Archive for June, 2008

June 18th, 2008

Hangover cure

Everyday Drinking, Kingsley AmisDuring last month’s drinking spree … oops, I mean research expedition … in San Francisco, I appropriately came across some excellent writing about hangovers. A recent New Yorker article, A few too many: Is there any hope for the hungover?, goes deep into the world of hangover remedies. The two major types are discussed: folk (Russians swear by pickle juice and vodka) and pharmaceutical (preventive pills like RU-21 — get it?).

The body of research on hangover cures is thin, notes the writer, Joan Acocella. That’s basically because no upstanding research institution is willing to do what is required to find a treatment for the effects of overconsumption: bankroll a massive study involving a large population of drunken (read: difficult to control) human test subjects who, most people think, deserve to suffer the consequences of their folly anyway. “Which is curious, because anyone who discovered a widely effective hangover cure would make a great deal of money,” notes Acocella.

In describing the different physiological and psychological facets of a hangover, she quotes the master, British novelist and bon vivant Kingsley Amis. He describes the “metaphysical hangover”: “When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. . . . You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.”

Brilliant. Doesn’t it make you feel better? Luckily, Amis wrote three books on drinking — On Drink in 1972, Everyday Drinking in 1983 and How’s Your Glass? in 1984 — which have recently been gathered together and reissued as a single volume titled Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis. Maybe a little eloquence on the pleasures and pains of overconsumption is all the cure we need.

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Posted in Books & resources | 5 Comments »

June 10th, 2008

Shaken or Stirred?

James Bond pours a martini

This post also appears on the LUPEC Boston blog as a companion piece to an article I wrote for the LUPEC Boston cocktail column in the latest Weekly Dig, which will be out in print tomorrow.

Which cocktails should be shaken and which ones should be stirred? If you’re a student of classic mixology, you might answer, “That’s easy. Drinks with eggs, dairy or fruit juices should be shaken, and ‘clear’ drinks made with only spirits, vermouth, etc. should be stirred.” OK, the first of those mandates is seldom disputed. Stirring an egg drink? Not gonna work. But shaking a Martini? James Bond has some surprising company here.

Take the respected Savoy Cocktail Book: its mixing instructions for clear drinks are all over the map; some recipes say “stir,” some say “shake.” New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes’ much-consulted book Straight Up or on the Rocks: the Story of the American Cocktail instructs you to shake a Martini. Even the “Professor,” Jerry Thomas, “couldn’t make up his mind whether the Cocktail is shaken or stirred,” writes David Wondrich in Imbibe! “His brandy Cocktail calls for the spoon, his gin and whiskey ones the shaker. Nor are his professional colleagues much help … Judging by the numerous depictions of ‘tossing the foaming cocktail’ back and forth in a huge arc, in the 1860s and 1870s consensus favored this method — or perhaps it was just the more picturesque one and hence was noticed more often.”

That consensus still holds in, like, 99 percent of modern bars. Most drinkers like the theatricality of a shaken drink, and most bartenders are happy to oblige, especially since it’s easier for them to employ only one mixing technique. Sure, your Grey Goose with olives will be cloudy with air bubbles, but it’ll be drinkable.

Is “drinkable” good enough when you’re paying $10-$15 for a cocktail? If you gravitate toward clear mixtures, as I often do, the answer is probably “no.” There’s something about a Martini, a Manhattan, a Saratoga or a Gin and It that has been deftly swirled over ice for a good minute, then strained into a chilled cocktail glass without a trace of agitation. What you get is a shimmeringly transparent drink that looks and tastes that much more elegant than its shaken sibling. And consider this: a bartender who takes the time to stir a cocktail is likely going to get its proportions and temperature right, too. Time to re-think your drink, Bond.

Posted in Cocktails | 19 Comments »

June 5th, 2008

Check out drinkboston at

Speaking of the drinkboston Flowing Bowl punch party at Eastern Standard … I mention the event in a guest post I did for the Conde Nast Traveler blog. The post starts with a little promo about LUPEC Boston’s Little Black Book of Cocktails and ends with a shout-out to our fair city’s summer cocktails and bar-oriented events. It’s all a long way of saying, “Drinking in Boston rules.”

Posted in drinkboston in the news | 2 Comments »

June 5th, 2008

Save the date for punch

Punch Party lithograph

“For nearly two hundred years, from the 1670s to the 1850s, the Kingdom of Mixed Drinks was ruled by the Bowl of Punch,” writes David Wondrich in Imbibe!, his book on “Professor” Jerry Thomas, bartending pioneer. For most modern-day people, punch is considered the tamest of drinks, involving roughly one part cheap champagne to 16 parts fruit juice, ginger ale and orange sherbet.

That is not the sort of punch that will be served at drinkboston’s Flowing Bowl party at Eastern Standard on June 30. No, we will offer up four different recipes of old-school — really old-school — punch, or, as Wondrich puts it: “A large-bore mixture of spirits, citrus, sugar, water, and spice that bears the same relation to the anemic concoctions that pass under its name today that gladiatorial combat does to a sorority pillow fight.”

More details to come, but put this on your calendar and start making your reservations:

Flowing Bowl Party
Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks
Monday, June 30, 5:30 p.m.
Tickets are $30, which includes four servings of punch and passed appetizers
For reservations call Eastern Standard at 617-532-9100

Hope to see you there!

Posted in Events | 2 Comments »

June 1st, 2008

I drank San Francisco

OK, assuming you’ve read parts 1 and 2 of this series, you’ve gathered that I drank San Francisco. But I haven’t even told you about all the bars yet! I just want to show you a few more pics and say this: San Francisco’s a great drinking town not only because it is the West Coast nexus of the craft of the cocktail but also because it has so many great, old watering holes. These are places that, for some miraculous reason, no one has seen fit to transform into tourist attractions or quasi-sports bars. Here are just the few that I managed to squeeze into my visit.

House of Shields bar, San FranciscoHouse of Shields: Reportedly, there’s a tunnel that runs from the basement of this bar (est. 1908) to the plush Palace Hotel across the street. It is rumored that when President Warren Harding died in 1923, he did not do so in his suite at the Palace Hotel as was officially announced, but in the House of Shields. Given that this was during Prohibition, goes the rumor, Harding was secretly transported underground to the hotel in order to avoid scandal. It’s a fine, old bar that Progress has simply left alone. Over an afternoon beer there, I admired the straight-backed, dark wood booths, the decades worth of dust on the sculptural bronze light fixtures, and a photo — probably circa 1940s — of trench-coated, hat-wearing men drinking at the bar.

Bix bar, San Francisco

Bix: I heard that this bar has roots in the Gold Rush, when men would exchange pouches of gold dust for drinks. Well, it is on Gold Street, a narrow alley on the edge of Chinatown. Bix is a time capsule to a 1930s supper club. A spacious, lively room with a balcony for extra dinner seating; large, colorful murals decorating the walls; bartenders in short-waisted white jackets; a silver punch bowl filled with martini glasses chilling over crushed ice … I took it all in over a Negroni and a bowl of bar snacks.

The Hotel Utah Saloon, San FranciscoThe Hotel Utah Saloon: Another bar established in 1908 (two years after the legendary ’06 quake), it’s got “saloon” right in the name. There’s an elk’s head mounted on the wall, and the staircase to the “upper deck” is flanked by a replica of a ship’s stern. Online reviews mention the Utah’s “friendly bartenders,” and this was certainly the case — although I found most SF bartenders to be friendly.

Tonga Room, San Francisco

Tonga Room: The ritzy Fairmont Hotel opened this tiki palace in 1947, and, even as tiki went from cutting-edge to kitsch, lovingly kept the place going. We arrived at 5:00 p.m., as soon as happy hour began. Ordered Mai Tais — notable here not so much for their quality as for their strength — and feasted on wantons, fried rice, etc. from the exotically lit buffet. Enjoyed a tropical storm of fake thunder and lightning, with rain falling into the lagoon that is the Tonga Room’s centerpiece. Alas, at that early hour no musicians were playing on the small ship that floats in the middle of the lagoon.

Pisco Punch at Cantina, San FranciscoCantina: OK, this is not an old bar. In fact, it’s only about a year old. But as you see from the accompanying photo, it’s a place that appreciates San Francisco history. A much talked-about addition to the city’s craft cocktail scene, Cantina specializes in Latin America-inspired drinks, both classic and new. Co-owner and bartender Duggan McDonnell’s drink list and bartending skills earned him two nominations for this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Awards. He has an amazing selection of cachacas, rums, piscos and tequilas. But even more amazing to me was an antique bottle of Pisco Punch displayed on an upper shelf. You may recall my writing recently about the origins of Pisco Punch, which was served at drinkboston’s World Cocktail Day party. Well, here was a real-life bottle of the stuff, its seal still intact, with “According to original formula of Duncan Nicol” right on the label. This one’s for you, John Gertsen.

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Posted in San Francisco | 7 Comments »