August 22: Dorothy Parker’s Birthday

Dorothy Parker“Everything I’ve ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.” -George S. Kaufman

Dorothy Parker, the legendary wit, writer, drinker and critic who helped set the tone for the Roaring Twenties was born on this day in 1893. Parker was one of the sharpest tongues of the 1920s, able to produce a one liner or witticism quicker than anyone.

Parker began her literary career in the mid-1910s as a writer for Condé Nast’s Vogue and Vanity Fair. In 1918, she was named Vanity Fair‘s theater critic. However, her often sarcastic reviews of mediocre plays would lead theatrical promoters to pressure Vanity Fair to fire her. Eventually, the magazine woul give in and sack Parker in 1920. Two of her close friends and fellow Vanity Fair writers Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood would quit the magazine in protest of her firing. Obviously, in those days you could leave a publication and be safe in the knowledge that another one would be willing to hire you.

It was during these early years at Vanity Fair that Parker, Benchly and Sherwood began their decade-long lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. The regular lunch date would evolve into “the Algonquin Round Table,” a group of some of jazz age New York’s cleverest writers, critics and actors who would meet at the hotel for a lunch filled with anecdotes and battles of wits. Many of the members would feature the exploits of the Round Table in their newspaper columns, leading to Parker and her friends gaining a national reputation as great wits. That reputation was so great that in 1925 when Harold Ross started up a new magazine called The New Yorker, Ross invited Parker and Benchly to serve on the magazine’s board of editors because he knew potential investors and readers would be drawn to those two writers prose.

Parker would continue to write for many leading publications until her death in 1967. A long time supporter of civil rights, Parker left her entire estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. foundation.

Before we get to today’s drink, I should address one of the many quotes attributed to Parker, in fact perhaps the best known fake Parker quote. As she was one of the world’s leading wits, many funny (and not so funny) quips have been attributed to Parker. One of these is a brief poem that goes as follows:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
After four I’m under my host.

Parker was a big drinker, so it would make sense for her to craft a line like this, but some have speculated that this is not a Parker line. Although there are reports that upon being asked how she enjoyed a cocktail party she recently attended, Parker might have responded by saying “Enjoyed it? One more drink and I’d have been under the host!” In fact, the earliest known publication of a variation on this poem was in a 1959 issue of The Harlequin, a humor magazine published at the University of Virginia. Amusingly enough, even Parker was sick of all the quotes people claimed she said, saying “I hardly say any of those clever things that are attributed to me. I wouldn’t have time to earn a living if I said all those things.”

Now, you may be asking, is there a Dorothy Parker cocktail? Well, of course there is! It is my understanding that Parker preferred drinking scotch and gin, but sadly this is a vodka drink. The Dorothy Parker comes from San Francisco restaurant Town Hall, and is a slight twist on the original Cosmopolitan, which was a much stronger drink than the modern Cosmo. Whereas the modern version of that drink mixes lemon vodka with triple sec and the juices of limes and cranberries, the original Cosmopolitan used gin, triple sec, lemon juice and raspberry syrup. The Dorothy Parker on the other hand calls for lemon vodka, triple sec, Chambord raspberry liqueur, lemon juice and a bit of champagne. I personally suggest exhanging gin for the lemon vodka to make it more like something Parker would drink.

Dorothy Parker

  • 1 1/2 ounces Lemon Vodka (or Gin)
  • 1/2 ounce Triple Sec
  • 1/4 ounce Chambord
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with champagne and serve.

Tomorrow: What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again.

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