On 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Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs for Rolling Stone; high on a cocktail of narcotics and trying to suppress laughter at the outdated drug lingo used by the conference’s “experts”.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.