Monthly Archives: April, 2015

April 30: May Eve & Beltane

BeltaneIt’s April 30, which as you surely know means it’s May Eve, otherwise known as the Feast of Beltane: A celebration typically beginning at sundown and heralding the arrival of the summer.

Beltane is the traditional Gaelic May Day celebration. In the old Gaelic calendar, the four seasons were as follows: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh which began around the 1st of November, February, May and August respectively. As it was the summer festival, Beltane was typically celebrated with a variety of fertility rituals intended to appease the sí, the fairy spirits of the world, and bless the summer’s crops.

So, what rituals were commonly performed at a Beltane celebration? Well, as with any good party there was dancing, singing, drinking and other forms of revelry. Floral wreaths, bouquets and garlands were common festive garb for Beltane night, and the tradition of dancing around the maypole comes from Beltane celebrations. However, the one Beltane tradition that hasn’t really leaked into most contemporary spring/summer celebrations is the good old fashioned bonfire. The traditional Beltane bonfire would be lit by creating friction between two pieces of wood with the intention of producing a particularly potent fire. When the fire burned out, the ashes would be taken and spread into the soil of nearby farmers’ fields. In addition to the big bonfire, there would also be smaller fires that men would jump over as a personal fertility ritual.

Beltane is still celebrated by modern Pagans and Wiccans, so in that spirit, today we shall make a White Magic. This cocktail is a grapey, transparent concoction that’s a perfect refresher for the warming season.

White Magic

  • 2 ounces White Grape Vodka
  • 4 ounces white grape juice
  • 4 ounces ginger ale

Pour all ingredients into an ice filled highball glass and stir.

Tomorrow: Robin of Locksley

April 29: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear And Loathing In Las VegasOn the evening of April 29, 1971, Hunter S. Thompson sat in a hotel room in Arcadia, California and began work writing a manuscript; a semi-fictionalized account of two unrelated drug fueled trips to Las Vegas. The manuscript became his epic gonzo novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Amazingly, it all started with a 250 word photo caption.

Sports Illustrated needed a photo caption about Las Vegas’ annual Mint 400 desert race which was being held the weekend of March 21, 1971. At the time, Hunter was trying to interview attorney and Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta for a story about the death of Rubén Salazar; a highly respected Mexican-American journlist who was killed when Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies fired a tear gas grenade at close range during a Chicano march against the Vietnam War in Los Angeles in 1970. At the time, and to this day, there ws controversy over whether Salazar had been specifically targeted by the deputies. Acosta was hesitant to openly discuss the case with a white reporter like Thompson, and so the two took advantage of the Sports Illustrated opportunity and headed to Vegas where Acosta could be interviewed away from the prying eyes of both the LAPD and the Chicano movement.

Although Thompson and Acosta did go to the race, they quickly discovered that the blowing sand kept them from getting a clear view of any action. So, their weekend trip quickly devolved into a drug charged tour of the decadent and depraved casino city built upon all of America’s best dreams and nightmares. They returned to Los Angeles where in lieu of a 250 word caption on the Mint 400, Thompson submitted a 2,500 word manuscript based on the writings in his travel notebook to Sports Illustrated. It was, in Thompson’s words, “aggressively rejected”. The next month, Thompson and Acosta returned to Las Vegas to cover the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs for Rolling Stone; high on a cocktail of narcotics and trying to suppress laughter at the outdated drug lingo used by the conference’s “experts”.

So, on the way back from his second sojourn to Sin City, Thompson frantically started to form his travel journals into a loose narrative exploring his drug fueled Vegas trips, along with the decline of the counterculture, the death of 1960s ideals and the quest for the American Dream, all set against the drunken, glittery hyper-reality that was Las Vegas during the high point of Richard Nixon’s presidency. He and Acosta became Raoul Duke and his 300 pound Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo, respectively, as they explored the dark heart of Vegas: from the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino (Described by Thompson as “what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war.”) to a hotel lounge where all the patrons are starting to resemble lizards and finally a diner on the outskirts of town where Duke realizes just how far from societal norms he and his traveling companion have gone. When Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas was released, it was met with mixed reviews. However, even those critics who were taken aback by the frequent drug use and the extremely loose plot knew that Thompson’s “gonzo novel” was something new, daring and important.

A cocktail called Fear And Loathing was created by one Benjamin Peikes for New york bartender and cocktail writer Gary Regan’s Fear And Loathing cocktail contest. This drink takes inspiration from two of Thompson’s favorite foods, grapefruits and bourbon.

Fear And Loathing

  • 3 ounces Bourbon
  • 1/3 ounce sugar
  • 1 slice pink grapefruit
  • 4 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters

Muddle the sugar, grapefruit and bitters together in the bottom of a rocks glass. Add the bourbon and stir.

Tomorrow: We welcome Summer.

April 28: Mutiny on the Bounty

HMS_BountyIt was on this day in 1789 that crew members of the HMS Bounty, led by first mate Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian launched a mutiny against the ship’s captain, William Bligh.

Prior to the mutiny, the crew had spent five months in Tahiti collecting breadfruit plants and allowing them to ripen before transporting the thousand-odd plants onto the ship. Captain Bligh permitted the crew to live on the island during this time and the crew became accustomed to life in Tahiti: getting tattooed and becoming involved with the island’s women.

However, while the scenery might have been that of a tropical paradise, Captain Bligh kept the crew from enjoying the Edenic atmosphere. Bligh regularly berated and flogged crew members for perceived slights, often imagined. As first mate, Christian was a frequent target of Bligh’s abuse. Conditions got worse as time on the island went by, and a few members of the Bounty‘s crew even attempted to desert the ship. When the ship set sail on April 5, the crew learned that Bligh intended to sail through the dangerous and as yet uncharted Endeavour Strait. Christian and some loyal members of the crew began to quietly discuss mutiny.

In the early morning hours of April 28, Christian considered making a raft and abandoning the ship, but changed his mind. So, under cover of darkness, Christian and a group of followers entered Bligh’s cabin, which he foolishly always kept unlocked, and told him to surrender. The mutineers quickly and bloodlessly took hold of the ship, parading Bligh out onto the deck at bayonet point, wearing only his nightshirt.

Bligh and 18 loyal crew members were then sent adrift in a boat, eventually landing on the island of Tofu before making a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies without a compass or map. Amazingly, only one of Bligh’s crewmen died on the journey (He was stoned to death by Tofuan natives.), although five crew members did die after arriving on Timor. Bligh eventually returned to England and remained in the Navy. Fascinatingly, in 1808, while Bligh was Governor of New South Wales, Australia he suffered another insurrection, when the troops he commanded had him overthrown and arrested in an act that became known as the Rum Rebellion.

The mutineers first headed to the island of Tubuai, where they were frequently attacked by the native population. They then headed back to Tahiti where 12 of the mutineers decided to remain, until they were eventually captured by the HMS Pandora and brought back to England to face a court-martial. Christian left Tahiti with eight other mutineers, six Tahitian men, and 18 women; most of whom had been kidnapped by the mutineers. In an effort to escape the Royal Navy, the Bounty headed to the deserted Pitcairn Island. Although the early days at Pitcairn were fine, with plenty of supplies and room for everyone; but when the the American trading ship Topaz arrived on Pitcairn in 1808, only one of the original mutineers was still living on the island, the de facto leader of the few remaining Pitcairn residents. The lone mutineer, John Adams, explained that infighting and disease had decimated the colony, but did not provide further elaboration. Reports on Fletcher Christian’s final fate are mixed. Some say he was killed by his companions, while others say he committed suicide.

Fletcher Christian has been honored with a cocktail simply called Mr. Christian. It’s a tropical cocktail that utilizes brandy, rum and citrus juices.

Mr. Christian

  • 1 1/2 ounces Dark Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Brandy
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 1/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon grenadine

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: “We can’t stop here. This is bat country.”

April 27: The Palace Of Westminster

WestminsterEarlier this month we discussed Big Ben and the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament. Well, today we’re going to look at the Palace itself. You see, in 1834 the original Palace of Westminster burned down and it was on this day in 1840 that the cornerstone of the new Palace of Westminster was installed.

The first Palace of Westminster was built on the present site of Parliament in the 11th century as a royal residence. The Model Parliament, England’s first official Parliament of England, met there for the first time in 1295 and from that point on, Parliament always met at the Palace of Westminster. In 1534, King Henry VIII left the Palace of Westminster and made York Place, the former residence of the late Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, his principal residence, leaving the Palace to Parliament.

On October 16, 1834, fire broke out in the Palace, after an overheated stove set the House of Lords Chamber ablaze. The fire quickly spread, sparing only a few structures. After some debate about where to build the new Parliament, it was decided that a new Palace of Westminster would be built on the site of the old one. The new Gothic style Palace of Westminster, designed by architect Charles Barry, incorporated the surviving elements of the original palace and took thirty years to complete. Fascinatingly, this new Palace provided Parliament with chambers specifically designed for meetings of the legislative body for the first time ever, because after all the original Palace was built as a royal, well, palace.

The Westminster is a simple, respectable cocktail; although, in all honesty, it’s really just a Perfect Manhattan made with Bourbon and given a fancy name.

Westminster

  • 1 ounce Bourbon
  • 3/4 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: Mutiny!

April 26: Fredrick Law Olmstead

OlmstedNo one person shaped the public landscape of America quite like Fredrick Law Olmstead, who was born on this day in 1822. During his career as a landscape architect, Olmstead designed hundreds of parks and governmental master plans including Denver’s Civic Center Park, Stanford University, the grounds of the U. S. Capitol, Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery, the grounds of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. However, one Olmstead project stands above all others: New York’s Central Park.

As New York grew taller and louder during the Industrial Revolution, its people began to seek comfort in its few open green spaces (mostly cemeteries) for peace and quiet. It readily became apparent that New York needed a large public park, an idea championed by Evening Post columnist William Cullen Bryant and landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, Olmstead’s mentor. Eventually, in 1853 the New York legislature selected a 700-acre area stretching from New York’s 59th Street to 106th Street to serve as the park. In 1857, a design contest was held by the Central Park Commission and the Greensward Plan by Olmsted and English-American architect Calvert Vaux was eventually selected as the winning design.

Olmstead and Yaux’s plan had several clever design elements including artificial lakes, 36 uniquely designed bridges, and “separate circulation” paths; specialized roadways created specifically for pedestrians, horseback riders and pleasure vehicles like bicycles and carriages. Olmstead’s most novel idea for the park was created as a response to the needs of crosstown traffic. As the park took up 700-acres, it was essential that there still be a way for vehicles to get around the park. So, Olmstead built several transverse roads into the Central Park design. These sunken roadways were covered by bridges and obscured by dense shrubs to allow traffic to flow through without breaking up the tranquility of the park. Although sections of the park were opened as it was developed, Central Park was not completed until 1873. Over four million trees and plants (in roughly 1,500 species) were installed in the park during construction.

The New Amsterdam Spirits Company created the Central Park as a mellower variation on the Bloody Mary. Instead of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco this highball uses vanilla extract and cayenne pepper to accentuate the tomato juice.

Central Park

  • 2 ounces Gin
  • 3 drops vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces tomato juice
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice filled highball glass. Garnish with a vanilla bean and cherry tomato.

Tomorrow: We rebuild Parliament.

April 25: Jerry Leiber

Jerry LeiberIt was on this day in 1933 that one of the most important songwriters of the early rock and roll era was born: Jerry Leiber who, along with his writing partner Mike Stoller, composed some of the greatest songs of the 1950s and 1960s. These guys could write everything from meaty R&B (“Kansas City”) to goofy novelties (“Yakety Yak”) to doo-wop street corner symphonies (“Stand By Me”).

Leiber and Stoller’s first major hit was Charles Brown’s 1953 recording of their rhythm and blues song “Hard Times” which went to number one on the R and B charts. However, their first big pop hit came in the form of Elvis Presley’s take on their 1952 song “Hound Dog”. But how did the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll come to record what became his signature song?

“Hound Dog” was originally recorded by blues singer Big Mama Thornton in an absolutely smoldering version. This record proved to be quite popular and led to dozens of covers, response songs and rip-offs, like the song “Two Hound Dogs” which was recorded by Bill Haley and The Comets. In 1955, the bosses at Philadelphia’s Teen Records thought that a sanitized and more rocking version of “Hound Dog” could be a big hit, and they hired Las Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell and the Bellboys to rework the song. Bell removed the more obliquely sexual lyrics that referred to a human hound dog, and replaced them with lines that literally refer to a hound dog with a poor track record of hunting rabbits. Leiber didn’t care for the lyrical changes, saying that the song now made “no sense”. The Bellboys’ big band rock version was a local hit in Philadelphia in 1955, but didn’t make much of a buzz in the rest of the country.

In the spring of 1956, Elvis Presley was booked to play the Venus Room at Las Vegas’ New Frontier Hotel and Casino. At the time the Bellhops were the hottest act in town, and Presley and his band checked out their show and decided that “Hound Dog” would be a great addition to their repertoire. Presley’s “Hound Dog” was an instant hit, bringing Leiber and Stoller plenty of royalties. Bell attempted to sue the two composers for a share of the royalties because he had changed the lyrics, but there was one little problem; because Bell never asked permission from Leiber and Stoller to make those changes, it was ruled that he was not entitled to royalties.

Unfortunately, we already made the Hound Dog way back in June, so we’ll have to make a drink named after another Leiber and Stoller composition. “Love Potion #9″ was originally performed by The Clovers in 1959 and has been covered by many bands. Unsurprisingly, there is a cocktail called Love Potion #9 and thankfully unlike the potion in the song, it does not smell like turpentine or look like India ink. Instead, it’s a sweet pink alcoholic milkshake.

Love Potion #9

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce White Creme de Cacao
  • 1/2 cup cut strawberries
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 cup ice

Pour all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a chilled tulip glass and garnish with a strawberry.

Tomorrow: A man who shaped America’s urban landscape.

April 24: William Castle

William CastleToday we celebrate the 1914 birth of the P. T. Barnum of motion pictures. If Alfred Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense, than director-producer-screenwriter William Castle was his B movie equivalent. While nowhere near as talented as Hitchcock, Castle made up for it in gimmickery.

Castle enhanced his low budget horror thrillers through the use of in theater gimmicks. Castle was lucky enough to make movies in the days before the multiplex; a movie theater would only show one movie and typically that theater would be the only one in town showing that film. So, Castle took advantage of this situation and was able to install gimmicks in the big city theaters that were showing his flicks. He financed his first film, Macabre, by mortgaging his house and then presented every filmgoer with a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in the event that they should die while watching the film. Additionally, he had nurses on hand and placed hearses outside of the theater to drum up publicity. The film was a hit, and several other gimmicks followed:

  • 1959’s House on Haunted Hill was allegedly filmed in “Emergo“, which meant that during the film’s climax, a plastic, glow in the dark skeleton floated over the audience’s head.
  • For 1959’s The Tingler, which was filmed in “Percepto“, Castle rigged seats in the theater with buzzers to give audience members a tingling sensation.
  • 1961’s Mr. Sardonicus featured a “punishment pole”. Towards the end of the film, Castle appeared onscreen and asked the audience to use the glow in the dark ballots they had been given upon admission to vote on whether or not the film’s villain should receive mercy. It’s said that no audience voted for mercy, precisely because Castle only filmed the “no mercy” ending.

Of course Castle’s gimmick masterpiece was for the movie Homicidal, released in 1961. Towards the end of the movie, the movie’s heroine made her way to a house in which a sadistic killer is lying in wait. At that moment a clock appeared on screen as a 45-second “fright break” during which patrons could leave the theater and receive a full refund. Unfortunately for Castle, several patrons who weren’t particularly keen on the film decided to get their money back. Other patrons simply sat through a second showing of the film and then got their money back.

This did not sit well with Castle, so he went over the top with the film’s gimmick: Now, if you wanted to get your money back, you had to walk down an aisle marked by yellow footprints to go to a yellow booth marked “Coward’s Corner”. All the while, a recording played saying “Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in ‘Coward’s Corner’!” At Coward’s Corner, a nurse would administer a blood pressure test before the “cowardly” patron could sign a yellow card that simply read “I am a bona fide coward.” It was only then that a theater goer could get his money back. Unsurprisingly, from that moment on it seemed everyone who saw Homicidal thought that was far too much effort to get their money back.

So, let’s toast the King of Gimmicks with an appropriately spooky cocktail. The cocktail called Liquified Ghost sounds like it could be the name of a Castle gimmick, so it’s only appropriate that we drink this cocktail that’s kind of like a homemade (alcoholic) cream soda.

Liquified Ghost

  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 ounce vanilla simple syrup
  • 1 ounce cream
  • 2 ounces soda water

Shake all ingredients together with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: One of rock and roll’s first great songwriters.

April 23: William Shakespeare?

ShakespeareWilliam Shakespeare, a playwright and actor who in the centuries after his death gained a reputation as perhaps the greatest writer and dramatist of all time might have been born on this day in 1564. Undoubtedly there will be eventful celebrations and excitement in his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon.

I say “might” because Shakespeare’s actual birthday is unknown. We know he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and in the Elizabethan era baptism typically happened two or three days after the child’s birth leading some to suspect that he might have been born on April 23. Additionally, it is known that he died on April 23, 1616, so there is a certain poetry to the idea of Shakespeare entering and exiting the world on the same day. Thus, April 23 has become the traditional date for celebrating Shakespeare’s birth. Although, I’m sure there are pedants who would disagree with that.

Now there has been gossip and distasteful speculation amongst some critics that Shakespeare did not actually write the plays he is credited with composing. However, we shall not cater to these obscene improbable fictions that oft rely upon baseless speculation or at best circumstantial evidence.

How great was Shakespeare’s impact upon the English language? Well, he coined somewhere between a couple hundred and a couple thousand new-fangled words and phrases that are now common vernacular. Seriously, nearly every time we speak we are Shakespeare’s mimic. It’s simply unreal to think that we’d be tongue-tied without the words this one man either invented or made fashionable. Don’t believe me? Well, every italicized word or phrase in this post first appeared in one of Shakespeare’s poems or plays.

Let’s celebrate Shakespeare’s priceless contribution to the English language with a cocktail inspired by one of his plays. Viola’s Disguise was created by Cate Gibbs, a part-time bartender at Ashland, Oregon’s Winchester Inn in 2010 as part of a competition to create a Shakespearean cocktail to celebrate the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 75th anniversary. The Twelfth Night inspired Viola’s Disguise is a satisfying drink uses grapefruit juice and Cointreau to, in Gibbs’ words, “disguise” the vodka.

Viola’s Disguise

  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 2 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime slice and cherry on a pick.

Tomorrow: Cinema’s greatest showman.

April 22: Earth Day

EarthIt’s Earth Day! This annual ecological holiday started in 1970, although its roots go back a year earlier. At a 1969 UNESCO Conference held in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to promote peace and good stewardship of the Earth. The idea was well received, and McConnell and United Nations Secretary General U Thant signed a proclamation declaring March 21, 1970 Earth Day.

So, why is Earth Day celebrated on April 22? Well, it all started with United States Senator Gaylord Nelson, who organized an environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970 as a tie-in to Earth Day. The way Nelson saw it, it was a perfect day for such an event. It didn’t conflict with any religious holidays and it was a late spring day that would most likely not have terrible weather.

There was just one small problem with April 22, 1970. That was also the 100th anniversary of Vladmir Lenin’s birth. Time Magazine quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution who claimed that Earth Day was clearly a Communist plot and that “subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.” Despite all that, Earth Day went off without a hitch and continues to be marked to this day.

This Earth Day, enjoy a cocktail called Blue Planet. It’s a refreshing blue cocktail that features vodka and rum. Just don’t use Russian vodka or Cuban rum if you want to keep the Communist elements at bay.

Blue Planet

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce Rum
  • 1 ounce Blue Curacao
  • Lemonade

Pour the vodka and rum into an ice filled highball glass. Fill almost to the top with lemonade and then add the blue curacao.

Tomorrow: The Bard

April 21: The Surgeon’s Photo

NessieThe Loch Ness Monster is one of the world’s most famous examples of cryptozoology. It was on this day in 1934 that the British tabloid The Daily Mail published a photo of the monster (right); the famous “Surgeon’s Photo”. Obviously, it was all a hoax.

Now, there had been reports of an alleged Loch Ness Monster dating back to the sixth century. It’s said that the Irish monk Saint Columba was attacked by a frightening “water beast”. Over the ensuing centuries, the myth of “Nessie” grew and grew, with the Surgeon Photo as its acme. The story, as it appeared in the Mail was as follows: A surgeon known only as Dr. Wilson (later revealed to be a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson) was looking at the Loch when he saw a small head and long neck come poking out of the water. He quickly snapped five photographs, only one of which clearly showed the creature.

Although there were some doubts about the authenticity of the photo, it wasn’t revealed as a hoax until December 7, 1975, when The Sunday Telegram ran an expose revealing the hoax. It turns out the “monster” in the photograph was actually a toy submarine that had been outfitted with a sculpted head. The hoax was the creation of Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter who had been hired by the Mail to investigate the Loch Ness Monster in 1933.

So, what was the reason for the hoax? Well, during his Mail funded expedition Wetherell thought he had discovered the monster’s tracks. He proudly announced his findings, but then researchers from London’s Natural History Museum determined that the tracks had been made by a dried hippo’s foot, like the kind that were popular used as umbrella stands in those days. Wetherell was promptly and frequently ridiculed by the tabloid, and he soon retreated from public life. So, Wetherell sought revenge for being mocked and, with the help of Spurling, hatched a plan to make the Mail look foolish by printing a fake photo. They took the picture of the toy monster and then had the respected Dr. Wilson submit the photo to the tabloid. Amusingly, some people who believe in the Loch Ness Monster have claimed that the story of the hoax is in fact a hoax designed to suppress knowledge of the Loch Ness Monster and that the photo was authentic. Those people are idiots.

On the anniversary of the Mail‘s publishing of the “Surgeon Photo”, let’s drink a Loch Ness. Naturally, this cocktail is made with scotch and it is a fierce, monstrous drink that will knock you off your feet. It’s a strong rework of the Rob Roy that adds a touch of Pernod.

Loch Ness

  • 1 1/2 ounces Scotch
  • 1 ounce Pernod
  • 1/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth

Shake with ice and pour, unstrained, into a chilled rocks glass.

Tomorrow: The Blue Marble.