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There are times, sometimes in the midst of otherwise polite conversation, when it comes out that I make my living writing for the Reader. The follow-up to this revelation is almost never “Oh, that’s right, I read your profile of former New Yorker writer William Murray back in ’99! Great piece!” Rather, it is almost always “Oh, do you know Ollie?” (Or Duncan. Or Naomi. Or Matthew Alice. Or Barbarella. Or, or, or.) This has happened often enough that I have developed, without meaning to, a standard reply to the question: “Oh, no. All of us writers work out of our homes. They like to keep us separated — if we were all together, we’d just sit around and drink.”

I have no idea if that last part is true. In fact, I suspect it isn’t. But it does play off one universal truth — writers would most often rather do anything besides write — and one accepted stereotype: the leather-livered reporter, who, when he isn’t chasing a story, haunts the city’s watering holes, taking its boozy pulse, sniffing out the next trail even as he numbs his overly keen senses with cheap whiskey. “I see too much in my line of work, bartender. I see too much. So now, I’m gonna get blind.” Very romantic and, if the collection of cocktail stories contained herein is any indication, almost entirely fictitious. Happily, these concoctions offer something more interesting— a generous pour of carefully rendered detail, enlivened by a judicious measure of story: what we drink, where we drink it, and why.

A few of us did get together and drink at least once — a party at my place sometime last year. I made sangria. People brought beer and spirits — though I don’t recall any whiskey, cheap or otherwise. At the gathering, I had a chance to meet Dorian Hargrove, one of our newer writers. Feeling expansive, I lent him my copy of former New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, the book that, for me, served as a model of long-form profile writing — the kind you might find in the Reader.

The first piece in that book is a profile of a place, not a person: McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York City. A journalist writing journalism about drinking — surely we have entered the seventh heaven, the fever dream of aspiration, the ultimate heady mix of business and pleasure. Except, when you read the thing — and you should — it becomes clear that Mitchell probably wasn’t drinking during his many visits to McSorley’s. The observations are too exact, the details too precise, the stories too packed with research and background. Nor does it seem likely that he was drinking when he wrote the profile — the rhythm is too even, the mix of anecdote and interview too proportional.

McSorley’s serves ale and ale alone. For everything else, read on.

— Matthew Lickona


Old-Fashioneds at the Turf Supper Club

Bourbon -Dash of bitters-Muddled cherry and orange-Serve on the rocks

Booze holds a storied place in the serious business of turning things unserious. As with everything, there’s a time and a place; specific situations complement the mood, desire, and taste of every individual.

Recently, I told a woman that our theme drink for the weekend would be the Old-Fashioned. I read her the recipe over the telephone:

Place a sugar cube in a lowball glass and dissolve the sugar with a wee dose of water.

Think of a lost love and a wavy sepia wheat field.

Add two dashes of Angostura bitters.

Notice the crisp feeling of your shirt.

Add one cube of ice and a lemon peel.

Understand that your problems will remain after the drink, but embrace this; it’s the human condition.

Add whiskey; in our case, bourbon.

Stir with a spoon you received as a gift and serve.

If you’ve ever had a mouthful of an Old-Fashioned made in this style, you’ve probably spit it right back out. Sugar, bitters, a lemon peel, and bourbon whiskey is about as close to a punch in the mouth as you can get outside a boxing gym. Which is one key reason you’ll never get a drink made from this recipe in any bar, anywhere. The Old-Fashioned evolved several decades ago, or maybe a hundred years ago, to include a maraschino cherry and club soda. There’s even a San Diego version that you’ll find at bars here, in which the lemon peel is abandoned in favor of an orange slice.

The girl and I made both variants of the drink. During games of backgammon, between our respective turns with the dice, and breaking up play only to chip more ice or slice and peel fruit, eventually, as the liquor buoyed our spirits and we laughed more at things that wouldn’t otherwise seem as funny, we splashed in more and more club soda, less and less bitters, and topped off our glasses with an arrangement of citrus and cherries.

Purists may decry the addition of soda, but I see no problem in the evolution of drink mixes. What matters — the main ingredients — are your time, place, mood, and company. Really, drinking an Old-Fashioned in this updated and fresh way (don’t forget the oranges, backgammon, and girl) is delightful.

The making of an Old-Fashioned lends itself to sprinkling sugar about the countertop in a festive manner, the lively squeezing of oranges onto the floor, dashing bitters onto the stove or fridge, and erupting club soda bottles over the whole affair. Looking at the soggy, silty, sticky mess in my kitchen, I made the executive decision, “We’re not making this shithole any worse; we’re going out to drink.”

Why, at the Turf Club, of course.

The Turf Club is actually named the Turf Supper Club, but everyone drops the “Supper” in favor of the shorter version of the name.

Ah, the Turf Club: where the drinks could fuel transcontinental flight, cartoon horses decorate everything, and everyone is overly tattooed and all incredibly nice and accommodating. The Turf Club looks as if Dwight Eisenhower is running for his 14th term as president, and the bar is known for its Old-Fashioned.

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Comments

violadace May 17, 2009 @ 7:23 a.m.

Oh, yeah, I forgot. Shel Silverstein is one of the great writers of American literature. . .

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magicsfive May 3, 2009 @ 5:07 p.m.

what about shel silverstein? the great smokeout? that was awesome!

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SDaniels May 3, 2009 @ 5:25 p.m.

I grew up on his poetry for children. My, what degenerate results!

... cute, magics; thanks for bringing it up :)

"And she reaches 'cross the table and she grabs his bony sleeves And she crumbles his body between her hands like dried and brittle leaves Flickin' out his teeth and bones like useless stems and seeds"

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magicsfive May 3, 2009 @ 5:28 p.m.

EXACTLY!! isn't that a great read though? my kid has one of his books of poetry and just loves it!

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lallaw April 24, 2009 @ 2:19 a.m.

Mr. Lickona: great recipes and great piece! I'm going to print all of them out and keep them poolside for a sweltering day. Thanks for putting that together and making me look good the next time I host a bacchanal. Cheers!

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Matthew Lickona April 24, 2009 @ 9:19 a.m.

Thank you, lallaw! I must confess, it's not really my piece - I just wrote the intro (and one section). The fine editorial staff of the Reader put it together. But I'm very glad you enjoyed it!

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David Dodd April 24, 2009 @ 12:59 p.m.

"Oh, no. All of us writers work out of our homes. They like to keep us separated — if we were all together, we’d just sit around and drink."

This is a truth, at least in my case. Spending hours with my fellow border writers at the Dandy del Sur is one of my favorite pass-times. Of course, I rarely sit at this computer without some sort of beer while occasionally sipping a small glass of tequila, but it certainly gets slightly out of hand when I visit the Dandy.

http://entertainment.signonsandiego.com/places/el-dandy-del-sur/

Try a Michelada:

1 bottle of Tecate beer 1 glass, salted rim, filled with ice 1 bottle of Clamato Squirts of Worcestershire, lime juice, and Tabasco sauce

Mix to taste.

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lallaw April 24, 2009 @ 1:06 p.m.

I LOVE that drink...have you ever had a Colorado Bulldog? Is it too early to start drinking? You guys have gotten me thirsty...

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magicsfive April 24, 2009 @ 1:23 p.m.

ok i know this is going to sound juvenile but there is an app on myspace called Cheers, where you can send people drinks. but the really cool part about it is they give you the recipe for all these drinks. every time i send one, and i do it a lot, i write down the recipe so i can experiment later. perhaps we can try one of each this summer, huh? :)

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David Dodd April 24, 2009 @ 1:23 p.m.

I've never had a Colorado Bulldog, but it's similar to a Dirty White Mother, which is too sweet for me now but I drank them when I was younger.

And in refriedgringo-land, it's never too early to start drinking.

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lallaw April 24, 2009 @ 1:35 p.m.

Colorado Bulldog is: (roughly :)

Tall glass w/ice Baileys Cream Diet Coke (in equal proportions)

Sounds gross but tastes soooooo good. My boyfriend does a Vodka/Diet Vanilla Pepsi tall boy drink that goes down very smoothly and before you know it yer shnockerd. You can also use Vanilla Vodka and any diet or regular Coke or Pepsi product you like...except that cherry flavored stuff is too much, in my opinion, to use with the Vanilla Vodka.

The best Vodka I've ever had was Stoli's pepper flavored Vodka. I went to this authentic Russian restaurant here in the States and they served the stuff straight, non stop all night. Oddly we drank club soda along with it on the side and the food never stopped so I swear I didn't get drunk (I'm 5'2 105lbs and was called 1 beer L---- [the "L" is my last name which rhymes with beer"] in college). But I felt just fine! And that Vodka was sooooooooooo smooth, even if it was Stoli.

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violadace April 24, 2009 @ 3:06 p.m.

My fave is a soymilk variation on a White Russian:

cold vanilla soy milk tons of kahlua ice

healthy never tasted so good. you can guzzle these and get protein at the same time.

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Josh Board April 24, 2009 @ 3:07 p.m.

Stoli's Vodka played an important, subtle role in the movie NO WAY OUT (can't explain why, or it gives away an important plot point).

What is it with women? They love the Baileys. I know a lady that named her child Bailey, which is a cute name. But I suspect she did it because of her love of the alcohol.

Refriend -- aside from Hunter Thompson, the whole writer/drinking thing, was best portrayed fictionally, in "A River Runs Through It," with Brad Pitt being a reporter, who seemed to have a drinking problem (among other things).

It was poorly portrayed in the very disappointing Ron Howard film "The Paper." Randy Quaid, I believe was a sports writer. Maybe a columnist, can't remember. He would drink and act crazy, and everyone in the building was scared because he carried around a gun, too.

But, in regards to Lall mentioning a bacchanalian party with all these drinks, I was at a party in Rancho Bernardo 5 years ago, where they did this very thing. The counter had all kinds of bottles of booze, and various index cards with the recipes for the drinks you could make with them. It was a clever idea.

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David Dodd April 24, 2009 @ 3:20 p.m.

Josh,

Most of my favorite authors were notorius alcoholics. Steinbeck, Saroyan, Fitzgerald, Bukowski, the list goes on and on.

Cheers!

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Josh Board April 24, 2009 @ 6:27 p.m.

I'm heading out to go to parties and drink in a few minutes here. I never knew Steinbeck was a drinker. Saroyan, yes. Check out his son, he writes some interesting poetry as well.

Bukowski. Yeah, I think that's all he wrote about!

I was looking at the cover of the Reader, and I just assumed it was Mike Myers. But the photo credit listed the "model". Strange.

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SDaniels April 24, 2009 @ 7:49 p.m.

There is a commercial for some local pottery store with a Austin Powers impersonator. Maybe they hired him.

I'm still really looking for a good Pisco sour, anyone?

Angostura bitters seem hard to find, so (gasp) many local bars, if they even make them, omit this ingredient...

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SDaniels April 24, 2009 @ 10:36 p.m.

There's plenty of anecdotal evidence on a link between creativity and use of alcohol and mind-altering drugs--check out fin de siecle opiate-infused novellas and novels. More in your area, refried: Carver's alcoholism might have been fueled in part by Gordon Lish's excisions of his drafts...

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David Dodd April 25, 2009 @ 1:11 a.m.

Lish would have pushed any good writer into the depths of alcoholism. It wasn't just Carver that was affected, Michael Himmingson just published a book about Lish's propensity toward editing anything and everything he could in order to supplant his dynamic on publishing. It makes my skin crawl, like some sort of bad horror film.

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SDaniels April 25, 2009 @ 2:03 a.m.

My point exactly, with a bad joke. Will have to check out Hemmingson's book.

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a2zresource April 27, 2009 @ 4:48 p.m.

Got turned on to cans of Foster's beer while taking Journalism at City College... "Drunkedness in a Drum". No, we weren't allowed to drink it on campus!

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OttoB April 28, 2009 @ 2:45 p.m.

Just as I'm pouring the bourbon in what was gonna be my FIRST new Old-Fashioned, I read where Ollie says "...Really, drinking an Old-Fashioned in this updated and fresh way (don’t forget the oranges, backgammon, and girl) is delightful." Delightful? DELIGHTFUL? I guess I can only hope and pray he NEVER uses that word again. I've yet to have that New-Old-Fashioned.

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Barbarella Fokos April 28, 2009 @ 2:56 p.m.

Viola, I used to love White Russians. So sweet and tasty! Regarding writers and drinking, Dorothy Parker, one of my favorites, was a big drinker. I always thought my most interesting journal entries (the private ones) came after a weekend of heavy drug use. Perhaps there is something to that whole, "unlocking the pathways of the brain" thing. But now when I write, the only drinks I like to have on my desk are coffee and water. The wine only dulls my senses, which is why I wait until I close the laptop to pour a glass.

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Josh Board April 29, 2009 @ 12:20 a.m.

one of my favorite songwriters is Jim Morrison, who obviously drank (among other things). I now realize he would've written more interesting, less cryptic stuff had he been sober.

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SDaniels April 29, 2009 @ 4:09 p.m.

Barbarella:

"Oh, gallant was the first love, and glittering and fine; The second love was water, in a clear white cup; The third love was his, and the fourth was mine; And after that, I always get them all mixed up."

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magicsfive April 29, 2009 @ 5:18 p.m.

you know this reminds me of something...speaking of writers that HAD to be under the influence of something...i wonder what Anne Albright is up to these days. you remember her - she had that column here called Kid Stuff, lots of kids. she used to get a lot of grief from her readers. she quit, oh i'd say about 4-5 years ago. I read her column faithfully. Now mind you, i am not criticizing her. you can be sure i will have knocked a couple back before i write the blog i have been promising ;)

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violadace May 3, 2009 @ 6:31 a.m.

Barbarella-- The Revised White Russian (with vanilla soy milk) is a drink you'll appreciate when you reach menopause. (natural estrogens in the soy milk. . . with the upbeat note of a little booze. . .) Thanks for responding to the boys about creativity and alcohol. It's destroyed infinitely more writing careers than it's made. No one, no one is a great writer under the influence. Drinking just makes a drunk think he's a great writer, it medicates the pain under the creativity, and gives the biographers something juicy to chronicle.

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SDaniels May 3, 2009 @ 3:24 p.m.

Maybe you prefer opiate abusers, then:

"And all should cry, Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread, For he on honeydew hath fed, And drunk the soy White Russian of Paradise."

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magicsfive May 3, 2009 @ 4:43 p.m.

what about lewis carroll? you know he was under the influence.

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SDaniels May 3, 2009 @ 4:50 p.m.

Yep. I wouldn't want to go on a long "trip" with him.

"He had bought a large map representing the sea, Without the least vestige of land; And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be A map they could all understand."

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Joe Poutous May 18, 2009 @ 10:20 a.m.

We have 2 copies of "Where the Sidewalk Ends" at home... an old copy and an newer copy...

Some ass decided to PC the new one up. It's no longer "The Gypsies Are Coming" it's "The Goonies are coming". There are other changes to the book as well.

arg. - Joe

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SDaniels June 3, 2009 @ 1:47 a.m.

violadace, this was meant to be a fun discussion starter, and no one suggested Silverstein was the great white literary hope. There are many writers who have (and have not) either survived or even used mind-altering substances to write enduring prose--whatever our thoughts or judgements may be on the matter--and thank the deities for many of them!

Joe, that is the lamest substitution for "gypsies" imaginable, and I'm sure you'll be holding onto the original! My copy was passed along to other children in the family. I bet you liked Paul Zindel, too ;)

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magicsfive June 3, 2009 @ 7:07 a.m.

wait....is viola being sarcastic? and if so, why do some people always have to try to wreck a perfectly fun discussion????

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SDaniels June 3, 2009 @ 1:44 p.m.

Hey magic girl, good to see ya.

I don't know, I'm still new to online blogging, but it often seems to be more about momentary moods and quick keystrokes than helping to build or take something apart. Then again, people mistake each other's tone online all of the time. Then again, it takes a variety of opinions; I just think it is more interesting when people elaborate a little on alternative topics/views.

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magicsfive June 3, 2009 @ 4:38 p.m.

good to see u too darlin...i guess you're right. now where's lallaw lol...

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