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May 31: The BBC Bans “God Save The Queen”

sex-pistols-god-save-the-queenOn May 27, 1977 punk rock band the Sex Pistols released their masterpiece, the acerbic single “God Save The Queen”. A savage and hilarious attack on the British establishment and royal family, the song was both instantly controversial and an instant hit. However, in an effort to stop the single from drawing attention away from Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebration, the BBC banned the record on May 31, 1977.

It’s understandable why the British powers-that-be would feel threatened by “God Save The Queen”. After all, the song’s lightest attack is a plea for God to save the Queen “Cause tourists are money” and only gets sharper from there.The band denied that the release of the single was timed to coincide with the Jubilee. Lead singer Johnny Rotten later explained that the song’s message was as much a criticism of the celebration of England’s figurehead monarchy as a call for sympathy for the suffering working class. “You don’t write ‘God Save The Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”

After the song was banned by the BBC, the Sex Pistols sought out alternate means to get their message out. On June 7, the day of the main Jubilee festivities, the band chartered a boat named The Queen Elizabeth and sailed down the Thames, playing the song in front of the Palace of Westminster. As they were performing without a permit, they were promptly arrested upon docking.

Despite all this, the song became a hit and made it all the way to number 2 on the official UK Singles Chart. Another chart, the TOP 20 POPS, refused to even list “God Save The Queen”, placing only a black line at the number 2 slot. There is some controversy about whether “God Save The Queen” really peaked at number 2. For 38 years, rumors (never confirmed nor denied by the BBC) have persisted that the song had actually hit number 1, but those in charge at the BBC had switched the chart positions of “God Save The Queen” and Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” to place the latter song in the top slot in an effort to save face. For what it’s worth, the NME (New Musical Express) magazine placed “God Save The Queen” at the top of their chart. Today the song is considered to be a classic and a landmark moment in punk and British pop music history.

Finding a drink to tie into “God Save The Queen” was a bit tricky. The God Save the Queen is a little too prim and proper, while the Sex Pistol is more glam than punk (There’s nothing punk about cranberry juice and Goldschlager.), but eventually I stumbled across the Johnny Rottenseed. This drink was created at Detroit’s Sugar House craft cocktail bar and combines applejack with a Coca Cola syrup. According to the Sugar House, you can make this syrup by “[reducing] Mexican coke down to about 25% of it’s original volume.” Here are some handy instructions for making a reduction sauce or syrup.

Johnny Rottenseed

  • 2 ounces Laird’s Bonded Applejack
  • 1/2 ounce Coca Cola syrup
  • 1 dash Orange Bitters

Pour all ingredients over ice in a rocks glass and stir.


April 7: W. K. Kellogg

KelloggWill Keith Kellogg was born today in 1860. There’s a pretty good chance that you have him to thank for your breakfast this morning.

In the 1880s, Kellogg started working with his brother John Harvey Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. W. K. Kellogg was a strict Seventh-day Adventist and thus a vegetarian. As such, he was not particularly fond of the typical American breakfasts of the period: The well-to-do typically enjoyed a hearty meal of eggs and meat, while the poor (and the patients of the Sanitarium) typically had porridge, gruel and other not particularly delicious boiled oats. So, Kellogg sought to create a meal that was nutritious, delicious and vegetarian.

Eventually, the brothers came up with the idea of flaky cold cereals and began serving corn flakes to Sanitarium guests. John Kellogg wanted to sell corn flakes to the public, but W. K. Kellogg refused. That changed when sanitarium guest and businessman C. W. Post got a glimpse at the corn flake production process and formed his own cereal company using the Kelloggs’ technique. Kellogg was obviously upset by this and decided that the time had come to take his product public, and thus the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company was born. The name was later simplified to the Kellogg Company.

Nowadays Kellogg’s makes more than just corn flakes, they also make cereals of more questionable nutritional value, including everyone’s favorite, Froot Loops. Unsurprisingly, there are many drinks named after the sugary cereal, including one that involves mixing milk with Blue Curacao which I wasn’t brave enough to try. I’ve found one recipe for Froot Loops that balances several fruit flavors and isn’t half bad.

Froot Loops

  • 1 ounce Lemon Flavored Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Raspberry Flavored Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Triple Sec
  • cranberry juice
  • orange juice
  • 1 splash lemon lime soda

Pour the liquors into an ice filled highball glass. Then fill halfway with cranberry juice before filling to the near top with orange juice. Finish off with a splash of lemon lime soda.

Tomorrow: A woman with no arms.

April 3: The Last Brown Derby Closes

Hollywood_Brown_DerbyIn 1926, Robert H. Cobb and Herbert Somborn opened a cafe on Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard shaped like a hat and fittingly called the Brown Derby. Whimsical architecture was big at the time, and the Brown Derby quickly became a hot spot for celebrities, locals and tourists. The cafe’s success inspired the owners to open a few additional Brown Derby locations in some of L. A.’s finest neighborhoods. Tragically, it was on this day in 1985 that the last Brown Derby, the Hollywood location, closed.

Although the original Wilshire Boulevard Brown Derby’s look was iconic, the most famous location was the Hollywood Brown Derby (opened in 1929). As this location was near many major motion picture studios, it was not unusual to see actors, directors and studio bosses dining at the Derby. In tribute to their famous clientele the Hollywood Brown Derby began hanging celebrity caricatures on its walls, most of which were drawn by the restaurant’s resident artist, Jack Lane. Famously, the Cobb Salad was invented at the Hollywood Brown Derby by Robert H. Cobb when Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theater fame) came to the restaurant after having dental surgery and needed something that wasn’t too difficult to chew; thus the finely chopped Cobb Salad was created. In addition to the Wilshire and Hollywood restaurants, there were also Beverly Hills and Los Feliz Brown Derbys (opened in 1931 and 1940, respectively).

So, what happened to the Brown Derby? Well, the original got sold to a new ownership group in the mid-1970s and then the land was sold to make a strip mall called Brown Derby Plaza, with the original dome incorporated as part of the strip mall’s roof. The Beverly Hills location was closed in 1983 and the corner it once stood on is now the Rodeo Drive Bulgari (which fittingly sports a brownish round dome atop its entrance). As we said up top, the Hollywood location was closed in 1985. A fire soon damaged the property and now the land is a parking structure.

The Los Feliz one however had a fascinating history: It was only a Brown Derby for 20 years before it changed hands and it became Michaels [sic] of Los Feliz in 1960. In 1992, it became a nightclub called The Derby and swiftly became one of the epicenters of the late 1990s swing dancing revival. The Derby closed in the early 2000s, and briefly served as an outpost of the Los Angeles Italian restaurant chain Louise’s Trattoria and now it’s a restaurant called Mess Hall and is the only former Brown Derby building still standing.

Unsurprisingly, there is a Brown Derby cocktail. This drink was included in Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide, so it’s possible that there is a connection, but I cannot confirm it. There are a few variations to this drink, but today we’ll stay in Los Angeles and use a recipe that Marcos Tello, a bartender who’s worked at several of L. A.’s hottest bars including the Edison and The Varnish, gave to the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

Brown Derby

  • 1 ounce Woodford Reserve bourbon
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice
  • ½ ounce clover-honey syrup (1 part water, 1 part clover honey)

Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: We look back on the Olde Internet.

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.

Opening The Bar

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, why don’t you have a seat and I’ll get to explaining just what this is that you’ve wandered in to. It’s one part cocktail blog and one part pop history blog.

Over the next year, I intend to find 365 causes for celebration, all with an appropriate drink pairing. We’ll look at everything from notable birthdays to obscure anniversaries and hopefully you’ll discover a new favorite drink or seven. When all this is over, you’ll have a perfect excuse to enjoy a nice drink any day of the year.

Cheers from your bartender for the next year,

Michael Darling

Tomorrow: The fun begins with a spoonful of Sugar Kane Kowalczyk.