It’s New Year’s Eve, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve probably got plans tonight, so I’m not going to take up too much of your time. How about I quickly tell the origins of a New Year’s Eve tradition, and then give you a nice drink recipe?
Have you ever wondered how the tradition of dropping the ball in Times Square got started? It all began in 1903 when The New York Times‘ owner, Adolph Ochs, decided to celebrate the opening of One Times Square, the newspaper’s new headquarters, with a New Year’s Eve fireworks show. 200,000 people showed up to watch the fireworks welcome in 1904. The fireworks continued for a few years, but Ochs wanted to do something a little bigger that would draw attention to the building itself.
Eventually, the Times‘ chief electrician, Walter F. Painer suggested the dropping of a “time ball.” If you, like most people, are unfamiliar with the concept of a time ball, it’s an obsolete time keeping device consisting of a large ball that is dropped at predetermined times. It was initially invented so ship navigators could accurately set their marine chronometer, allowing them to keep time while at sea. Ochs liked Painer’s idea and a 700 pound ball, made from iron, wood and one hundred incandescent light bulbs was built and used to ring in the start of 1908.
Since then, the Times Square Ball has been dropped every year, with the exception of New Year’s Eve 1942 and 1943 when wartime lighting restrictions caused the cancellation of the event. The current Times Square Ball weighs 11,875 pounds and is made up of 2,688 Waterford Crystal panels and 32,256 LED lamps.
Now, there are any number of champagne cocktails that you could enjoy tonight (personally, I’m thinking about whipping up a batch of Old Cubans), but the most thematically appropriate might be a Happy New Year. It’s an easy to make, festive mix of champagne, brandy, really good port and orange juice.
Happy New Year
- 1/4 ounce Brandy
- 3/4 ounce Ruby Port
- 3/4 ounce orange juice
- 4 ounce Champagne
Shake everything except the champagne with ice in a cocktail shaker and strain into a champagne flute. Top off with champagne.
Tomorrow: A New Year’s hangover.
The premise of the show is simple: It’s opening night of a new musical based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew. Of course, their are a few minor complications, like the two lead actors also being ex-lovers and two goofy gangsters trying to collect a major gambling debt. Naturally, this leads to plenty of screwball complications both onstage and off. Then of course, there are the songs which include some of Porter’s best like the smokin’ song and dance number “Too Darn Hot,” the actor’s lament “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” and of course the clever “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” which allows Porter to creatively pun on the title of nearly every Shakespeare play.
In 1949, Kiss Me Kate won the award for Best Musical at the inaugural Tony Awards; and a later production won the 2000 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.
Of course there’s a Kiss Me Kate cocktail. It’s a nice sweet pink drink made from the honey-whiskey liqueur Irish Mist and the strawberry cream-tequila liqueur Tiequila Rose.
Kiss Me Kate
- 2 1/2 ounces Irish Mist
- 1/2 ounce Tequila Rose
Pour ingredients over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a mint sprig.
Tomorrow: What are you doing New Year’s Eve?
Harley and Davidson cofounded the company in 1903, and in fact Harley remained its chief engineer until his death in 1943. It all began in 1901 when a 20 year old Harley drew up a plan for a small motor that could be attached to a bicycle. Two years later, Harley and Davidson tested their first prototype motorized bicycle. Upon discovering that the machine couldn’t climb hills without the use of pedals, Harley and Davidson deemed their invention a failure. However, later that same year, they developed a second motorbike, this time with a larger engine, which was much more successful. From there, the rest was history.
So, what drink could we pair with the birthday of a motorcycle pioneer? Why, a Sidecar of course. The Sidecar was either invented in London or Paris after World War I. The most commonly accepted story is that the drink was created at the Ritz in Paris and was inspired by an American Army captain who always came to the bar in a motorcycle sidecar. It’s a nicely balanced brandy cocktail that is nicely sweetened by the sugar rimmed glass.
- 1 ounce Brandy
- 1 ounce Cointreau
- 1 ounce lemon juice
Run a lemon slice on the edge of a cocktail glass and then dip the rim in sugar. Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and then strain into the sugar rimmed cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon slice.
Tomorrow: We brush up our Shakespeare.
here, the rest was history.
On this day in 1888, one of history’s first great film directors was born. F. W. Murnau was a leader of the German Expressionist film movement and the creator of many silent masterpieces. Murnau was a versatile film director, and nothing quite exemplifies this like two of his out and out masterpieces: The horror film Nosferatu and the romantic drama Sunrise.
Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu is an all time horror classic. It’s an unofficial adaptation of Dracula that, despite the technical limitations of its day, features some of the creepiest imagery ever committed to film. If you’re anything like me, the shadowy sequence of Count Orlok creeping up a flight of stairs is enough to make your skin crawl.
On the flipside, Sunrise is a beautiful humanistic fairy tale about a married couple rediscovering their love for each other. Of course, this all happens after the husband considers murdering his wife so he can be with his mistress. As strange as that plot might sound, it’s a beautiful film that again features striking imagery. In fact, at the first Academy Awards, Sunrise won the Oscar for Best Unique and Artistic Production, an award that is the equivalent of the modern Best Picture Oscar.
Tonight, why not enjoy one of these two silent pictures with a nice cocktail? For Nosferatu, the obvious choice is the Vampire Kiss, which we talked about two months ago and for Sunrise, why not mix a Tequila Sunrise? This basic cocktail was created by Gene Sulit, a bartender at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel sometime during the 1930s or 1940s.
- 1 1/2 ounces Tequila
- 3 ounces orange juice
- 1/2 ounce grenadine
Pour the tequila and orange juice into a highball glass over ice. Then add grenadine and do not stir, let it sink to the bottom. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.
Tomorrow: A motorcycle pioneer.
Nobody’s quite sure when in 1884 the Chelsea Hotel opened its doors, but it was on December 27, 1977 that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places; and since today is a fairly quiet day in history, and there’s a great drink named for the Chelsea, that seems like an acceptable reason to celebrate.
Why is the Chelsea important? Well, let me put it this way if you were ever young, artistic and living in New York there was probably a period of time when you listed the Chelsea as your home address. From the 1950s on, it was a hotbed of bohemians: Dylan Thomas spent his last days there, and eventually died in one of its rooms. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying at the Chelsea. Andy Warhol’s Factory stars lived there. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe engaged in a creative partnership as roommates at the Chelsea. Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin had a one night stand at the hotel after meeting in its elevator (an event that Cohen memorialized in his song “Chelsea Hotel No. 2“).
Reading a list of the Chelsea’s most notable tenants is like reading a list of the most important names to shape 20th century American culture. The Museum of Modern Art’s collection features the work of many Chelsea alumni (Frida Khalo & Diego Rivera, R. Crumb, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Claes Oldenburg, etc). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could fill a wing just dedicated to inductees who made extended stays at the hotel (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Iggy Pop, Dee Dee Ramone, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Madonna, etc). Not to mention the writers (Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs, Jean-Paul Sartre, Tennessee Williams, etc), actors (Dennis Hopper, Elliot Gould, Jane Fonda, etc), comedians (Eddie Izzard, Mitch Hedberg, etc) and at least one very important film director (Stanley Kubrick) who lived at the Chelsea for a portion of their lives.
You know that old cliche about “If these walls could talk, oh, the stories they would tell”? The Chelsea would have a full library of stories to share.
Now, I don’t know the origin of the Chelsea Hotel cocktail, but I’m sure that it was developed by some notable resident. It’s a neat little mix of gin, triple sec and lemon juice that’s kind of sharp, but quite tasty. I took a particular shine to these in my college days when I was trying to be bohemian.
- 1 1/2 ounce Gin
- 3/4 ounce Triple Sec
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: One of silent cinema’s most influential directors.
So, why did the Red Sox trade one of their star players? Well, you see, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was also a theater impresario. So, to finance his latest theatrical venture, a stage play called My Lady Friends, he sent the Babe to the Bronx.
Now, this transaction proved to be a turning point for the two teams. When the trade was made, the Red Sox were one of the best teams in baseball and had in fact won five of the 16 World Series that had been held up to that point. The Yankees on the other hand were kinda mediocre. However, the addition of Ruth (and then in 1921, the addition of the Sox’s manager Ed Barrow) turned the Yankees’ fortunes around. As for the Red Sox, they took a turn for the worst. From 1918 to 2004, the Red Sox did not win one World Series title, while the Yankees won a whopping 26. This phenomenon became known as “The Curse Of The Bambino,” named after one of Ruth’s nicknames.
Interestingly, although this so called “curse” lasted 86 years, the idea of a Ruth related curse didn’t become popular until 1990, when Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy published a book called The Curse Of The Bambino. Amusingly, during a game at Yankee Stadium in September of that same year, Yankee fans chanted “1918” to taunt the Red Sox. Unsurprisingly, the media went absolutely gaga for the idea that the Sox were cursed, and any time the Red Sox cam close to the World Series, the curse was bound to be brought up.
So, fast forward to Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series: The Red Sox are down three games to none against those damned Yankees and facing elimination. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the Sox are down by one run. Miraculously, the Red Sox scored a run off Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, tying up the game. That was a major shock, as Rivera was perhaps the greatest closer in baseball history. How great? Well, more people have walked on the moon (12) than scored a run off him in the postseason (11). The Sox went on to win the game in the 12th inning and then win the next three games (including taking two at the dreaded Yankee Stadium) and advanced to the World Series.
Following the exciting comeback, the World Series almost seemed like an afterthought, as the Sox quickly dispatched the St. Louis Cardinals by sweeping them in four games. The Red Sox were champions and the alleged curse was broken. Since 2004, the Red Sox have won two more championships), while the Yankees have only won one.
Oh, and one last thing before we get to today’s drink. Let’s pretend for a moment that there actually was a curse. Most folks would point to that fabled Game 4 victory as the moment the Sox overcame the curse. However, I’d like to point you towards the events of August 31, 2004. During an otherwise normal game, a foul ball hit by Sox player Manny Ramirez hit a sixteen year old Red Sox fan in the face, knocking out two of his teeth; and wouldn’t you know it, the boy lived on a farm in Sudbury, Massachusetts that was once owned by Babe Ruth. Coincidentally, on that same day the Yankees lost at home 22 to nothing, the worst defeat in team history.
So, if you’re a Yankees fan, you might want to give a cheer (but not a Bronx cheer) to the Red Sox organization today for their foolish business deal; or if you’re a Red Sox fan you’ll want to celebrate that the 86 years of futility have come to an end. Either way, why not celebrate with a Bronx cocktail? After all, the Yankees do play in the Bronx. The Bronx is a pre-Prohibition cocktail, that was created by Johnnie Solon, the head bartender at the Waldorf hotel. According to legend, Solon created the Bronx after being challenged by a customer one day to create a new drink on the spot. When asked to come up with a name for the drink, he thought of a recent visit to the Bronx Zoo and named the cocktail after that. The customer loved the drink and it soon became one of the Waldorf bar’s most popular drinks. The Bronx is a fascinating mix of gin, vermouths and orange juice and it’s pretty refreshing.
- 1 ounce Gin
- 1/2 ounce Sweet Vermouth
- 1/3 ounce Dry Vermouth
- 1/2 ounce orange juice
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: “I remember you well, at the Chelsea Hotel…”
“Look, when your birthday is on Christmas, you get completely forgotten about. You know what? Let me paint you a little picture. Early one Christmas birthday morn, I tiptoed down the stairs to find me mum and pop waiting for me. And, lo, besides them ’twas a Christmas gift. ‘Twas an Easy Bake Oven. Well, there was another gift waiting for me–a birthday gift. Was it a sleigh? Hmm! Or a doll who wets herself? No. It was batteries! For the easy bake oven. And boom! My parents ruined my childhood by giving me the dreaded Christmas/birthday combo gift.” -Jane Kerkovich-Williams, Happy Endings
Well, Ho Ho Ho everybody. It was on this day in 336 in Rome that the first documented Christmas celebration took place. However, we’re not going to focus on Christmas today. No, instead we’re going to honor those poor people who were unfortunate enough to be born on Christmas day. Here are a very merry 17 notable people who celebrate their birthday on December 25:
- Physicist, mathematician and astronomer Isaac Newton, born in 1642.
- Red Cross founder Clara Barton, born 1821.
- First coach of the United States men’s national soccer team Thomas Cahill, born 1864.
- Swiss race car driver and founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company Louis Chevrolet, 1878.
- Actress, model and “Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” Evelyn Nesbit, born 1884.
- Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton, born 1887.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not! creator Robert Ripley, born 1890.
- Iconic actor Humphrey Bogart, born 1899.
- Jazz singer-songwriter and bandleader Cab Calloway, born 1907.
- Egyptian president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Anwar Sadat, born 1918.
- Screenwriter, producer and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, born 1924.
- Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding, born 1945.
- Singer and iconic Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” backing vocalist Merry Clayton, born 1948.
- Actress Sissy Spacek, born 1949.
- Actress C. C. H. Pounder, born 1952.
- Singer-songwriter and Eurythmics frontwoman Annie Lennox, born 1954.
- Singer-songwriter and Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, born 1957.
- Baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, born 1958.
Today, take a break from the Christmas merriment and honor these Christmas births with a birthday cake; or even better a Birthday Cake Shot. Nobody’s quite sure how it works, but quickly drinking this combination of liquors and then biting into a sugar coated lemon creates something that tastes just like a birthday cake. It’s a delicious form of alchemy.
Birthday Cake Shot
- 1/2 ounce Frangelico
- 1 ounce Vodka
Run the lemon slice on the edge of a shot glass and then dip both the lemon and glass in sugar. Pour the liquors into the shot glass. Pound the shot and bite the lemon.
Tomorrow: The Curse of the Bambino.
A funny thing happened on Christmas Eve, 1955: A Sears department store in Colorado Springs placed an ad in a local newspaper advertising a phone number that children could call and talk to Santa as he made his journey around the globe. There was just one problem; the phone number printed in the ad didn’t connect to the special Santa hotline. Instead, it was a phone number for the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center in Colorado Springs.
Delightfully, the Colonel on duty that day was in the Christmas spirit and after the first few calls came in, he instructed his staff to give Santa Claus’ “current location”to any child who called in. When North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958, the tradition continued and continues to this day.
Over the years, the NORAD Tracks Santa program expanded beyond just the Christmas Eve hotline. Radio and television stations began using NORAD’s reports provide updates on Santa’s progress across the globe. As the NORAD service became better publicized, volunteers were brought in to answer calls and eventually emails. In 1997, a website was created featuring CGI videos of Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over many of the world’s most famous cities and landmarks just after midnight, local time. Several celebrities have gotten in on the act over the last few years. Ringo Starr narrated videos in 2003 and 2004, and in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, First Lady Michelle Obama served as one of the volunteers answering calls. This year, NORAD’s volunteers are expected to answer over 12,000 e-mails and 70,000 phone calls from over 200 countries.
The NORAD Tracks Santa program is a uniquely modern Christmas tradition. As University Of Manitoba history professor Gerry Bowler told the Associated Press in 2010 “The NORAD tradition is one of the few modern additions to the centuries-old Santa Claus story that have stuck…” and the tradition “…takes an essential element of the Santa Claus story — his travels on Christmas Eve — and looks at it through a technological lens.”
As the man in the red suit makes his worldwide trip from the North Pole today, why don’t you mix yourself a nice North Pole Martini? It’s a nice and creamy, snow colored variation on the Aviation created by Trader Vic.
North Pole Martini
- 2 ounces Dry Gin
- 1 ounce Maraschino Liqueur
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1 egg white
- heavy cream
Shake the gin, maraschino, lemon juice and egg white with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and float a bit of heavy cream on top.
Tomorrow: It’s Christmas Day, but we’re going to look at some people who have other reasons to celebrate on December 25.
Twas two days before Christmas in 1823, when the Troy Sentinel published some poetry. Called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and published anonymously, the poem would go on to cause much controversy.
A poetic account of a drop-in from St. Nick, the verse’s imagery to this day still sticks: Like the names of eight reindeer, so lively and quick, and Santa Claus with a belly most thick.
Some say the poem was by Clement Moore. Others, they just aren’t so sure. There’s support for another author, the poet Henry Livingston, Junior.
Now let’s look at the evidence; and while doing so drop this poetic pretense.
Well, that’s enough of that. As I said, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was initially published anonymously. It wasn’t until 14 years later that Moore was credited as the writer of the poem by his friend Charles Fenno Hoffman. Interestingly, Moore initially disavowed the poem, because he allgedly didn’t want it to detract from his more serious scholarly works.
Although Moore has been accepted as the writer of the poem, recently scholars, led by Vasser College professor Donald Wayne Foster, have voiced support for a theory that Livingston was the poem’s true composer. Those who support the Livingston theory cite the following pieces of evidence: Livingston lived near Troy, and his published poetry has a similar voice to “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Not to mention, Moore had written about the evils of tobacco, and it would be unlikely that he would have depicted St. Nick with a pipe, as he is described in the poem. Additionally, Livingston’s mother was Dutch, which makes it likely that he was familiar with the Dutch Christmas legend of Sinterklaas. This would certainly explain the references to the reindeer “Dunder and Blixem” in the original published version.
Livingston died in 1828, so he was not able to dispute any authorial claims made by Moore. However, Livingston’s children claimed that he had read the poem to them years before it was first published. Interestingly, Livingston was related to Moore’s wife. So, perhaps Moore “borrowed” the poem from his distant in-law?
As tomorrow is Christmas Eve, you should probably prepare for your own impending visit from St. Nicholas. Now, you could leave milk and cookies out for Santa Claus, but I think that during his long journey around the world, Santa might want something a little stronger. So, why not mix things up a bit this year and leave a Bourbon Milk And Cookies for Santa this year? This delicious cocktail was created by Sergio Campos, the beverage manager at West Hollywood’s Andaz Hotel. The drink was born out of a conversation between Campos and the bakers of WeHo’s gluten-free bakery, The Inspired Baker.
Bourbon Milk And Cookies
- 5 ounces whole milk, heated
- 1 dash cinnamon
- 1 dash vanilla bean
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 dash nutmeg
- 1 ounce Bourbon
Shake without ice in a cocktail shaker and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a cookie.
Tomorrow: Why is the military tracking Santa Claus?
Folks, I’m going to level with you; the days around Christmas and New Year’s are pretty dull in terms of major historical events. History, like all major industries tends to go on a break around the holidays.
So, that brings us to the Lincoln Tunnel, which opened on this day in 1937. The underwater tunnel connected Weehawken, New Jersey to Midtown Manhattan. The toll on opening day was just 50 cents. Nowadays, the price has gone up a wee bit and in order to drive through the tunnel you need to fork over $13. On an average day, between 100,000 and 120,000 vehicles travel through the Lincoln Tunnel.
To celebrate a pretty straightforward day in history, we’ve got a pretty straightforward cocktail. The Lincoln Club Cooler is a basic higball that comes to us from George J. Kappeler’s 1895 bartending guide Modern American Drinks.
Lincoln Club Cooler
- 1 1/2 ounces Aged Rum
- 3 ounces ginger ale
Pour into a highball glass with ice and serve.
Tomorrow: Why is there a dispute over a visit from St. Nicholas?