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.