Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book: L.A. ’56, by Joel Engel (2012)

Joel Engel calls the tale in this book the “best true story I ever heard,” and it’s easy to understand why. It has big issues (racism, institutional corruption), sensational crimes, unlikely romance, and a whale of a finish. Not to mention characters galore. There’s the villain Willie Fields, a stranger to Los Angeles who prowls lovers’ lanes with a gun and a bogus badge, preying on women. The wrong man Todd Roark, a black former cop with no friends left on the force because of a scandalous interracial relationship. And a genuine hero in Danny Galindo, one of the few Mexican-Americans then on the LAPD, whose career spans the Black Dahlia case to the Tate/LaBianca murders. Galindo’s the only man who believes in Roark’s innocence, and he’s going to have to prove it all by himself.

Engel brings tabloid brio to this Southland saga; L.A.’s history is “written in asphalt” with streets named after movers and shakers, “which means the whole city is either a con or a crime scene.” He nails how show business is woven into the fabric of L.A. life. Galindo regularly sells his exploits to Jack Webb for Dragnet, his surname becoming a running gag on the show. It’s unclear how speculative the sections told from Fields’ point of view are – particularly when, as one figure describes him, he was cursed with stupidity, “the real rare kind that’s stupid through and through and doesn’t know how stupid it is” – but in Engel’s hands he’s a deeply disturbing figure, thinking of each woman he attacks as “that night’s girlfriend,” grateful for his attentions. Engel punctuates his chapters with articles from the California Eagle, Los Angeles’ primary African-American newspaper, spotlighting stories that weren’t covered by any of the city’s white periodicals in the summer of 1956. Hard-hitting and packing surprises to the final pages, you won’t find a better snapshot of life in the City of Angels sixty years ago.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Q&A: Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty novels including Shadow Season, The Cold Spot, The Coldest Mile, and A Choir of Ill Children. He’s won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. His latest book, The Last Kind Words, will be published June 12 and is already racking up acclaim. In spite of all that, he still agreed to participate in a VKDCQ&A.

Q. What can you tell us about THE LAST KIND WORDS?

It’s the story of a young thief named Terrier Rand who returns to his criminal family on the eve of his brother Collie’s execution. For no apparent reason Collie went on a killing spree murdering eight people. Now, five years later, Collie swears he only killed seven people during his lethal rampage, and the eighth was the work of someone else. Terry not only has to deal with an ex-best friend, a former flame, mob guys, and other assorted people from his dark past, but he’s also forced to investigate the night his brother went insane and find out if Collie is telling the truth. But more than anything, he really wants to know the reason why his brother went on a spree, in the hopes that Terry himself is never pushed to that kind of edge. Thankfully the novel has been getting some nice buzz, some first-rate blurbs, and a lot of excellent reviews thus far. Hopefully that’ll translate to sales.

Q. In your fiction and elsewhere, you write often about family and the power of things left unspoken. What kind of filter do you use when dealing with such personal emotions? Have you written anything that proved too close to the bone for someone else?

I don’t use a filter. I don’t think any valid writer does. I try to get as close to blood and bone as I can when dealing with certain familial and personal issues/emotions. What’s the point of writing about something and lying about it? If I’m going to go deep then I’m going to present whatever I find there the way that it is, whether that’s ugly or embarrassing or painful. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten to close to a deep nerve for anyone else in my circle. Luckily, I suppose you could say, almost nobody I might write about reads my stuff.

Q. You regularly publish shorter fiction like last year’s acclaimed novella EVERY SHALLOW CUT. Are these pieces finding room to breathe in the new publishing landscape? Do you see new opportunities for writers?

There still seems to be enough life in the small press that novellas and other non-traditional works can still see physical print. And there’s always a chance that something that wouldn’t normally see the light of day can get a chance to be read via e-book format. There’s certainly opportunities there. But in the end what matters most, or should matter most, is the quality of the work. If it’s solid, it’ll hopefully find an audience somewhere. The trouble is that in this landscape a whole lot of garbage is made easily accessible as well. A lot of newer writers aren’t doing themselves any favors by making their early efforts available. I can completely understand why they would do it – I would’ve done it myself at the time given the chance, but in the long run they miss out on learning their craft the best way possible. Step by step, rejection by rejection, story by story. Almost any writer will tell you that they’re glad their first efforts never saw the light of day. Now, everything sees the light of day.

Q. You’ve been nominated for awards in horror, crime and fantasy. Did you read all of these genres growing up? If not, how did you progress through them?

I read horror, fantasy, and science fiction all throughout my childhood and into early adulthood. For some reason I got into crime fiction later on, in my early 20s. I remember collecting a lot of crime novels and stacking them on the shelves anticipating the day when I’d eventually start binging on the field. So when I was ready, I had a ton of classic titles and dove right in.

Q. What was the novel that truly hooked you on crime fiction?

I got into Gold Medal/old hardboiled-noir novels directly thanks to an article Ed Gorman wrote about GM for The Scream Factory way back when. He listed tons of GM authors and titles and I managed to dig in. First one I remember buying was a trashed copy of Charles Williams’ River Girl at the dealer's room of some convention. I went back later that afternoon and bought up all the Black titles by Cornell Woolrich. My true love for the genre started there.

Q. Your own work occasionally blends genres. How much thought do you give to how something you write may be categorized? Are readers more accepting of genre-blending than publishers?

I don’t tell the work what it is. The work tells me what it is and what it wants to be. That’s just how it goes. If it winds up with more horrific elements in it, or if some fantasy worms its way in, or if a horror piece winds up with the structure of a crime story, then so be it. So far it hasn’t been much of an issue. Most readers and publishers seem to accept the fiction so long as it’s good. The trouble, if there is any, comes afterwards with the so-called follow up. Some publishers expect my next piece to be similar to the previous one. I just don’t do that. Maybe it’ll be similar, maybe it’ll be in the same genre, but maybe the next work will want to be something else. I can’t help that, I can’t stop that, and I don’t want to. I can’t force a piece to be something other than what it is.

Q. Your Twitter feed is studded with movie recommendations. How big an influence were they on your burgeoning interest in storytelling -- and how much of an influence are they now?

They were and are a major influence. On me and, I think, just about everyone else. Writers, readers, all of us. The way we read nowadays is the way we view a film. We have cameras built into our heads now. Written scenes are presented the way that filmed scenes are. Tricks of POV or drama or characterization we’ve seen in movies automatically reflect back on fiction. We look for twists, we can more clearly imagine certain details or descriptions because we’ve seen something similar emphasized in movies. In point of fact, it’s almost impossible to untangle our mind’s eye with the filmmaker’s or cinematographer’s vision. I encounter the problem all the time. I start describing something and it reminds me too much of a particular movie or a scene and I know my readers will pick up on the same thing. Even if it feels fresh on the page you have to think beyond the page to what someone might have seen on television or in film.

Baseball Q. You live in Colorado. They have no business playing baseball there, right? The air’s too dry. They had to put a freaking humidor in Coors Field, for Christ’s sake.

Couldn’t give a shit less. I’m a sports fan like McCarthy loved commies.

Movie Q. What’s a movie that isn’t thought of as horror film – but should be?

Sunset Boulevard. You’ve got murder, a dead monkey, a gothic mansion, insanity, a narrative told by a dead man, and a young Joe Friday with really big fuckin’ ears. Horrific.

Cocktail Q. You’re in a well-stocked bar. What do you order?

I only drink beer or red wine when I drink at all. I’m a cheap date. And easy too.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Red Hook

They say you never forget your first love. Here’s mine. The cocktail that swept me off my feet and made me, for good or ill, the man I am today.

The first time Rosemarie and I walked into The Zig Zag Café, I didn’t deserve the sobriquet cocktail enthusiast. I made the staples – Martinis, Manhattans, gin and tonics – at home in simple fashion. There was a world out there that I knew nothing about. But at least I knew that I knew nothing about it. Secure in my ignorance I ventured into the one place in Seattle where I could acquire an education with dispatch, the cocktail bar consistently acknowledged as one of America’s finest.

Ben Dougherty, the Zig Zag’s co-owner, took excellent care of us on the first of what would be many, many visits. I told him I was interested in learning about rye whiskey, then beginning its resurgence. He asked me what I knew about it, and I told him with complete honesty: “Nothing.” Ben inquired about my tastes – How did I feel about sweetness? How bitter did I want to go? – and in short order served me a cocktail that he said would show me what rye could do.

The Red Hook is a variation on the Brooklyn, a pre-Prohibition twist on the Manhattan that remains something of a rarity because one key ingredient, the French liqueur Amer Picon, is not sold in the United States. (It can be difficult to acquire even in France. Trust me, I’ve tried.) Consequently, a host of American bartenders have crafted tributes to it, naming them after the borough’s neighborhoods. The Red Hook was the first of these, created by Enzo Errico of New York’s Milk & Honey in 2004.

The distinctive taste comes courtesy of the Italian vermouth Punt e Mes. Its name means “point and a half” in Piedmontese, the legend being that in 1870 a stockbroker in Antonio Carpano’s bar ordered his custom vermouth with a point and a half of bitterness on the same day that certain stocks under discussion had fallen by that very amount. To mark this moment of serendipity, a new brand was created. The flavor of Punt e Mes lies somewhere between standard rosso vermouth and Campari, its bitterness pronounced but not overwhelming. This sharp quality makes it a welcome addition to cocktails, foremost among them Errico’s masterpiece. Punt e Mes’ edge is tamed by the sweetness of the maraschino, allowing the base liquor to take the spotlight gracefully. The Red Hook does indeed show what rye is capable of.

Since enjoying my first Red Hook I’ve toured the spiritual Brooklyn thoroughly, sampling most if not all of that cocktail’s descendants. I’ve even had a Red Hook in its birthplace at Milk & Honey. For emotional reasons it will always be my default drink of choice, the one that indoctrinated me into the cocktail world. It also tastes sublime.

The Red Hook

Enzo Errico, Milk & Honey, New York City

2 oz. rye whiskey (I recommend Rittenhouse 100)
½ oz. Punt e Mes
½ oz. maraschino

Stir. Strain. No garnish.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Books: Collecting Collections

Here are two anthologies – one fiction, one not – that warrant your attention.

Renegades is a collection of long-form reportage by my friend Robert Ward. The articles were originally published during the heyday of “new journalism,” a form that in the hands of some practitioners meant putting themselves center stage or close to it. Bob instinctively knew how much presence he should have in his pieces, admitting that he was so intoxicated by the aura of celebrity surrounding artist LeRoy Neiman that he told a curious blonde he was Hunter Thompson, acknowledging that his own dumbfounded reactions to the madness that surrounded Larry Flynt during the ascendancy of Hustler magazine were a part of the story. (It’s worth picking up the book for the Flynt article alone.) His show business profiles are dispatches from a distant era, when reporters hung out and boozed up with the likes of Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum; there’s not a publicist anywhere near these pages, no empty platitudes or paragraphs devoted to the star’s favorite eco-charity. Included is Bob’s most famous piece, “Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land,” in which the new Yankee proclaims himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” It’s become such a part of Pinstripe lore that it was featured in an ESPN miniseries in which Bob plays himself, because no professional actor could capture his dissolute charisma. There’s a thread throughout the book about how sports and music can lift you out of yourself, offering glimpses of a wider world. Taken as a whole the pieces tell the larger story of Bob’s evolution from Baltimore boy to journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. A true blast from the past.

Terence Faherty has published several novels about Scott Elliott, the one-time Paramount player turned Tinseltown private eye, and won two Shamus awards along the way. The short stories collected in The Hollywood Op span Elliott’s career from the 1940s through the ‘60s. “Garbo’s Knees” finds Elliott digging into the theft of a concrete slab from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and “Closing Credits” is a haunting entry about the sins of the blacklist echoing years later. “Sleep Big” is an impressive piece of literary legerdemain, serving as both Elliott’s origin story and a plausible answer to the confounding question of “Who killed Owen Taylor in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep?”

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Ragtime

The easiest way to start talking about amaro is to point out that the word itself means “bitter” in Italian. Many of you will want to leave right now.

But don’t be misled. Yes, bitterness is always a component no matter which of these Italian digestifs you’re drinking, but amari offer a range of flavors, each with its own nuances. Initially served over ice straight or with a little soda – still a splendid way of enjoying them after a meal – they are now regularly used in cocktails.

At the far end of the spectrum is the pungent liqueur Fernet Branca, where bitterness is pretty much the whole show. To quote spirits writer Wayne Curtis, “it’s hard to describe what Fernet Branca tastes like; it mostly tastes like Fernet Branca.” Personally, I enjoy its harshness, welcoming its challenge as a penitent does a hair shirt. OK, that’s overstating the case. Slightly. But I genuinely appreciate Fernet’s bracing taste on its own and in mixed drinks.

It isn’t where you want to start with amaro, though. A far more accessible variety is Ramazzotti. Its history sounds like something from a Dan Brown novel: developed in 1815 by a Milanese pharmacist ... using a still-secret formula of almost three dozen ingredients ... Among the various herbs, flowers and spices is a combination of oranges that adds a beguiling sweetness. The aroma is frequently compared to root beer and writer Jason Wilson, who called Ramazzotti the easiest-drinking liqueur in this category, dubbed it the Coca-Cola of its class. I wouldn’t go that far. It’s more a gateway amaro. Like this, and in no time at all you’ll be guzzling Fernet and writing reviews of opium dens on Yelp.

One of the more popular cocktails featuring Ramazzotti is also the simplest: the Black Manhattan, with the dark-hued liqueur in place of vermouth. A far more engaging drink is the Ragtime, brainchild of Jeremy James Thompson of the Raines Law Room in New York. It pairs Ramazzotti with Aperol, which also balances the bitter and the sweet, tending toward the latter even as Ramazzotti does the former. The result is an intriguing partnership. Thompson’s recipe calls for a mist of absinthe, but as I didn’t have any in the home bar – I’m pretty sure I left the bottle at the last opium den I went to and the sons of bitches won’t give it back, so you can bet your ass that’s going into the review – I substituted Pernod. It’s a final grace note that brings many complex flavors together perfectly. There are a lot of kids on this playground, but they all get along.

The Ragtime

Jeremy James Thompson, Raines Law Room, New York City

1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Ramazzotti amaro
1 oz. Aperol
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Mist of Absinthe (or Pernod)

Stir. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book: Dropped Names, by Frank Langella (2012)

The subtitle is the first indication that something may be up. Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them. Frank Langella tells you straight off that this memoir isn’t about him, it’s about them: the luminaries he met during a long career on screen and stage. And it’s as he knew them, so conventional appreciations may not be the order of the day.

Oh, they are, more often than not. But even then not in the usual fashion. Langella opens his book with a brief description of a show meal with actors, the conversation fast-moving, gossipy, occasionally mean. He aims to recreate that feeling here. So while there are moving tributes to close friends – Raul Julia, Alan Bates – Langella can also write about another favorite, Anne Bancroft, with an unsparing eye for her narcissism. Then there are the times Langella gives someone both barrels. Richard Burton was a bore, Rex Harrison a preening ass, Lee Strasberg “a pompous pygmy ... a cruel and rather ridiculous demigod.” Not all of his targets are easy ones: Langella’s affection for Paul Newman is laced with unflattering commentary.

Dropped Names is a strange book. Langella places his reminiscences in the order the subjects died, which results in a fixation on infirmity and loss. He repeatedly laments the current age when “wit, intelligence and style have lost ground to stupid, vulgar and loud,” and “young male stars seem a sexless set of store-bought muscles set below interchangeable screw-top heads with faces of epic blandness - sheep trying to look like bulls.”

There’s clichéd writing throughout, but it’s punctuated by sharp observations that read like a skilled actor sizing up a character. Langella describes Ida Lupino (“too good for the room ... a first rate artist crying out for help”) before she was fired by producers for being more trouble than she was worth, noting how she was “put together in the way that heavy drinkers, particularly women, organize themselves: impeccable hair, makeup, clothing; a tidy house of cards.” A book in its own right could be made of his chapter on Arthur Miller, focusing on Langella’s failed attempts to cajole the playwright into penning a more honest version of himself for a revival of his autobiographical autopsy of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe After The Fall. And many of Langella’s stories are simply damn good, like bring hazed by Robert Mitchum on a movie they both know is crap. The best is a throwaway: Langella calls Nancy Marchand, his co-star in a play who is being replaced by an Oscar nominee in the TV production. Langella vows he won’t do the film without her. “Don’t be an asshole,” Marchand says, and hangs up on him.

In a sense, all of Dropped Names is an actor’s trick, one of the oldest in the book. Langella brings big names onto the stage, giving them the limelight – then proceeds to steal the scene. In a structure meant to showcase others, Langella keeps revealing pieces of himself. His disappointments, his jealousies, his feelings for women of shall we say a certain age. Langella is brutally honest on every subject, and that eventually includes Frank Langella.

His recollection of an on-set affair with an older Rita Hayworth is here, and includes some great Mitchum material. The book closes with a lengthy passage in praise of philanthropist and socialite “Bunny” Mellon, now embroiled in the criminal case against Senator John Edwards. This New York Times article about Mellon draws from Langella’s book.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Tom Collins

Maybe it’s the drink’s name that accounts for its decline in popularity. Tom Collins. It’s an actual name, like Shirley Temple, and we all know what that means. No booze.

The irony is that the Tom Collins isn’t named after a real person. Except that it is. Cocktail historian David Wondrich, in his book Imbibe!, traces the drink back to some doggerel composed by descendants of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It venerated one John Collins, a waiter at a London hotel famed for its gin punch. That concoction made its way to America, odds are brought here by British soldiers. But the drink that turns up in “Professor” Jerry Thomas’ canonical 1876 Bar-Tender’s Guide is a Tom Collins. The reason why is most likely an unrelated craze that swept the nation, as crazes are wont to do, two years earlier. You meet a friend, ask him if he knows “Tom Collins,” and when he says no – unless he does know a Tom Collins; then I suppose the bit falls apart – you say, “Well, he knows you, and he was just around the corner sullying your good name!” Hilarity allegedly ensues when your friend goes, to use one of my mother’s favorite words, gallivanting all over town.

I know times were simpler then. But honestly? I’d rather watch the Kardashians than put up with that kind of crap. And I hate the Kardashians.

I like to think some enterprising barkeep served this drink to every benighted fool who stumbled into his tavern in search of phantom malefactors. The sheer simplicity of the recipe, probably not far removed from John Collins’ original U.K. rendition, is one of the reasons why the Tom Collins was for decades among the most popular of cocktails. It’s also a remarkably adaptable one, suited to any base spirit since in essence it’s your basic sour. Make it with bourbon and you have a Colonel Collins. Irish whiskey and it’s a Michael Collins. Scotch is Joe, rum is Pedro, rye is ... hell, I don’t know, Cletus.

What ultimately hurt the Tom Collins was the era of convenience. Many bars began relying on ready-made Collins mixes, some of them, God help us, in powdered form. Shades of The Simpsons episode in which Bart and his buddies venture into neighboring Shelbyville to recover their stolen lemon tree. Egghead Martin Prince, drunk on camaraderie, braces a kid with his own beverage stand who says, “This is Country Time lemonade mix. There’s never been anything close to a lemon in it, I swear!” It’s one of those time-savers that’s no savings at all.

David A. Embury, in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, says of the Tom Collins: “This is a long drink, to be consumed slowly and with reverence and meditation.” He also observes that, “strictly speaking, a Tom Collins is not a Tom Collins unless it is made with Old Tom gin.” (Another reason, perhaps, for the drink’s Stateside rechristening.)

I have rhapsodized before about the miracle that is the now-available-again Old Tom gin. And I am here to tell you, brothers and sisters, that Reverend Embury is right on all counts. I have had a Tom Collins made with London dry gin. And I can testify that a Tom Collins prepared with Old Tom is a different beast entirely. The fuller, sweeter flavor not only gives the drink a spine but a body. Made for languorous afternoons, this traditional version belongs on any list of classic summer coolers. I’d put it ahead of the Dark and Stormy (dark rum and ginger beer) and just behind the Caipirinha (the national cocktail of Brazil, and who’d know better about cooling drinks?). Don’t listen to what other people are saying about you. The dog days are coming. And once you have a Tom Collins done right, you’ll pray for temperatures to rise.

The Tom Collins

2 oz. Old Tom gin
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
2 oz. club soda

Shake the first three ingredients with ice. Strain into a tall chilled glass filled with ice. Add club soda. Garnish with a cherry and a lemon or orange wheel. If you’re making it with London dry gin, increase (read: double) the amount of simple syrup to taste.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Book: Wherever I Wind Up, by R.A. Dickey (2012)

Robert Allen Dickey is the kind of player you want on your roster, and I don’t say that just because he currently has a 4-1 record for my New York Mets. The last active knuckleball pitcher in Major League Baseball is good copy. He’s a character, obsessed with Star Wars (see his Twitter feed), eloquent in postgame interviews, talking up William Faulkner in the clubhouse. He also has character; inspired by his love of Hemingway, he spent part of the last off-season climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for at-risk women and youth in Mumbai. And now he’s written a book.

Wherever I Wind Up, co-authored by New York Daily News reporter Wayne Coffey, is a plain-spoken memoir about a life spent in “a game of managing regrets.” Dickey writes honestly about growing up in a broken home in Tennessee, his mother’s alcoholism (“I got my share of yellow stars (for success in Little League), but they never made it onto my uniform. My mom had a lot going on.”), incidents of childhood sexual abuse. Sports was a way out, until a routine physical revealed that the Olympic athlete lacked a crucial ligament in his elbow. He instantly went from first-round draft pick to cast-off, scuffling for years in the minor leagues. Dickey is blunt about the psychological, emotional and financial hardships of a career spent largely at the margins of what “can be a brutal, bottom-line business” which at its best affords “a life that can make you a perennial adolescent, where your needs are catered to, and narcissism is as prevalent as sunflower seeds.”

What saved him was religion, the love of a good woman, and the knuckleball, the fluttery pitch that maddens hitters and maims catchers. It’s certainly the only weapon in a hurler’s arsenal that requires emergency trips to the nail salon. The best stretches of the book are about the curious fraternity of knuckleballers, members of which – Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield – provide Dickey with insight and pointers. (“I’m part of a brotherhood, and the only prerequisite for admission is a passion for the pitch.”) It’s an unlikely tale of an unorthodox triumph, told by an amiable narrator.

R.A. is also featured in the upcoming documentary Knuckleball! Here’s a clip. And it’s worth remembering that former Mets ace and current Mets announcer Ron Darling also wrote a book. The New York Metropolitans: the most literary team in the league.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Mary Pickford

Drink enough cocktails and you’ll soon establish preferences, developing a personal hierarchy of spirits. Mine looks like this:

1. Rye
1A. Bourbon
2. Gin

Then there’s fifty feet of crap. And then there’s us. (Sorry. Moneyball is on cable and I keep leaving it on.)

I wanted to expand my horizons, work outside my comfort zone. That meant rum. With its broad flavor profile, it blends admirably well while maintaining its own presence, leaving plenty of room for experimentation. I’d gained some valuable perspective on this spirit from Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, which points out how at every key juncture in the development of America, rum was being poured somewhere.

Even more illuminating reading came courtesy of Charles H. Baker Jr., whom I have come to regard as one of the great men of the twentieth century. Baker was a writer who married exceedingly well, a fortuitous turn of events that permitted him to do the great work he was put on this earth to do: he travelled the globe sampling cocktails and recording their recipes for posterity. They were collected in the second volume of his 1939 book The Gentleman’s Companion, later reprinted as Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask. Everything about Baker’s book speaks to a panache that is now in short supply. A Tahitian cocktail is introduced to him by a friend who “with 2 or 3 other Yale men set off from New London to circle the globe in their 65 foot schooner Chance,” and the concoction itself is “an insidious drink that ladies prefer, often to their eventual risk, joy and sorrow.” No wonder he still has ardent admirers.

As many of Baker’s recipes come from exotic, far-flung locales, rum is a staple. Earlier this year I visited Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, a truly impressive bar with a lengthy menu drawing liberally from Baker’s book. Drinks are prepared and served in a style that would meet with the maestro’s approval. Their rendition of the Hotel Nacional Special, a mixture of rum, apricot brandy, and lime and pineapple juices which Baker dubs “one of the three finest Bacardi drinks known to science,” verges on a religious experience.

For my first stab at a more adventuresome rum drink I chose another born of Cuba. The Mary Pickford, crafted at Havana’s Jockey Club, was indeed named after the silent film legend, so how could I resist? There is no evidence, alas, that she ever sampled it.

The drink calls for pineapple juice, which both spurred me on and gave me pause. Freshly squeezed juice is mandatory when making cocktails. At Smuggler’s Cove, whole pineapple chunks were liquefied before my eyes for the Hotel Nacional Special. I attempted something similar with frozen pineapple chunks and a hand blender. The result was a fruit slurry that wouldn’t exactly mix well, although it did make a tasty dessert. In The PDT Cocktail Book, Jim Meehan notes that fresh pineapple juice is “preferable to canned” provided you can afford a juice extractor; I read his use of “preferable” as a tacit blessing to embrace canned juice.

One last note: three of the four founders of United Artists – Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks – have cocktails named after them. The sole holdout is director D.W. Griffith. (OK, technically there was a fifth name on the UA paperwork, that of lawyer and former Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo. But what with Prohibition, who’d order a drink named after a T-Man?) Griffith’s legacy is an admittedly complicated one, but in the interests of completion the man needs his own cocktail. I am consulting with experts now to right this wrong.

The Mary Pickford

2 oz. rum
¾ oz. pineapple juice
½ oz. maraschino
¼ oz. grenadine

Shake. Strain. No garnish.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Me Elsewhere: Noir City Annual #4

Taking a break from completely reconfiguring my home workspace with a standing desk – WARNING: you may be hearing more about this – to announce that Noir City Annual #4 is now available for purchase from Amazon. 328 pages gorgeously designed by Michael Kronenberg, the book is a collection of essays from the pages of Noir City, the magazine published by the Film Noir Foundation.

The usual suspects are present and accounted for: Eddie Muller, Alan K. Rode, Jake Hinkson, Dan Akira Nishimura, Imogen Sara Smith. Plus a few contributions by yours truly, including the leadoff essay of which I am unduly proud. Songbirds: A Musical Survey of Romance, Ruin and Remorse is a tribute to the many chanteuses who haunt nightclubs and hearts in film noir. Michael outdid himself designing these pages. The only thing missing is a soundtrack – but rest assured, I make copious suggestions.

All proceeds go to the FNF’s efforts to reclaim and restore classic noir films. So buy a copy already.