favorite bar, the Black Cat on Montgomery Street. Its owner, Sol Stoumen, was constantly being threatened with the loss of his license, since he insisted on serving "disorderly" patrons who frequented Jose Sarria's satirical operas which he always closed out with the refrain: "God Save us Nelly Queens, united we stand, divided they'll catch us one by one."

Stoumen took his case to the California Supreme Court and won the right to legally operate a gay bar - which is a basic freedom of association. It wasn't a slam dunk success, however, since a few years later, the California Alcohol Beverage Control Bar asserted its right to shut down bars catering to "sexual perverts." A detailed account of this battle and others is to be found in the penultimate chapter of America Walks into a Bar, available for pre-order here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Cloud Club

Today, in 1930, the Chrysler building officially opened. The Cloud Club - the "speakeasy" on the top floors - wouldn't open until July but, obviously, much of it had already been built by the time the building opened. It's a bit of a misnomer to call it a speakeasy, since it was actually a very high-end men's only private club, replete with a dining room, barber shop, stock-ticker room and humidor in addition to a well-stocked liquor cabinet for its members to use. It closed in 1979.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Mos Eisley Cantina

Today in 1977, one of the best bar scenes in the history of film appeared in theatres, the Mos Eisley Cantina scene. I'm not a massive Star Wars fan or anything but I think it should pointed out how wonderfully faithful this science fiction representation is to the history of American bars. The Cantina is a diverse meeting place for people from all walks. And, yet, they don't serve C3PO. On top of this, even in an imagined final frontier, the Mos Eisley Cantina is where a hero like Luke Skywalker hooks up with smuggler Han Solo to form a rebel alliance, this time for the purpose of blowing up the Death Star. Take a little break and watch this gem again, 34 years old today.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An ad for the Pullman car, 1894

May 11, 1894

The Pullman Strike happened today in 1894. It was a wildcat strike and wound up being one of the most influential in history—the end result was a ruling that forcing employees to live in a company town was unconstitutional. One of the many interesting things about company towns, is that in England, where they were established, they tended to be established by people with arguable progressive tendencies, who wanted to see workers live in better conditions. In America, they were adopted by robber barons, who wanted to enforce local prohibitions. Pullman, Illinois, was a place with a very high cost of living. It was also nearly bone dry—no saloons allowed. George Pullman, incidentally, was known for the Pullman car, which housed wine cellars for business travelers’ convenience. Saloons for the working classes, however, were frowned upon by industrialists like Pullman, who wanted a sober work force.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10, 1849

Today in 1849, the Astor Place Riot broke out. Some will be surprised to learn that it was over an interpretation of Macbeth; nobody who follows this blog will be surprised that it can be traced to 19th century saloon politics.

The American people, especially saloon-goers, were passionate about Shakespeare in the 19th century. It was as important a topic of conversation in the bar-room as, say, sports might be today. And, it so happened that at the time in New York, there were two very different performances of Macbeth vying for the public’s attention. One was being performed by William Charles Macready, a Brit with a reputation for staid and traditional performances, the other by Edwin Forrest, a wildly popular American actor who had a little more fun with his roles. Macready was performing at the Astor House, which was frequented by the upper-classes.

So far, this may not sound like the makings of a riot—especially not one in which 25 people were killed. But Captain Isaiah Rynders, unofficial leader of the opposition in New York, was on the job and he was trying to make the mayor look bad. For days, he wound up the troops at his saloon with free drinks and tickets to the Astor House performance. By the time the saloon mob hit the theatre, it was frenzied and mad. This was the end of the Astor House (now known as DisAstor) theatre. Incidentally, it didn’t help the reputation of that Scottish play much either. For more fascinating bits of saloon history, consider buying the book America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops, available for pre-order at Amazon and Indigo.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

May 4, 1886 – Today in bar history.
Today marks yet another anniversary of the Chicago Haymarket Square Riot, which polarized Americans for many years after. Many, like Emma Goldman, who were merely sympathetic with labor and anti-establishment philosophy, became anarchists, while others, who had no sympathy for unions and labor activists, became hard-liner anti-immigrant anti-saloonists.

The connection between Haymarket and the saloons may not be immediate apparent. But it is greater than you might even imagine, since German-born American Anarchists and labour leaders organized almost entirely in saloons. And the bomb which was thrown at the Chicago riot was traced (albeit, probably erroneously) to the “Monday Night Conspiracy,” which was said to have been hatched in a saloon.

Those convicted for having taken part in the conspiracy were victims of an unfair judicial process, to be sure. And this fact made many moderate labour activists far more militant. As I mentioned before, on the other side, those concerned about “foreign-born” terrorism made the most out of the link between the bomb and the saloon and worked to have it shut down. The Anti-Saloon League was formed within a decade of the Haymarket Affair. My soon-to-be-released book, America Walks into a Bar, detailing more of this story available for pre-order here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Pictured above "A Downtown Morgue" (photo by Jacob Riis)

It's Jacob Riis' birthday today. He's one of my heroes, even though he was no friend to the saloon. He was anti-saloon and devoted a significant portion of his pioneering polemic, How the Other Half Lives, to attacking the saloon in chapters like "The Reign of Rum," which began thusly:

WHERE God builds a church the devil builds next door—a saloon, is an old saying that has lost its point in New York. Either the devil was on the ground first, or he has been doing a good deal more in the way of building. I tried once to find out how the account stood, and counted to 111 Protestant churches, chapels, and places of worship of every kind below Fourteenth Street, 4,065 saloons. The worst half of the tenement population lives down there, and it has to this day the worst half of the saloons.

However, it's important to note that corrupt machine politics were operating almost entirely out of saloons. And Riis, at least, understood that the greater problem, which fed the saloons was poverty and inhumane tenement housing.

To their misery it (the saloon) sticketh closer than a brother, persuading them that within its doors only is refuge, relief. It has the best of the argument, too, for it is true, worse pity, that in many a tenement-house block the saloon is the one bright and cheery and humanly decent spot to be found. It is a sorry admission to make, that to bring the rest of the neighborhood up to the level of the saloon would be one way of squelching it; but it is so.

In my forthcoming book, Riis is a pretty big character, especially in the chapter that deals with how the saloon was used to consolidate political power in the late 19th century - largely for the Democrats. (Though the Republicans were hardly innocent of this technique, either.) This, incidentally, helped to fuel the Anti-Saloon League, which was largely responsible for the successful push for Prohibition. The book, America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops, is available for pre-order on and Indigo.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Here's a story on Cuban food in Little Havana, Miami, which I wrote for the Toronto Star. I absolutely loved Miami - any city which is essentially bilingual is a huge draw for me - and Latin flavors are just about my favorite.

Some of you might think I'm being grumpy about Cuban food in Cuba but, honestly, eating at these Miami restaurants was a total revelation about how good Cuban food can actually be. And the city's cuisine is hardly limited to Cuban food, either. There are immigrants from every Latin American country there - overwhelmingly Argentinians, Venezuelans and Cubans. Next time, we want to make it to Little Haiti.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Today in 1777:

The Keeler Tavern in Ridgefield, Connecticut is far from the only tavern to have played a major role in the war. In fact, there are so many that this one didn’t even make it into the book, America Walks into a Bar. But it serves as a clear symbol of the role taverns and their keepers played in the battle for Independence.

The tavern once bore the image of mad King George III on its sign, but Thomas Keeler painted over the royal likeness and changed his logo to a simple horseman when he became stirred by the Revolutionary fervor and took sides with the rebels. The tavern picked up a new name during the war, when it became known as “Cannonball House,” for the…well, cannonball that the British soldiers fired at the tavern during the battle of Ridgefield (April 27 1777).

As you can see, the cannonball got stuck in its timber. The Brits attacked on the grounds that they had heard its basement was used to store rebel munitions. Keeler's patriotic role in the war netted him the position of town post-master, a common double duty for taverns back in the day.

The Keeler Tavern is now a museum. For more about the American bar and its role in American history, America Walks into a Bar is now available for pre-order through and Indigo.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I’m a little late with a post on Darcy O’Neil’s new book Fix the Pumps, but I’m going to plead having been locked in a snow cave for several years, researching and writing. So here goes:

Just when you think you are starting to get a handle on a topic, you find out there’s a whole lot left to learn. For example, I’ve always understood that the trend towards sweeter cocktails over the twentieth century was mostly about covering up substandard bad booze during prohibition and lost “drinkways,” which refers to the fact that American bartender traditions, which used to be passed on orally from one bar-man to the next, were lost during the thirteen year noble experiment in a dry country. When booze became legal again, nobody remembered how to make a good, stiff drink anymore.

Of course, tastes were turning towards the sweet in non-alcoholic beverages like Coca-Cola, too and Darcy O’Neil, in his great new book, Fix the Pumps, a history of the soda fountain, has recently connected the dots. What with soda fountains originally touted as an alternative to the saloon, it’s hard to imagine these two ever being anything more than bitter enemies, except when they’re mixed in a glass – as in a Cuba Libre. And this is, indeed, another aspect of the over-syrupification of drinks over the 20th century, in that we began to see alcohol mixed primarily with pop, which is often cheaper and definitely more convenient than fresh mixes of other sorts.

Darcy is also responsible for reviving an old ingredient, Acid Phosphate, which he sells on his website, connected to his blog, The Art of Drink. It can be bought as a package deal with the book Fix the Pumps. Many contemporary bartenders are now experimenting with this new-again old ingredient, creating ingenious cocktails. For more on Acid Phosphate, check out his blog entry on the matter.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"La Marseillaise" was composed today in 1792 by Rouget de Lisle. Words fail to describe the power of this piece of music (writing about music is like dancing about architecture, after all), but this little number has been stirring up emotions since the French Revolution, when it came to be associated with democracy and the power of the people. Its lyrics champion liberty and the fight against tyranny – and yet, even without a translation, English speakers can feel the power of the anthem.

This war song was written for the Rhine Army and soon adopted as the French national anthem in 1795. Throughout the 19th century, it was repeatedly adopted by people who considered themselves freedom fighters, in France and abroad. "La Marseillaise" was the anthem of those involved in the Paris Commune of 1871. Same in America, where it was commonly heard amongst the German anarchists who met in bars to discuss social inequality. Justus Schwab, New York saloon-owner, community leader and close friend to Emma Goldman, was known for his stirring rendition.

To me, this adds layers of meaning to the tremendous scene in Casablanca, wherein Rick shows his true colours and lets the unruly French patrons sing "La Marseillaise" over top of the Germans. It’s not simply Yvonne’s patriotic tears which gives me goose bumps in this all-time great bar scene (linked here). It’s the music itself.

Last little bit of trivia – In 1978 Serge Gainsbourg recorded a reggae version which raised a lot of people’s hackles. But that may have been the pesky Gainesbarre’s idea.

For more about anarchism in saloons and the French Revolution and, for that matter, just about every other political movement which took place in a bar, you might want to buy America Walks into a Bar: A History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog-Shops, available for pre-order on Amazon and Indigo.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A new Bar Star: Joseph at Camp 4. Senor Antonio is a really nice drink. The man behind it is pretty swell, too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mark Twain died today in 1910. Along with Orwell, Mencken and London, Twain is one of my favorite writers. Unfortunately, I haven't read enough. Here is an excerpt from Roughing It (1872), describing the role of the saloon-keeper:

In Nevada, for a time, the lawyer, the editor, the banker, the chief desperado, the chief gambler, and the saloon-keeper, occupied the same level in society, and it was the highest. The cheapest and easiest way to become an influential man and be looked up to by the community at large, was to stand behind a bar, wear a cluster-diamond pin, and sell whisky. I am not sure but that the saloon-keeper held a shade higher rank than any other member of society. His opinion had weight. It was his privilege to say how the elections should go. No great movement could succeed without the countenance and direction of the saloon-keepers. It was a high favor when the chief saloon-keeper consented to serve in the legislature or the board of aldermen. Youthful ambition hardly aspired so much to the honors of the law, or the army and navy as to the dignity of proprietorship in a saloon.

-- Mark Twain, 1872

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dear Lushy,

I am looking for a recommendation for a drink to be served at my upcoming 40th birthday party. Here are the limitations:

-it must not be offended to be served in a disposable cup
-ingredients ideally ought to be sourceable from No Frills, meaning Saltines okay, caviar not.
-I would like to make some in advance by an hour or so if possible.

Is there anything that fits this bill, or am I in fact describing apple juice or Sprite?

Hopeful but not deluded.

Dear Deluded -

How about Moscow Mules? They're easy and No Frills has the best commercially available ginger beer around (Grace ginger beer, which is kept over in the weird pops-you-thought-you'd-never-buy-section). I'm afraid, however, you'll have to leave No Frills for the liquor. Unless you think the Listerine will do for your crowd. It does in a pinch for my friends. (At the end of the night, of course.)

The base recipe is as follows:

2 oz vodka
1 oz fresh lime juice
4 oz ginger beer
Build in a tall glass with ice

But here's the beauty of the drink: if you have gin snobs or generally hard to please people (or if you yourself are of the opinion that vodka ought to be used primarily as a cleanser), you can dress this drink up a hundred different ways. Mules and Bucks are a family of drinks which are flexible and basically include: liquor, fruit (sometimes muddled, but usually juice) and ginger. So, you could switch to whiskey and muddle in a strawberry. Or, you could turn it into a Gin-Gin Mule with a little gin and mint. I've even made them with Cilantro - my version of which was on the Painted Lady's opening menu.

All depends on how much work you really want to get into. And, frankly, the original recipe is pretty good. (Word of warning, Lushy sometimes likes a sour drink - and you may wish to cut down the lime juice for those who have normal taste buds.) Oh, and by the way, you can make the drinks in advance - but add the ginger beer when the guests arrive, so that it doesn't go flat.



Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 1775, Thomas Paine, Anthony Benezet and several other men (most of whom were Quakers) founded the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. That meeting was held, wait for it…in a tavern. Philadelphia’s Rising Sun Tavern, to be exact. This was a proto-abolitionist society – the first of its sort in America. Benjamin Franklin would later join it.

Paine was no stranger to taverns. The following year, his rousing and incendiary Common Sense would be read in taverns around the country. It featured a tavern-keeper as an everyman sort. In the end, though, alcohol took more out of him than he took out of it. And, funny little thing here: Paine died at 59 Grove Street in the Village, which houses one of my favorite bars in all of America.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Today in 1796, the first elephant landed in America. He came from India and when he got here, he went on tour. Tavern-owning Johnson Proctor of Salem, Mass., wanted to cash in on the elephant craze and so, painted an elephant on the sign for his tavern. It's unclear whether Proctor had actually seen the elephant before he painted it, since the proportions are off.

As if that weren't enough interesting history for today, if the name John Proctor sounds familiar, it's because he was a descendant of John Proctor, who lost his life to the Salem witch hysteria. The Proctors were all tavern owners and John, Sr. is one of America's first famous proprietors. It's my theory that he was also one of the instigators of America's first recorded tax revolt to take place in a tavern. (First, but not nearly last, as you'll discover in my book, which argues that everything interesting that ever happened in America started in a tavern.) So you should definitely buy America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops. (OUP - June release but you can pre-order on Amazon.)

BTW, I think the elephant's name was Stampy.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A new component of this blog. It's called Dear Lushy. Feel free to send in questions about what you should serve at your parties.

Dear Lushy: Tomorrow we have 8 adults and about 132 kids coming over for brunch. I'd like to serve light, evocative-of-impending-season concoction but not mimosas....any ideas?

Also- thanks!

Bad Mom in the East End.

Dear Bad Mom in the East End:

For the kids, I'd just give 'em straight gin (stirred over ice, of course). Sure, they'll all say they prefer vodka but they gotta grow up some time.

How close are you to the XXXXX liquor store at XXXXX? 'Cause apparently they have 12 bottles of St. Germain elderflower liqueur in stock. XXXXX and XXXXX has two but it may be all gone by the time you get there. With this, you can make a nice rosette - dry champagne and St. Germain. About 1 oz St. Germain to 5 oz champagne (maybe a little less of the elderflowe - depends on tolerance for sweetness. We find Segura Viudas the cheapest to dryest ratio at the government control liquor store which rules our lives. If that concoction is too sweet for you, you might be able to tart it up with a little Black River cranberry or Peychaud's bitters.

For a bar, I would never recommend St Germain. It's passe in the States, where they call it bartender's ketchup. That said it's new here in Ontario, where it will impress guests at a house party. And even though I'm now above drinking it, even I have to admit that I was in love with it when first introduced.

If you can't get the St. Germain due to state shortages, you might try something like this and play with proportions to get it right: 3 oz white wine (something a little sweeter) 1 oz pomegranate juice and fill with 2oz Bottle Green elderflower sparkling water (can be bought at Loblaws). IKEA also carries an elderflower cordial and there's an organic elderflower brand in gourmet stores you might be interested in. I'm not fixated - just nice for spring.

Any of these might be garnished with a nice, plump berry.



Sunday, April 03, 2011

This is a slightly old article, so you might have already run across it but, in case you haven't, it relates to April 3, 1947, the first day cocktails were legally sold in Toronto bars after prohibition - 64 years ago today. I cut and paste the first few paragraphs and link to the entire article here.

On a spring evening nearly 60 years ago, a crush of 2,300 people filled Adelaide St. E., all piling into Club Norman to catch an act nobody had seen in 31 years.

It was a Thursday, April 3, 1947 and Toronto’s only proper nightclub had just had its grand opening the night before. The crowds had been pretty impressive then, too – what with everyone wanting to be entertained by celebrated emcee, Bob Russell -- “Star of Stage and Radio” – and the “sophisticated dance rhythms” of Wally Wicken and the Normen.

But the next night, the throngs were out to see the newest headliner – the cocktail.

She had arrived fashionably late – 20 years after the repeal of Ontario’s provincial prohibition – and, with such a grand, anticipated entrance, many followed her into the first seven Toronto bars deemed worthy of a licence to sell liquor by the glass since Ontario had gone dry in 1916.

Time Magazine reported that those 31 years had taken its toll on Ontarians’ ability to drink liquor in public. Not that they got rip-roaring drunk that night (as some would have feared). Quite the opposite, in fact. We were, apparently, “out of practice,” and averaged “only two drinks apiece” according to the bartenders present. We simply had “forgotten how it was done.”

The cocktail of the night? Rye highballs for 45¢ to $1.60 – prices which the Time reporter called “overproof” – especially for 1¼ ounces of liquor per drink.

Although the crowds came out, it seems it was hardly the raucous fest those who advocate strict and repressive liquor laws would have warned against. Every time the laws get a little looser – be it to include happy hour, extend the hours, lower the drinking age or allow point-of-purchase advertising – there are those who will worry that we are not grown up enough to handle our new responsibilities.

I think we proved them wrong that Thursday night, 60 years ago – and continue to do so.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

It's been a really busy week - Made With Love Mixology on Monday, Kindling last night and yet another cocktail event tonight. Add to this lots of exciting things in the paper: My review of Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones and Butter (tremendous memoir) and now, today, the new Bar Star - Dave Mitton's Ronald Clayton.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Occasionally, there are bits and pieces of information which didn't quite fit into my forthcoming book, America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops. Such things, like my previous entry about the Jolly Corks, will wind up here.

Today is an important day in the history of the American bar - saloon-owning, Bowery Boys gang member Bill the Butcher died today in 1855, a result of the gunshot wound he suffered nearly two weeks earlier at Stanwix Hall - a very popular bar at 579 Broadway in New York. Although the film The Gangs of New York takes poetic license and portrays Poole as alive and well until the Civil War, William Poole actually died in 1855. Poole was also a boxer and a political leader, not an uncommon combination in that time when political power was consolidated by gang members in saloons. Poole campaigned for the Know-Nothings, an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic populist movement which was wildly popular in the 1850s but fizzled out soon after. On the other side, was John Morrissey, with whom Poole had a long-standing rivalry, on account of boxing, gambling, and political differences - Morrissey, an Irish-Catholic, supported the Democrats of Tammany Hall. Full details of the fight are described here, in this New York Times article:

"Terrible Shooting Affray in Broadway - Bill Poole Fatally Wounded - The Morrissey and Poole Feud - Renewal of Hostilities - Several Persons Severely Wounded. Broadway, in the vicinity of Prince and Houston-streets, was the scene of an exciting shooting affair about 1 o'clock yesterday morning, which is but a repetition of a similar occurrence that transpired a few weeks ago under Wallack's Theatre between Tom Hyer, Lewis Baker, Jim Turner and several other noted pugilists. It appears that about 9 o'clock on Saturday evening, John Morrissey and a gang of ruffians entered a saloon at No. 579 Broadway, called the Stanwix Hall, where they met Bill Poole. As might be expected, an altercation took place. The proprietor of the saloon, Mr. Dean, immediately gave information of the disturbance at the Eight Ward Station-house, and a platoon of Police was forthwith sent to the house, and they succeeded in quieting the belligerents. The crowd then dispersed and went in various directions, though seemingly bent on having a row. They returned to Stanwix Hall just after midnight, where they again encountered Poole and made a murderous attack upon him. The party was headed by the notorious Californian, Jim Turner, and was followed by a butcher named Charles Van Pelt, Patrick McLaughlin, alias "Pargene," (who is now under $5,000 bail for an attempted murder the night prior to the election last Fall,) C. Linn, should fight and as Poole was pushing Pargene away, the Californian interfered, while Pargene spit in Poole's face. This was about to be resented by Poole, when Turner aimed a six-barreled revolver at his head, crying out, "Come, draw your weapon," or words to that effect. Scarcely a minute elapsed before Turner fired, but as he did so he raised his arm and received himself the full charge which was intended for Poole. He fired off another barrel at Poole, and the slug took effect in Poole's left leg, which weakened him to such a degree that he staggered and fell on the floor. At this moment Baker jumped on top of Poole, exclaiming, "I'll put you out of the way now." Baker was also seen to fire off a pistol in the crowd, but it is not known upon whom the contents took effect. Poole cried to them not to murder him, but the mob paid but little attention. He was beaten and kicked in a horrible manner. The Police finally came and attempted to arrest the offenders, but failed in the effort, and both Morrissey and Baker are still at large. Meanwhile, Poole was placed in a carriage and conveyed to his residence in Charles-street, where his wounds were examined by a surgeon, but without finding the ball. Last evening Poole was visited by Dr. Casteny, under direction of Coroner Hilton, who thought it might be necessary to hold an ante-mortem examination. The physician returned and reported that Poole was entirely out of danger. A young man named Charles Lozier received a pistol shot in the back during the affray, which will confine him to his room for several weeks. Baker, one of the assailants, was also shot in the breast, but affected his escape. About daylight Capt. Turnbull succeeded in arresting Turner, Pargene and Van Pelt, at Johnny Lyng's gambling-house, in Canal-street, and they were locked up by order of Justice Brennan. Yesterday afternoon an investigation into the facts of the affray was commenced at the Second District Police Court, where the affidavits of some dozen witnesses were taken, but none of them are of sufficient importance to publish at length. In connection with the account above given, we annex the testimony of Mr. Dean, the proprietor of Stanwix Hall, where the shooting took place. The Affidavit Of John E. Dean - John E. Dean, sworn, says: I am keeper of the saloon at No. 579 Broadway, called Stanwix Hall; about 20 minutes after 12 o'clock last night, James Turner, Patrick McLoughlin, alias Pargene, Louis Baker, Charles Van Pelt, and Cornelius Linn, came into my house at the time Poole was standing against the counter, when Pargene approached him, and asked him "Who could lick him," and continued, "Come out doors and fight him;" Poole answered, "You are not worth fighting;" Pargene then seized hold of Poole and insisted upon him to fight; at this period Turner took hold of Pargene and asked him to let go of Poole; Pargene then spit in Poole's face; Turner then pulled his pistol, and exclaimed "Draw;" Poole then stood at the end of the counter, and Pargene was squaring off; Turner then presented his pistol at Poole and fired it off; the charge entered Turner's arm and he fired again; the contents of the pistol on the second firing entered Poole's leg, and he staggered and fell upon the floor; Lewis Baker then fell on top of Poole; I sent for the police, but the fracas was all over when they got there; I saw Baker fire off a pistol, but did not see who the contents struck. Since writing the above, we understand that Morrissey was taken in custody, but afterwards released by a police officer for some unexplained cause. The Chief of Police has expressed his dissatisfaction at such a proceeding, and is determined to call the policeman to account. The Chief of Police and several of the "Shadows" were engaged in council to a late hour last night, devising ways and means for the arrest of the guilty party. Postscript - 2 1/2 A. M. - Our reporter has just returned from Poole's residence in Christopher Street. Poole is much worse than in the early part of the evening. The surgeons have not yet succeeded in extracting the ball from his chest, - they say he cannot recover."

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Recently announced at Tales of the Cocktail: Seminars for 2011.

The 2011 Topics and Presenters to date are listed below:

* 6 Rums You’ll Probably Never Taste Again with Edward Hamilton
* America’s New Distilleries with Matthew Rowley
* Around the World by (Brass) Rail with David Wondrich
* As American as Apple Brandy with Paul Clarke
* Barrel Aged Cocktails with Jeffrey Morgenthaler
* Bad Boys of Bars with Christine Sismondo & Brian Rea
* Before Man, The Plant with Ron Cooper
* Below the Equator with Jacob Briars
* Beyond Punch: Colonial American Drinks with Wayne Curtis
* Born to Mix: Spirits “Made” for Cocktails with Dushan Zaric
* Brand Ambassadors with Claire Smith
* Chainsaw Shift with Andrew Bohrer
* Classic Hotel Bars with Simon Ford
* Cocktails and Engaging the Senses with Matthew Bax
* Conversations on Cocktail Glasses with Angus Winchester
* Cool Bar Tools, Past, Present and Future with Dale DeGroff
* David Embury and The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks with Robert Hess
* Drinking on Deadline with Paul Clarke
* Eastern Eden with Dave Broom
* From Grain to Bottle with Raj Nagra
* H20 Cocktails with Kathy Casey
* Hand Crafted Cocktail How Far is Too Far with Craig James
* Hotel Monteleone – 125 Years of History with Phillip Greene
* How the Global Drinks Business Works with Philip Duff
* How to Build a Cutting Edge Ice Program with Christy Pope
* Intellectual Property 2 with Eben Freeman
* Irish Whiskey Legends with Paul Pacult
* Ladies’ Choice: Women Behind Bars with Lynette Marrero
* Lets Not Sugar Coat It with Gina Chersevani
* “Making Love to His Tonic & Gin” with Jim Ryan
* Michel Roux – The 5 Million Case Man with Philip Duff
* Mysteries of Wood Maturation with Dale DeGroff
* Negroni and its Modern Relatives with Paul Clarke
* Occupational Hazards with Charlotte Voisey
* Persia to Ponies–Julep Journey with Jared Plummer
* SavourEASE with Gina Chersevani
* Shhhhh! It’s A Secret with Charlotte Voisey
* Sodatender or Barjerk with Darcy O’Neil
* Sporting Life and Other Anecdotes with Allen Katz
* Swizzling Around The World, Here And Now with Stanislav Vadrna
* Tequila’s Rise and Redemption with Frank Coleman
* The Chicken or the Egg? with Tony Conigliaro, Harold McGee, and Dave Arnold
* The Emperor’s New Bitters with Jacob Briars
* The European Bartending Perspective with Jonathan Pogash
* The Journey of Artemisia Absinthium with Giuseppe Gallo
* The Menu with Angus Winchester
* Timber! In History & Sensory Analysis with Eric Seed
* Ultra-Advanced Spirits Critic’s Workshop with Paul Pacult
* Vanilla, Vanilla, Baby with Philip Duff
* Vinegar…the Other Acid with Kelley Slagle
* Welcome to the Whiskey Business with Chad S. Solomon
* What the Dutch East India Trading Company did for the Modern Bar with Misja Vorstermans
* What Would Aristotle Drink? with Derek Brown
* Who’s Your Daddy? A Mai Tai Paternity Test with Jeff Berry
* Your Own In House Soda Program with Andrew Nicholls

Sunday, February 27, 2011

AHG – Special Issue – Oscar Alert

Usually, I haven’t seen any of the movies nominated. That never stops me from giving my opinion on what should win – based on the trailers and my Magic 8 Ball. This year, though, thanks to Al’s new habit of getting movies from places other than the video store, I have seen all of them. I convey my favourites to you, in order, so you can do some last-minute legitimate purchasing or renting of movies and have something to root for at your annual TV-watching party.

The Fighter – Okay, exactly how many of these David and Goliath boxing stories are there out there waiting to be mythologized? To be totally honest, I hope more, if they’re done this well. I absolutely loved this movie. And here’s hoping Melissa Leo and Christian Bale scoop awards for this one. I could even live with Amy Adams winning over Leo – she was astounding.

The King’s Speech – Lovely film – nice writing and acting except for, as Siobhan points out, that guy who played Churchill. And don’t get Hitchens started on the other problems with Churchill and the whitewashing of history. I could be pretty happy if this took best picture and best actor, despite historians’ protests that the cult of Churchill is taking over historical integrity.

Winter’s Bone – Nice little story – maybe a little underwhelming. Profound acting though, and I sincerely root for the lead actress on this one.

True Grit – Nothing wrong with this. I fell asleep for the second act but could still pick up and follow the plot in the third. Always nice to see The Dude on screen – this was a real solid movie, I thought.

Black Swan – Love Aronofsky and had high hopes that this would be as perfect as Requiem for a Dream. It isn’t. Not even close. Pretty to look at, so I could support it for Best Art Direction. And as Jim said, sure is some pretty soundtrack – that Tchaikovsky fellow ought to score more movies.

The Kids Are Alright. In my view, the kids are just meh. Please don’t let them win anything for this.

Inception – This movie was a lot better when it was called The Matrix. What was all that hype about? And just who were these people who had to go back and watch it a second time to understand it? The city folding up was kind of neat to watch, I admit.

127 Hours – Okay, I said I watched them all but I lied. I couldn’t. We were eating dinner and somebody told me he cuts off his own arm. I like the cover, though.

The Social Network – Still, watching a guy cut off his own arm might be better than watching this. I’m being a little harsh, sure, but I wound up really annoyed with whoever decided to soften it at the end. Why build up a movie arguing that this guy is a ruthless, self-centered, petty, misogynist, sad little ego-maniac with a personality like a burnt piece of toast and then, at the last minute, pull all the punches and soften this character assassination? Losing your courage doesn’t make it ambiguous and thoughtful, it just makes it a gutless piece of crap.

Toy Story 3 – Yeah, no. I didn’t watch this either. But it seems really reasonable to have it on a list for best film of the year.

Here are a few that are up for some nominations but not Best Picture:
I haven’t got to Biutiful yet, but I was really thankful that the Toronto Star clarified that the movie title was misspelled on purpose. Until then I was thinking: “Sheesh, somebody’s gonna lose their job over that one!”

The Town. You know, I get that that guy was a pretty good actor. It would still be nice to have a decent plot. Ditto Blue Valentine. Crapulous story – gut-wrenchingly good acting though.

Couple of snubs I thought were worth mentioning: Machete – pretty brilliant all around. And if you’re into smart teen movies (which I am), Easy A. And then there’s Barney’s Version, which, apparently did relentless lobbying just to get a nomination for best make-up.

The big story is, of course, Banksy. I haven’t seen this yet but I’m all for it. I don’t care if it’s a hoax, a prankumentary or all a part of Leonardo deCaprio’s dream. Sounds great and I hope it wins whatever it’s supposed to win.

This time of year, people always ask me about Oscar cocktails. They usually want something with Goldschlager in it. As they say on the bowdlerized Sopranos: “Forget that.” Try Wild Turkey instead. Right out of the bottle. It’ll make it so much easier to stomach it when The Social Network wins something it shouldn’t have. I’d rather watch Grown Ups sweep the Oscars.

And where will I be watching it, you ask? I won’t. I never do. And this year, I especially won’t, since my page proofs are due the following day. Not that I’ll be doing the proofreading – I leave that to Al, who has now read America Walks into a Bar so many times that he can recite it by heart. So he’ll be especially busy that night.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jolly Corks

Today in 1868, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks was born. They were initially known as the Jolly Corks, a loose fraternity of men - mainly in performing arts, who drank together and, incidentally, were always looking for ways to evade Sunday drinking laws. Their original name came from a bar trick. Newcomers to the club would be told that the last one to pick up corks thrown on the bar would have to stand a round. The neophyte would scoop up his cork quickly while everyone else would leave theirs on the bar, making him both first and last and owing everyone a drink. Charles Vivian, a singer on Broadway, was the Imperial Cork.

This group would become the Elks, one of the largest charitable organizations in America. See, everything really was born in a bar. Incidentally, while the book doesn't come out 'til late June or so, you can pre-order the book here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And here is the second segment of Bar Stars. More to follow on February 24 but I should have something new up here before then.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

As promised, the Eye Weekly Bar Star series launches with this!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Here's a review of a book you should consider adding to your collection. I'm expecting to do a few more book reviews in the coming months. In addition, watch Eye Weekly for a new series about bartenders - starting tomorrow.