May 21: The Pogo Stick

PogoThe pogo stick had been around in one form or another since the early 1890s, but the modern, two-handled pogo stick was invented by George B. Hansburg of Walker Valley, N.Y. It was on this day in 1957 that Hansburg was issued a patent for that invention.

The earliest proto-pogo stick were spring stilts, created in 1891 by George H. Herrington of Wichita, Kansas. Each small stilt was worn around a user’s foot and featured a compression springs to give wearers a literal spring in their step.  In 1920, German inventors Hans Pohlig and Ernst Gottschall came up with a “spring end hopping stilt” and its believed that the combination of their names led to the word “pogo”.

In 1955, the American Harry Hohberger was awarded a patent for a pogo stick, but this one had a single upright vertical handle. There was one small problem with this design; if you weren’t careful, you could injure your chin on the handle. It seems that Hansburg had noticed this problem, and quickly designed the two-handled model that has now become the standard design for pogo sticks of all shapes and sizes.

The 1950s popularity of the pogo stick inspired Trader Vic to create a Pogo Stick cocktail. This gin based cocktail is sourer than the average Tiki cocktail, so the Trader would typically provide a rock candy swizzle stick to any customer who ordered it so they could sweeten it up if they so desired. Naturally, it’s this stick that gives the drink its name.

Pogo Stick

  • 2 ounces Gin
  • 3/4 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 3/4 ounce grapefruit juice
  • 1/4 ounce lime juice

Blend all ingredients with ice until sufficiently frothy. Pour into an old fashioned glass and add ice if you wish. Garnish with a lime wheel and a rock candy swizzle stick.

Tomorrow: We eat a power pellet.

May 20: Blue Jeans

Jacob-DavisThere’s a pretty good chance that as you’re reading this you’re wearing blue jeans. You have the man at right, Jacob Davis, to thank for that particular fashion innovation, and it was on this day in 1873 that Davis and a San Francisco merchant named Levi Strauss received a patent for riveted blue jeans.

In the early 1870s, Davis, a Latvian immigrant, was running a tailor shop in the then small town of Reno, Nevada. There, he used cotton “duck” cloth and denim ordered from San Francisco’s Levi Strauss & Co. dry goods store to make tents, wagon covers and other goods. It’s said that Davis had a customer who frequently came in to his shop to buy cloth to reinforce her husband’s torn pants. Inspired by this, Davis decided to use the demin and duck cloth to make good quality work pants. Then, he added copper rivets to reinforce the key points of strain.

Word got around about Davis’ pants and people from all over the west began to order them. Soon the demand was too much for Davis and he realized that he needed assistance, so he reached out to his fabric supplier, Strauss, for financial assistance. So, with Strauss’ financial backing, Davis was able to file a patent for his riveted pants, or more specifically “Improvements in fastening pocket openings”. Upon receiving the patent on May 20, 1873, the two men went into business together. Although Davis continued to design the pants, including adding a signature stitched double orange thread design on the back pockets, it was Strauss who ran the business and eventually it was his name that become synonymous with blue jeans.

So, contrary to popular belief, Levi Strauss did not invent blue jeans during the California Gold Rush. On the anniversary of his patent, let’s toast Jacob Davis with a Blue Jeans cocktail. This drink comes to us from the Dodgy Dock, the bar at the True Blue Bay Hotel on the island of Grenada. It’s a refreshing, and bright blue, Champagne cocktail.

Blue Jeans

  • 1 ounce Blue Curacao
  • 1 ounce Gin
  • 3 ounces Champagne
  • 1 splash lime juice
  • 1 splash simple syrup

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

Tomorrow: We jump up and down on a stick.

May 19: Joe Gilmore

joe-gilmoreTragically, but not surprisingly, most of the legends of bartending died some time ago. However, today we celebrate one of the great barmen who is still with us: Joe Gilmore, the Savoy Hotel’s famed head barman, is celebrating his 93rd birthday today!

At the age of 18, Gilmore was hired by the Savoy as a trainee bartender. Gilmore spent World War II behind the bar at the Savoy and other London bars inventing new cocktails to help lift people’s spirits during the dark days of the blitz. After the war’s end, Gilmore became a permanent fixture at the Savoy, eventually being promoted to head barman in 1955, and becoming a favorite of the hotel’s celebrity clientele. Sir Winston Churchill would only go to Gilmore for drinks and in return, Gilmore invented not one but three different cocktails in Churchill’s honor. When American presidents and Hollywood stars came to London they’d go to Gilmore. When the royal family celebrated a birthday, they’d commission Gilmore to create a special cocktail.

Gilmore’s fame was even known in the depths of space! In 1969, Gilmore created a cocktail called the Moonwalk in honor of the moon landing. According to Gilmore, “The Savoy sent it off in a flask and I received a letter back from Neil Armstrong thanking us and saying it was the first drink they had when they came out of quarantine.” Then, in 1975 he created the Link Up cocktail to celebrate the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, the first joint U.S.–Soviet space flight. During the mission, the astronauts were informed by mission control that they’d all receive the drink upon their return from space, to which one astronaut was said to reply “Tell Joe we want it up here”.

Gilmore retired from his post at the Savoy in 1976, but he’s still known to pick up the shaker from time to time. In tribute to Gilmore let’s mix a drink he created and named after his most famous post. The Savoy Affair is a sweet Champagne cocktail mixed with several fruit flavors.

The Savoy Affair

  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce Fraise de Bois Liqueur
  • 1 ounce passion fruit juice
  • 1 ounce Peach Brandy
  • Champagne

Shake all ingredients, except champagne, together with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Top off with champagne and garnish with a strawberry.

Tomorrow: Blue jeans.

May 18: Grauman’s Chinese Theater

chinesetheatreToday we celebrate a Chinese icon of the Golden Age of Hollywood. No, I’m not talking about Anna Mae Wong; I’m talking about Hollywood’s famous Chinese Theatre! The legendary movie theater opened on Hollywood Boulevard on this day in 1927.

The Chinese Theatre is famous for its concrete forecourt in which many famous filmmakers have placed their hand and foot prints. Less than 200 stars have had the honor of placing their hands and feet in cement, an honor that shows that one has truly made it in Hollywood. Amazingly, this tradition began by accident.

On the afternoon of May 18, 1927, Chinese Theatre owner Sid Grauman was giving a few movie stars (Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and sisters Constance and Norma Talmadge) a tour of the movie palace before it opened. As the quintet walked through the forecourt, Constance Talmadge walked through a slab of wet cement leaving a trail of footprints in here wake. Ever the showman, Grauman instantly recognized that having the star’s prints in front of the Chinese would be great for business. So, first, he asked Talmadge to place her hands inside the cement and sign her name. Then he asked if Fairbanks, Pickford and Norma Talmadge would do the same.

Many stars have followed suit, with some adding their own personal touches: Johnny Depp dated his prints in Roman numerals, Groucho Marx added his cigar to the cement, movie cowboy Roy Rodgers’ concrete slab included a print of his gun and the hoof prints of his horse Trigger, the trio of Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint placed their wands in the concrete and Donald Duck once left his webbed footprints.

To honor Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, let’s make a drink inspired by another American take on Chinese culture: The Fortune Cookie. Yes, in case you were unaware, the fortune cookie was actually created somewhere in California, in either San Francisco’s Chinatown or Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Anyway, there’s a spirit on the market in the U. S. called byejoe, which is a modern take on the traditional Chinese red sorghum spirit baiju. This sweet Fortune Cookie cocktail was created by byejoe but does not come with a thin paper fortune.

Fortune Cookie

  • 1 ounce byejoe
  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 1 ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream

Tomorrow: Another legendary bartender; but this one’s still alive!

May 17: The First Kentucky Derby

Kentucky DerbyWe’re deep in the middle of horse racing’s Triple Crown race season, and today we’re going back to May 17, 1875  the first running of the Kentucky Derby!

The origin of the Kentucky Derby can be found in England. In 1872, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame, paid a visit to England and attended the Epsom Darby, a horse race that had been held annual since 1780. From England he traveled to Paris where he learned of the French Jockey Club, an organization of French horse racing enthusiasts who organized the Grand Prix de Paris. Upon returning home to Kentucky, Clark decided that his native land needed something similar to England and France’s prestigious races.

With a little help from his friends, Clark quickly established the Louisville Jockey Club and began raising funds to build a race track outside the city. The track was opened in 1875 and was soon named Churchill Downs, in honor of John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land the track sat on. So, on May 17  of that same year, 10,000 people watched as jockey Oliver Lewis rode Astrides to victory over 14 other three year old horses.

The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. The origins of the Julep aren’t particularly clear, although we do know that it originated somewhere in the American South during the 18th century. The Julep has been an important part of the Derby since 1938 when Churchill Downs began promoting the drink as the cocktail of choice for the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. Tragically, due to contractual arrangements, official Kentucky Derby Mint Juleps are currently made with Early Times. While Early Times is a good enough whiskey, it is not a bourbon and a proper Mint Julep demands good quality bourbon, preferably from Kentucky.

Mint Julep

  • 2 ounces Bourbon
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water

Muddle the mint, sugar and water together in the bottom of a highball glass. Fill the glass with ice and add the bourbon. Stir until the glass is frosted. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Tomorrow: We sign our name in concrete.

May 16: The First Academy Awards

Oscar“I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them … If I got them cups and awards they’d kill them to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.” -Louis B. Mayer

On the evening of May 16, 1929 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences presented the first ever Academy Awards ceremony. The first ceremony was actually a dinner, attended by 270 people, with tickets costing $5. Reports vary on the exact length of the awards ceremony, hosted by AMPAS director Douglas Fairbanks,  but it was something between five and 15 minutes long. By comparison, the 2014 Oscar telecast was three hours and 36 minutes.

The first Academy Award ceremony was unlike any since. To be eligible for a nomination, films had to be released during the unusual window of August 1, 1927 to July 31, 1928, rather than the now traditional calendar year. The nominees were announced in late 1928 and amazingly the winners were announced on February 18, 1929, three months ahead of the awards banquet. Suffice to say, there wasn’t much suspense during award ceremony.

12 Academy Award of Merit trophies, as the Oscar was known at the time, were presented at the inaugural Academy Awards ceremonies. In addition to the two competitive awards, two honorary Academy Awards were presented; one for Charlie Chaplin’s “versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus” and a second to Warner Brothers “for producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry”.

Some of the inaugural Academy Award categories are quite familiar (i. e. Best Actor, Actress) while others were discontinued soon after the first ceremony. Amongst those were Best Engineering Effects and Best Title Writing. Even a couple categories we are still familiar with appeared in slightly different forms. For instance, at this first ceremony there were two separate Best Director awards, one for comedy and one for drama.

The award category we now know as Best Picture was then known as Outstanding Picture, and that particular trophy went to the movie Wings. However, there was another award, now considered to be as important as Best Picture, an award for Best Unique Artistic Production. This award was only awarded that first year and went to F. W. Murnau‘s beautiful film Sunrise. While Wings has subsequently been reduced to the answer to the trivia question “What film won the first Best Picture Oscar?”; Sunrise was recently named the fifth best film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll.

Finally, before we get to our drink, let’s take a look at the Oscar statue itself. The statue was sculpted by legendary MGM art director Cedric Gibbons. According to legend, the statue was modeled after Emilio Fernández, a young Mexican actor and friend of Gibbons’ future wife, the starlet Dolores del Río. Fernández eventually became a major director in Mexican cinema, and although he never won the statue he posed for, he took home the Palme d’Or award at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival for his film Maria Candelaria.

As for the origin of the nickname Oscar, it’s said that Margaret Gledhill, the Academy’s executive secretary and librarian, was the one who named the statue. The story goes that when Gledhill started working for the Academy she took a glance at the statue and commented that it looked like her “Uncle Oscar.” Gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky happened to be at the Academy offices that day and wrote in his column that “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar” and the name quickly stuck. Gledhill, later Margaret Herrick after her marriage in 1946, continued to work as an Academy executive until 1971 and the Academy’s film archive, the Margaret Herrick Library, was named in her honor.

Let’s celebrate the Academy Awards with a cocktail named for an old time film magazine. I pulled this recipe for the  Filmograph from Ted Haigh’s essential book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails : From the Alamagoozlum Cocktail to the Zombie. The original Filmograph used sirop-de-Citron, a sweet lemon syrup, but Haigh suggests replacing the sirop with “fresh lemon juice unless you like to drink maple syrup out of the can”. The other unusual ingredient in this drink is the non-alcoholic cordial Kola Tonic, which you can pick up from the African Hut website.

Filmograph

  • 2 ounce Brandy
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce Kola Tonic

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

Tomorrow: A day at the races.

May 15: Mickey Mouse

Plane-CrazySteamboat Wilie (released November 18, 1928) is considered to be the official debut of Mickey Mouse. However, it was on May 15, 1928 that the famous mouse and his girlfriend Minnie made their real first onscreen appearance when the short Plane Crazy was given a theatrical test screening.

Plane Crazy was actually the first Mickey Mouse cartoon ever made and co-directors Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks had high hopes for the short. So they organized a test screening for the silent cartoon in the hopes of finding a distributor. However, the success of the 1927 partial-sound film The Jazz Singer had inspired a new interest in “talkies”, so distributors were not particularly interested in a silent cartoon from two not particularly well known animators. The two animators would receive a similar reception for their second silent Mickey Mouse cartoon, The Gallopin’ Gaucho.

Later in 1928, Disney and Iwerks began production on a sound cartoon which would become Steamboat Willie. What made Steamboat Willie different from other early sound cartoons was that it was specifically created with a synchronized soundtrack, distributors quickly lined up to talk to Disney and Iwerks about screening the cartoon. So, despite being the third Mickey cartoon ever made, Steamboat Willie was the first to get a theatrical release. As for Plane Crazy, Disney and Iwerks added voices and music to the cartoon and released it as the fourth Mickey cartoon in March of 1929.

I was able to find a couple of non-alcoholic drinks called Mickey Mouse, one of which is basically a non-alcoholic Bloody Mary; and really, what’s the point of that? There is however this little Mickey which is a nice little vodka-amaretto sunrise.

Mickey Mouse

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 2 ounces sweet and sour mix
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grenadine

Shake everything except the grenadine with ice and strain into an ice filled highball glass. Top off with the grenadine.

Tomorrow: Oscar night!

May 14: Thomas Gainsborough

GainsboroughIt was on this day in 1727 that Thomas Gainsborough was christened, the earliest date we have related to the famed English painter.

Gainsborough’s most famous work is probably The Blue Boy, painted around 1770. It’s believed that the panting is a portrait of Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant, although that’s still a matter of some debate. It is a known fact that Buttall owned the painting until he filed for bankruptcy in 1796 and sold The Blue Boy to pay some of his debts.

So, if The Blue Boy is a late 18th century painting, why is the boy in question depicted in a historical costume? Some art historians believe that the painting is a tribute to 17th century painter Anthony van Dyck, and is a reference to van Dyck’s 1637 portrait The Children of King Charles I of England in which the boy who would grow up to become King Charles II is depicted wearing a similar costume and striking a similar pose. Young Charles II is wearing red, so why is The Blue Boy wearing, well, blue? Well, Gainsborough’s rival Sir Joshua Reynolds’ had recently made the following declaration about the use of light and color in paintings:

It ought, in my opinion, to be indispensably observed, that the masses of light in a picture be always of a warm, mellow colour, yellow, red, or a yellowish white, and that the blue, the grey, or the green colours be kept almost entirely out of these masses, and be used only to support or set off these warm colours; and for this purpose, a small proportion of cold colour will be sufficient.

So, it seems that Gainsborough didn’t particularly care for Reynolds’ opinion about color because he didn’t just include “the blue, the grey, or the green colours”, he made blue the entire focus of the painting!

There’s a cocktail called Blue Boy, but its name is a bit of a mystery because the drink isn’t actually blue. If anything, this drink’s color is closer to that of the dark shades used by Gainsborough in the background of the painting. Interestingly, it’s essentially a Little Princess that has been given two drops of different kinds of bitters.

Blue Boy

  • 1 ounce Light Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1 dash Orange Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: A mouse makes his film debut.

May 13: The Birth Of The Cocktail

CocktailOh friends, we’ve got an important one today. It was way back on May 13, 1806, that the The Balance and Columbian Repository, a periodical published in Hudson, New York was asked the simple question “What is a cocktail?” and Balance editor Harry Croswell was happy to provide a definition.

Now, although this is the first time the word cocktail had ever been given a printed definition, “cocktail” had appeared in print before. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the word was in an April 1803 issue of The Farmer’s Cabinet, although no definition was provided: 

Drank a glass of cocktail—excellent for the head…Call’d at the Doct’s. found Burnham—he looked very wise—drank another glass of cocktail.

So, according to Harry Croswell, what is a cocktail?

Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.

Hmm, let’s see…alcohol, sugar, water, bitters? Why, that sounds like an Old Fashioned. The name Old Fashioned became common bartender slang in the late 19th century. You see, as more and more complex cocktails were being invented, some clever bartender coined the term Old Fashioned to refer to drinks made in the “old fashioned” way, as described here by Croswell. Since Prohibition, it’s become common to muddle the sugar with a small orange slice and a cherry, but as we’re making a proper 19th century Old Fashioned, we’ll be leaving those ingredients out.

Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon sugar)
  • 2 dashes Bitters
  • 2 dashes water
  • 2 ounces Whiskey

Place the sugar, water and bitters in an Old Fashioned glass and muddle until the sugar has begun to dissolve. Swirl the glass around once or twice so the sugar will line the interior of the glass. Add ice and whiskey, briefly stir and (optionally) garnish with an orange twist, cherry or cinnamon stick.

Tomorrow: A boy in blue.

May 12: Are You Experienced

are-you-experiencedIn the mid-1960s, Jimi Hendrix was best known, if he was known at all, as a rhythm and blues guitarist. He had backed some of the best known acts of the day including Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, Jackie Wilson, Little Richard and Sam Cooke. However, that began to change in the winter of 1966 when he cut a recording of the Billy Roberts song “Hey Joe”. Later, in the spring of 1967, Hendrix release two other singles, “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary”, both of which caught the attention of the musically hip. However, it was on May 12, 1967 that Hendrix became an instant icon when the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album Are You Experienced was released.

Widely regarded as one of the finest debut records ever released, Are You Experienced is one of those albums that marked a significant change in the musical landscape. Just imagine putting the original British version of the record (the American version had a different tracklisting and a decidedly more iconic cover) on a turntable, pressing play and being confronted with the opening guitar line of “Foxy Lady” charging towards you like a bullet train. From there, Are You Experienced takes a psychedelic journey through 20th century music, drawing on blues (“Red House“), R&B (“May This Be Love“) and jazz (“Third Stone From The Sun“) while also inventing new sounds. The title track still sounds as fresh and vibrant now as it did nearly 50 years ago.

In tribute to Hendrix’s striking debut, let’s drink a Foxy Lady. Unlike Hendrix’s heavy rock song, this is a sweet and soft after-dinner drink.

Foxy Lady

  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 1/2 ounce Dark Crème de Cacao
  • 1 ounce cream

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cordial glass.

Tomorrow: We go back to the beginning.