Monthly Archives: March, 2015

March 31: La Tour Eiffel

Eiffel TowerIn 1889, Paris hosted a World’s Fair, the Exposition Universelle. As part of the tee-up to the events of the exposition, it was on this day in 1889 that the fairground’s entrance arch was unveiled: A 1,063 foot tall iron lattice tower that at the time was the world’s tallest structure, a structure we now call the Eiffel Tower.

The tower is named after Gustave Eiffel, the engineer whose company helped oversee the project, and incidentally helped build the structural interior of the Statue of Liberty. Contrary to popular myth, Eiffel did not actually design the Eiffel Tower; again, his company merely oversaw it.

The tower was the brainchild of Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, two engineers who worked for Eiffel’s company. When they first proposed the idea to Eiffel, he was less than enthusiastic about the “great pylon, consisting of four lattice girders standing apart at the base and coming together at the top, joined together by metal trusses at regular intervals”. So, Koechlin and Nouguier turned to Stephen Sauvestre, one of Eiffel’s architects, to add some more artistic touches to the tower proposal. Sauvestre’s additions included the tower’s iconic arches, a glass pavilion above the arches and a cupola. With the addition of these new elements, Eiffel fell in love with the tower design and instantly bought the patent for it.

After the tower was announced, there were some criticisms of the design. One petition claimed that the the tower would “dominat[e] Paris like a gigantic black smokestack…” and blot out all Paris’ other landmarks. However, despite the protest, the tower was built and it became very popular amongst Parisians and Exposition visitors. In fact, the tower was only supposed to stand for twenty years, but the popularity of the Eiffel Tower (and it’s potential use for communication) saved the tower. It’s said that the Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world.

As the Eiffel Tower is a cultural icon, it’s not surprising that it’s been reproduced all over the globe. Perhaps the most famous of these is the half-scale Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel and casino in Las Vegas. There’s a restaurant inside of Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower, and its signature drink is a concoction called Top Of The Tower. It’s a delicious cocktail, with a nice ginger spice.

Top Of The Tower

  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce ginger beer
  • 1/4 ounce sweet and sour mix
  • 1 dash grated star anise

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice, candied ginger and mint leaf.

Tomorrow: Un poisson d’avril

Advertisements

March 30: Vincent van Gogh

Van-GoghDutch post-impressionist master Vincent van Gogh was born on this day in 1853. Although van Gogh was not well known in his lifetime, his genius became better appreciated in the early 20th century.

Van Gogh produced many works that are now considered to be masterpieces, but his most famous work might be The Starry Night, painted in June of 1889. The painting was a follow up to his September 1888 work Starry Night Over The Rhone in which van Gogh first used some of the stylistic techniques showcased in the latter skyscape.

Van Gogh painted The Starry Night during his stay at the asylum at Saint-Rémy and fascinatingly, he said he painted it during the day from memory. The landscape depicted in the painting is a composite of real landscape elements and a few artistic creations. The village of Saint-Rémy is depicted in the center, with the Alpilles mountains on the right. However, the small hill and towering cypress tree seem to be an invention of van Gogh’s.

Van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother Theo on June 19, 1889 announcing that he had finished the painting. This has led some art historians and astronomers to suspect that the night sky is based on the skies of that week. Although there are some historical astronomical sources that suggest that the moon and Venus were in a similar proximity to the Earth in mid June of 1889, many scholars suspect that the placement of van Gogh’s stars were an artistic embellishment.

Van Gogh greatly enjoyed absinthe, and fittingly Lucid Absinthe created a cocktail called Lucid Starry Night. It’s a sweet mix of absinthe and Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka, garnished with a star anise.

Lucid Starry Night

  • 2 1/2 ounces Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Lucid Absinthe Superieure
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup

Coat the rim of a chilled cocktail glass with simple syrup and then cover the rim with crumbled chocolate cookies. Shake all the liquid ingredients with ice and strain into the cocktail glass. Place a star anise on top of the drink and let it float.

Tomorrow: One of the world’s most famous landmarks.

March 29: The Colts Leave Baltimore

Colts MoveJust before dawn on March 29, 1984 the Baltimore Colts football team fled out of town under the cover of darkness, taking all of the team’s equipment to Indianapolis in a fleet of Mayflower moving vans.

Since the early 1970s, Colts owner Robert Irsay had asked that the city of Baltimore provide a new (at least partially) publicly funded stadium for his privately owned football team. The city and state of Maryland refused to give Irsay as much as he wanted, and Irsay began shopping the team around to other cities. On March 27, 1984, the Maryland Senate passed legislation allowing Baltimore to seize ownership of the team via eminent domain. The next day Irsay quickly made a deal with the city of Indianapolis and in the early hours of March 29 the team moved away, much to the shock of their loyal fans. It was 12 years before Baltimore got a new NFL franchise, when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and changed their name to the Baltimore Ravens; ironically, much to the heartbreak of Cleveland fans.

Now, there’s a fascinating side story to the tale of the Colts’ exodus; that of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, the team’s official marching band. The band’s leaders somehow became aware of the Colts’ plan to leave in the middle of the night, and so they removed the team’s instruments from Colts headquarters. By coincidence, the band’s uniforms were at a dry cleaners and had not been taken to Indianapolis. The dry cleaner let the band members “borrow” the uniforms, and after getting the okay from Irsay’s wife, the band was allowed to keep performing in uniform as the Baltimore Colts Marching Band.

They performed in local parades, for the short lived Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League and at halftime for other NFL franchises, serving as “Baltimore’s Pro-Football Musical Ambassadors”. When the Ravens arrived in Baltimore, the Baltimore Colts Marching Band was quickly adopted as the team band; and when the Ravens moved into a new stadium at the start of their third season, the band gained new uniforms and officially became Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. For more on the tale of the Colts Marching Band, I recommend Barry Levinson’s documentary The Band That Wouldn’t Die, part of ESPN’s  30 For 30 series.

To mark the anniversary of the Colts fleeing from Baltimore, I suggest you mix a Baltimore Bang. It’s a sweet but potent take on the Whiskey Sour that adds apricot brandy.

Baltimore Bang

  • 1 1/2 ounces Whiskey
  • 1 1/2 ounces Apricot Brandy
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp sugar

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice and skewered cherry.

Tomorrow: A post-Impressionist master.

March 28: Radio Caroline

RadioCarolineIt’s hard to believe, but at the height of the Golden Age Of Pop, the English could not easily find the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other top pop acts of the day on the radio dial. You see, the BBC only played one hour a week of pop music at the time, and the major record labels severely limited what could be played on air. That’s why the launch of Radio Caroline today in 1964 is so important.

Radio Caroline was the first true “pirate” radio station. However, there had been earlier illegal boat based stations like Radio Luxembourgh which broadcast pre-recorded programs created by the larger record labels. Irish musician manager Ronan O’Rahilly didn’t like the policies of Radio Luxembourgh, as he felt it kept smaller labels from getting attention. So, he launched Radio Caroline, broadcasting from 6AM to 6PM from a ship anchored in international waters off the coast of England. What made this station different and exciting was that the ship’s DJs got to play whatever they wanted, and the public loved it; with millions tuning into the pirate station. Eventually, the BBC was forced to create the pop focused BBC1 in order to compete. Radio Caroline continued to broadcast from several different boats until 1989. Currently, it is an online only station based out of Kent.

Let’s raise a glass to the pirate radio DJs of Radio Caroline with a Pirate Daiquiri. Created in 2004 by Simon Difford, founder of English drinks magazine CLASS Magazine, this is a clever twist on the Daiquiri that adds two colorful, appropriately piratical twists: Goldschläger and grenadine. Why? According to Difford’s magazine, “the liqueur contains gold and the syrup is red as blood.”

Pirate Daiquiri

  • 3/4 ounce Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Pusser’s Navy Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Goldschläger Cinnamon Schnapps
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce grenadine
  • 3/4 ounce chilled water

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Tomorrow: Mayflowers leave Baltimore, taking several Colts with them.

March 27: A Corkscrew

corkscrewThe corkscrew, where would we be without it? If not for this wonderful little device, we’d have to keep our wine in barrels. Thankfully, several people came along to create that wonderful device. One of these was M. L. Byrne, who patented his corkscrew on March 27, 1860.

Honestly, Byrne was not the first person to patent a corkscrew. In 1795, Samual Henshall received a patent in England for a corkscrew, although it’s unlikely that he was the first person to invent such a device. It’s said that 17th century blacksmiths were said to use screws to place corks in barrels. Henshall’s design was based on the gun worm, a spiral tool that was used to clear out guns and rifles. In fact, most modern corkscrews look more like Henshall’s design. So, why are we highlighting Byrn’s design. Well, honestly, I just love that Byrn’s corkscrew design was literally a large screw.

Anyway, to celebrate Byrne’s device, let’s drink a Corkscrew. Surprisingly, this drink isn’t a variation on the classic Screwdriver. Instead, it’s an unusual mix of rum, peach schnapps and dry vermouth.

Corkscrew

  • 1 1/2 ounces Light Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Peach Schnapps
  • 1/2 ounces Dry Vermouth

Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon slice.

Tomorrow: Pirate radio.

March 26: Robert Frost

It was today in 1874 that Robert Frost was born. Frost was one of America’ most beloved and renowned poets of the 20th century, winning four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.

Frost’s most famous poem is probably his 1916 composition “The Road Not Taken”. The poem is a first person account of a man coming across a fork in the road and having to make a choice about which path he shall follow. At some point in your life, probably after a graduation or some other milestone life event, someone undoubtedly cited the last lines of this poem (“I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.”) as advice that taking your own path will lead to great success.

While that is good advice, anyone who says that that’s the moral of the poem obviously hasn’t actually read it. If you actually read the poem you’ll notice two very important things: First, Frost clearly states that the two roads that diverged in the yellow wood were virtually identical.

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Second, you should pay close attention to the start of the final stanza. Those who only look at the last line are making a very serious sin of omission by ignoring the context in which the narrator says that his choice of path made a difference.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That the narrator’s saying this with a sigh is really important.  Frost has said that the sigh was “…my rather private jest at the expense of those who might think I would yet live to be sorry for the way I had taken in life.”, and thus the poem is intended to mock the indecisive and those who focus too much on their regrets, often attributing blame to minor events like the choice of path one took through the woods one day.

On the Upper West Side of New York City there is a bar called The Dead Poet. Unsurprisingly, the Dead Poet features several specialty cocktails, all of them named after dead poets, and of course there’s one called Robert Frost. It’s a refreshingly fruity cocktail that’s served in a pint glass.

Robert Frost

  • 1 1/2 ounce Vanilla Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce Melon Liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce Raspberry Liqueur
  • orange juice
  • cranberry juice

Pour the liquors into a pint glass with ice. Then fill with equal parts orange and cranberry juices. Place a shaker lid on top and give the drink two good shakes. Strain into a second ice filled pint glass and enjoy.

Tomorrow: One of the most important items in a bartender’s tool kit.

March 25: Venice

VeniceAccording to legend, the city of Venice was founded on this day in 421.

Now, I say “according to legend” because there are no historical records that detail the founding of Venice. So, why do we say that Venice was founded on March 25, 421? Well, the first settlers of Venice were refugees from Italian cities that had been invaded by Germans and Huns. The lagoons of Venice provided the city with a natural defense, which allowed the city to grow trouble free. Of course, a 5th century Italian city with a growing population requires a church and on March 25, 421 the Church of San Giacomo di Rialto was officially consecrated, officially making Venice a city.

Venice has contributed a lot to cocktail history, most notably the Bellini. The Bellini is a charming mix of Prosecco and peach purée. It was invented in the 1930s or 1940s by Giuseppe Cipriani, owner and head barman at Harry’s Bar in Venice. The name Bellini actually comes from 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. When Cipriani first mixed the drink, the pink color reminded him of a pink toga worn in a painting by Bellini.

Bellini

  • 3 1/2 ounces Prosecco
  • 1 3/4 ounces peach purée

Pour the purée into a chilled flute and gently add the Prosecco. Stir gently.

Tomorrow: Things get Frost-y.

March 24: Harry Houdini

houdiniOn this day in 1874, Erik Weisz was born in Budapest. He went on to great fame as the magician and escape artist Harry Houdini.

Houdini had many iconic escape tricks: Handcuffs, water tanks and even being buried alive were no match for Houdini. One of Houdini’s most frequently performed feats was the jail escape. Typically, he would plan these jail escape performances in advance, but in one famed instance, Houdini engaged in a surprise performance; meaning he was surprised that he would have to perform the jail escape trick. I’ll explain.

In 1904, Houdini was meeting with the Chief Constable of Scotland Yard. The Chief Constable decided to test how good Houdini actually was and asked him to perform the jail escape right then and there. Houdini accepted the challenge and was taken to a cell where he was stripped. The naked Houdini was taken to an adjoining cell, and both his cell and the one containing his clothes were triple locked, as was the door to the cell block. On top of all that, the iron gate at the entrance to the cell block was locked with a seven-lever lock. The Chief Constable and his associates then left Houdini alone, fully expecting that they’d eventually have to come back to release him. Five minutes after they left, Houdini strolled, fully dressed, into the Chief Constable’s office. How he pulled this feat off remains a secret.

A few years ago, Kevin Martin, the bar manager at Boston’s Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drink, created a cocktail called Houdini. This mysterious drink has an herbal taste thanks to the use of Benedictine and Bols Genever.

Houdini

  • 2 ounce Bols Genever
  • 1 ounce Cocchi Americano
  • 1 ounce Benedictine

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Tomorrow: A city founded at noon, or so the legend goes.

March 23: Akira Kurosawa

AkiraOn this day in 1910, one of the greatest film directors of all time, Akira Kurosawa was born. Over a 57 year career, Kurosawa directed 30 films, and greatly influenced Hollywood movie making without ever making a film in the U. S.

Most people know Kurosawa for his amazing samurai films which in many ways set the template for many American blockbusters. Any movie in which a ragtag bunch of heroes team up to fight the forces of evil owes a debt to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. George Lucas has cited The Hidden Fortress (in which a wise general must help a rebel princess, while being followed by two bumbling robots peasants) as a key influence on the first Star Wars film. Perhaps Kurosawa’s most entertaining film is Yojimbo, in which frequent Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune stars as a crafty lone samurai, trying to rid a small village of two rival criminal syndicates by pitting them against each other using only his wits and occasionally his blade. Additionally, Kurosawa made two masterful Shakespearean adaptations, Throne Of Blood (based on Macbeth) and Ran (based on King Lear). The latter is one of the most artfully filmed war movies ever made and earned Kurosawa an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, a rarity for a director of a foreign language film.

However, Kurosawa did more than just samurai epics. Many critics, including the late Roger Ebert, believe Ikiru (To Live) to be Kurosawa’s masterpiece. It’s the simple story of a government bureaucrat who discovers he has an incurable stomach cancer. While looking back on his career, he realizes that he hasn’t done anything with his life. So, he sets out to do one good deed with the rest of his life and takes up the cause of a group of mothers who want to turn a mosquito ridden cesspool into a playground. It’s a beautiful, humanistic work anchored by a stunning performance by Takashi Shimura and featuring one of cinema’s most iconic closing scenes.

On what would have been Kurosawa’s birthday, why not watch one of his many classic films and enjoy a Samurai cocktail? This citrusy cocktail comes to us from Bar 190 at London’s Gore Hotel. It’s a nice warming drink that utilizes chilled tea and sake.

Samurai

  • Half a squeezed orange
  • 1 ounce White Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Sake
  • 1/3 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 2/3 ounce Japanese mandarin tea
  • 1 dash lemon juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange zest.

Tomorrow: The great escape artist.

March 22: Captain Kirk

Captain-KirkAccording to Star Trek, James Tiberius Kirk, the future captain of the USS Enterprise, will be born in Riverside, Iowa on this day in 2233. Coincidentally, William Shatner, the actor most associated with playing Kirk onscreen was born on March 22, 1931.

Kirk first came to minor galactic fame when he became the only Starfleet Academy student to beat the Kobayashi Maru test, a test designed as a no-win scenario that measured a Starfleet cadet’s character. On a simulated mission, cadets come across a ship called Kobayashi Maru that has become stranded in the “Neutral Zone” between the planets of the United Federation of Planets and the territories of the Klingon Empire. Cadets are presented with two options, either they go into the Neutral Zone to save the ship and potentially provoke the Klingons into battle, or abandon the ship stranded leaving all aboard to die. Of course, the program is designed so that engaging with the Klingons will always lead to death.

How did Kirk beat it? It was fairly simple; Kirk hacked the program prior to his test and altered the program so the Klingons could be defeated. Shockingly, Starfleet awarded Kirk a special commendation for “original thinking”. Kirk then advanced through the Starfleet rankings until he received a promotion to captain, the youngest person to ever achieve that rank in Starfleet. Kirk was given command of the USS Enterprise for a five-year mission “t to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

From 1998 to 2008, the Las Vegas Hilton housed an attraction called Star Trek: The Experience. The attraction featured two simulator rides, a museum of Star Trek props and costumes and a promenade styled after that of the space station Deep Space Nine. On the promenade there were several shops and a restaurant based on DS9’s Quark’s Bar. At Quark’s, one could order food and drinks inspired by the Star Trek franchise including a James Tea Kirk. This potent concoction is pretty much a blue Long Island Iced Tea.

James Tea Kirk

  • 3/4 ounce White Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Gin
  • 3/4 ounce Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce Blue Curaco
  • 1 ounce lemon lime soda
  • 1 ounce sweet and sour mix

Pour all ingredients over ice in a highball glass.

Tomorrow: One of history’s greatest directors made more than just samurai films.