Potent Potables from Prohibition
You know Dorothy Parker, don’t you? Even if you don’t, you probably do. She was a writer, poet and critic who came to fame in New York in the 1920s. Nowadays, she’s better known for her wisecracks than her writing, such as, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” and “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say No in any of them.” She was one of the few women members of the Algonquin Round Table—a group of critics, writers and wits who traded quips and insults over lunch every day at the Algonquin Hotel. “It was the 20s,” Dorothy said, and “we had to be smarty.”
She was a thinker and a drinker. (And in my Algonquin Round Table Mystery series, she is also an amateur detective.) You may have heard this little rhyme, attributed to her:
I love a martini—
But two at the most.
Three, I’m under the table.
Four, I’m under the host.
Robert Benchley, Dorothy’s dear friend and another member of the Algonquin Round Table, also loved a martini. He’s known for this famous line: “Why don’t you get out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini?” Good idea, Mr. Benchley! To that end, here’s the recipe for a classic martini. Take note that it’s only 3 ounces of liquid, compared to the 7-ounce or mammoth 10-ounce cocktails that bartenders serve today. That’s how they did it back then. It was small enough that the drink stayed chilled until you finished it.
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice cubes. Stir or shake for one minute. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the olive or lemon twist.
Dorothy Parker also wrote:
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
You don’t need an event like New Year’s to enjoy Champagne or sparkling wine. Any night can be worthy of some bubbly. Try this flavorful twist on Champagne:
1 sugar cube
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Drop the sugar cube into a champagne glass and soak it with the bitters. Fill the rest of the glass with champagne. Garnish with the lemon twist. Option: add an ounce of cognac.
Alexander Woollcott, an acerbic member of the Round Table and the role model for the title character in the play “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” tried to take credit for the Brandy Alexander cocktail. He liked to say, "All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening." This cocktail satisfied just about all those requirements during the Prohibition era:
1 1/2 oz brandy
1 oz creme de cacao (brown or dark)
1 oz half-and-half
1/4 tsp grated (or ground) nutmeg
Shake the liquid ingredients together in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice cubes. Strain it into a cocktail glass or small brandy snifter. Garnish with the nutmeg.
Cheers to 2012!
In YOU MIGHT AS WELL DIE, J.J. Murphy’s latest Algonquin Round Table Mystery, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley try to figure out why a second-rate illustrator jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge. Meanwhile, they’re busy scrounging up enough money to pay off their bar tab at their favorite speakeasy—and debunking Halloween séances with Harry Houdini.