Category Archives: Vodka Drinks

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”. We’ve already talked a little bit about Elvis’ take on “Hound Dog,” so let’s look at how the King wound up recording Leiber and Stoller’s 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.


March 8: Anne Bonny

Anne BonnyOn this day in 1702, in Kinsale County Cork, Ireland a girl named Anne Cormac was born. Little could anyone have realized, but Anne Cormac would grow up to become Anne Bonny, perhaps history’s most famous female pirate.

Shockingly, Cormac actually came from a fairly well-off family. While her mother was a servant, her father was a lawyer (and not-so-coincidentally, her mother’s employer). When Anne Cormac was very young, her father moved the family to the North American colonies in the hope of setting up an independent legal practice. Unfortunately, Cormac’s mother died shortly after arriving in Charles Town, South Carolina and her father’s practice was unsuccessful. However, he soon became a merchant and quickly established a sizable fortune.

Despite her privileged upbringing, Cormac had a terrible temper and a tendency to get in trouble. It’s said that when she was just 13 years old, she stabbed a servant girl with a table knife. She soon started to hang around with a bad crowd and when she was 16, she married a poor sailor and pirate named John Bonny. Unsurprisingly, Anne Bonny was quickly disowned, so the newlyweds traveled to Nassau in the Bahamas.

In the Bahamas, the Bonnys began associating with pirates. While John Bonny was secretly playing the role of a governor’s informant, Anne Bonny became infatuated with the pirate’s life and in 1720 she became the mistress of the infamous pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackham, the pirate credited with popularizing the Jolly Roger flag. Soon, Anne Bonny set sail with Calico Jack as part of the crew of his sloop Revenge, leaving her husband behind. This was highly unusual, as many pirates believed it to be bad luck to have a woman on the crew.

Soon, Rackham, Bonny and the crew of the Revenge were terrorizing the Caribbean taking ship after ship, often “inviting” (often by force) their victims to join the ship’s crew. One individual who joined the crew of Revenge voluntarily was a fellow named Mark Read. Bonny took a shine to the young man, and Mark Read was forced to reveal that he was actually a woman in disguise named Mary Read. The two became the best of friends and when Rackham learned the truth about Read, he again broke with superstition and allowed both women to serve on the ship. Word soon began to spread around the Caribbean of a ship with two fearsome female pirates who could fight just as good as any man.

The Revenge‘s reign of terror would come to an end in October 1780 when the ship was attacked by a “King’s ship”. Most of the crew was drunk at the time, so they were not able to put up much resistance. However, Bonny, Read and an unknown man were able to put up a fight and hold of the English troops for a short while. Eventually, the three pirates were subdued and the crew was sent to Jamaica to be hanged. Read and Bonny were able to “plead their bellies”, allowing them to gain a temporary stay of execution until they gave birth. The men were not as lucky. The last thing Bonny had to say about Rackham was that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog.”

After that, nobody knows exactly what happened to Bonny and Read. It’s believed that Read died in prison, either dying in childbirth or as the result of a fever. As for Bonny, things are a bit murkier. There’s no record of either Bonny’s release or execution. Some speculate that her father quietly paid government officials to release Bonny. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography suggests that there is evidence that after she was released, she returned to Charles Town, where she gave birth to her child. It’s said that she later married a local man named Joseph Burleigh and had ten children before dying a respectable woman at the age of 80.

A pirate of Anne Bonny’s stature deserves an eponymous cocktail. Anne Bonny is a tropical cocktail with a twist, namely Irish cream liqueur to honor Bonny’s heritage.

Anne Bonny

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Irish Cream Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce Creme de Cacao
  • 1 1/2 ounce Pina Colada mix

Blend all ingredients with ice and pour into a highball glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Tomorrow: Who discovered America?

October 10: Ed Wood’s Birthday

Ed_Wood_photoWhen you think of the most important directors in film history, a few names tend to pop up: Kubrick, Hitchcock, Godard, Lang, Murnau, Chaplin, Fellini, Kurosawa, Altman, Scorsese, etc. However, there is one very important name that needs to be added to this list: Edward D. Wood, Jr. (born on October 10, 1924), the worst director of all time.

Now, before we talk about Wood, I’d like to clear something up. Some have recently started to make the claim that Tommy Wiseau, the savant auteur behind The Room, might in fact be cinema’s worst director. However, I must disagree. While Wiseau’s film is an anti-masterpiece of bad art, it’s also Wiseau’s only film; really, he’s a one hit wonder. Wood on the other hand has a whole oeuvre of terrible films!

Wood got his start directing commercials and no-budget westerns. In 1953, Wood wrote and directed the first of what are considered his major works, Glen or Glenda. The film is an autobiographical tale of a transvestite, that Wood himself starred in with his then girlfriend. In fact, Wood’s girlfriend only learned that he was a transvestite during the filming of the scene in which Wood’s character reveals to his girlfriend that he’s a transvestite. Additionally, the film featured Wood’s friend, and washed up movie star, Bela Lugosi in the role of a kind of mad scientist narrator that really didn’t have much to do with the rest of the film.

Suffice to say, Glen Or Glenda was not well received. However, that didn’t stop Wood. No, he soldiered on, and made more films including a film that is still considered to be the worst movie ever made, Plan 9 From Outer Space. How bad is this film? Well, it starts out with tv psychic Criswell talking about events that will happen in the future, like the true story you are about to see that happened a few years ago. After that, the movie features stock footage of the by then dead Lugosi and soon devolves into a story of grave robbers from outer space. It’s wonderfully terrible from top to bottom, featuring clunky dialogue (“One thing’s sure; Inspector Clay’s dead, murder, and someone’s responsible.”), wooden acting and some of the worst special effects ever (pie plate flying saucers that you can see the strings on). Oh and of course, there are also all manner of mistakes, including police officers scratching their heads with their guns. I’ve seen Plan 9 at least a dozen times, and every time I watch it, I discover some new bit of weirdness.

In his later years, Wood wrote pulp fiction novels under the pseudonym Telmig Akdov. Now, you might be saying, “Telmig Akdov,, that’s an unusual name.” Well, you’d be right, because Wood created the name by typing the name of his favorite cocktail, the Vodka Gimlet, backwards. So, today we’re going to make a Vodka Gimlet in honor of the worst director of all time.

Vodka Gimlet

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 1/2 ounces lime juice

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

Tomorrow: Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!


August 11: Happy Mayan New Year!

Chichen_Itza_3Hey, remember last year when the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar reached the end of the thirteenth baktun, and then Quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent descended from the heavens and destroyed the Earth? Yeah, I thought not.

So, you know the calendar’s alleged end date was December 21st, but do you know what the calendar’s start date was? Well, researchers have discovered that the calendar points to a mythical creation date that corresponds with the proleptic Gregorian calendar date of  August 11, 3114 BCE. So, if you believe that the Makers, Kukulkán and Tepeu, created humanity out of maize in order to preserve their legacy, then today is the day to celebrate 5127 years of existence!

So, today praise the Makers with a fiery Mayan Calendar cocktail. Now when I say fiery, I mean it is a drink that you literally set on fire!  The Mayan Calendar is a strong drink with a nice toasty quality brought about by the flames. Praise be to Itzamna, the Mayan deity who brought early humans the basic building blocks of culture including language and fire! Oh, and be careful when working with flames, of course.

The Mayan Calendar

  • 1 ounce Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua)
  • 1/2 ounce Tequila Blanco (White or Clear Tequila)
  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce 151 Proof Rum

Pour all ingredients in order into a rocks glass without ice. Ignite the drink and let it burn for no more than five seconds, or else the glass will be too hot to handle and the drink will be ruined. After blowing out the flame, let the drink sit for a moment and insert a long glass or silicone straw and drink the cocktail through it. You’ll want to slowly sip on this drink, as drinking it quickly could cause some serious damage to your throat.

Tomorrow: One actor, five films; all of them Best Picture nominees.