Thursday, December 8, 2016

Bottoms Up - Classic of the Genre

Oh my, another cocktail blog. This is surely going to ruin my reputation as a serious blogger, since no one in his or her right mind would consider drinking alcoholic beverages a sophisticated endeavor. 

It wasn't always so. Once upon a time, cocktails--and the opportunity to indulge in them--were considered something mostly confined to people who afford them. Access to a well-stocked bar isn't an universal privilege. Booze has always been expensive, and concocting different combinations (or mixes) requires a variety of goods and ingredients.   

And then there was the imputation of naughtiness, which alcohol has always had. 

Recently, in my travels as a book scout, I came across a copy of one of the classic texts, Ted Saucier's Bottoms Up, With Illustrations by Twelve of America's Most Distinguished Artists, Decorations by Russell Patterson, Cover Design by Al Dorne [New York: Greystone Press, 1951]. Visually, it feels very much like Esquire Magazine's look and style, with a few "tasteful" distaff illustrations of ladies in "compromising" poses, which I suspect were included not just for atmosphere, but to sell more copies of the book. Back in those days, there were few "legit" places men could see pictures of nudes, and any excuse to acquire them added to the interest of the product. The idea that drinking might improve your romantic opportunities has always been an adman's short-hand, and since its author, Ted Saucier, was in the public relations/advertising business, the connection fits. 

Saucier was identified with the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, which still survives today, and puts out its own proprietary bar book. He knew how to eat and drink, and he collected recipes from all over the place--many of them associated with celebrities and bon vivants--which are named for or linked to them. To judge from the reach and range of the batch he gathers here, you'd think he must have spent half his life bar-hopping around the world sampling signature drinks.      

It contains, as one would expect, a good number of the usual suspects, famous and reliable, which every bartender is expected to know from memory. The more complex the mixture, the more different ways there are to vary it, so for those who like to experiment and discover, a typical gin martini is pretty vanilla.  

Cocktail mixing books will give you the rudiments of how recipes are created, but once you're familiar, they aren't really necessary. Any bartender worth his salt is going to experiment, and discover new combinations. That's what I do. I've probably tried over a thousand different combinations, guessing how one or another ingredient will taste when put with another.  

The best mixology books bring something else besides just recipes. They can give a different spin on the world their authors inhabit, or imagine. 

Thank goodness I don't live in a Muslim country, where drinking is officially forbidden!

Thank goodness for the sexual revolution, which freed my generation and those that followed, from some of the hang-ups that beset our elders. I can't quite figure out what's supposed to be happening in the illustration above. Is it an open-air circus performer in London? Up and down, back and forth, as those odd little figures in seats watch the traffic go by. Are they priests?

I tried one drink from the book, the "Bullfrog - Courtesy, Embassy Club, The Windsor, Montreal." 

Juice 1/2 lime
1 1/4 oz. Canadian rye
3/4 oz. apricot brandy

--shaken and served up with a cherry as garnish.

Very nice. 

The Windsor Hotel was quite an establishment in its day. Opening in 1878, it survived until 1981.  Pictures of the place in its heyday are below. I couldn't find any of the bar, but I'll bet it was elegant. The world it represented is long-gone, never to return. But we can still sample the drinks they enjoyed there.  

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