Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book: Under the Table, A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide, by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick (2013)

You hear that subtitle – A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide – and immediately wonder how this slender volume didn’t exist until this month. A loving look at literary lushes, Mrs. Parker and her fellow acid-tongued wags of the Vicious Circle considered through the many glasses of bathtub gin they surely downed as they meted out bon mots. It’s a natural.

Kevin C. Fitzpatrick is the founder and president of the Dorothy Parker Society. In the interest of full disclosure, I hereby admit that I am a member of this august body and have had the pleasure of taking one of Fitzpatrick’s walking tours of Mrs. Parker’s Manhattan.

Fitzpatrick is a true scholar, which means he’s upfront about the essential deception of this undertaking. For all of Mrs. Parker’s association with alcohol – the lady has a gin named after her, the maker of said spirit providing the book’s introduction – she was faithful to the highball and the martini, rarely if ever indulging in other mixed drinks of the time. Her loyalty to the hotel aside, it’s a fair bet she never had an Algonquin, a truly mediocre concoction. Strictly speaking, Fitzpatrick’s book is more a salute to cocktails of the Dorothy Parker (read: Prohibition) era. He even acknowledges that the quatrain attributed to Mrs. Parker that gave rise to the title –

I love a martini –
But two at the most
Three, I’m under the table;
Four, I’m under the host.

– never appeared in print under her name.

Many of the cocktails can be tied in some way to Mrs. Parker or a member of her cohort. The Bronx, for instance, was often served by Jane Grant and Harold Ross, co-founders of The New Yorker, at their townhouse, while Mrs. Parker panned the revue that gave the Floradora its name. Some of the more tenuous connections allow Fitzpatrick’s research to shine; featuring the Boston-born Ward Eight permits him to note Mrs. Parker’s only arrest came in that city when she protested the Sacco and Vanzetti executions. Other cocktails like the Monkey Gland make the grade on the thinnest of pretexts. Fitzgerald also includes several new Dorothy Parker-inspired concoctions from contemporary craft cocktail bars like New York’s Death & Company and The Violet Hour in Chicago.

Amidst the bartending tips there are occasional lapses, as when the recipe for the equal parts Last Word leads to a gargantuan four ounce serving. As a survey of Mrs. Parker’s demimonde Under the Table is a treat, filled with informative sidebars, well-selected quotes and photographs.

Related: the saga of ‘Lolita,’ the 1955 story of an older man, his teen bride, and her mother ... written by Dorothy Parker?

Meaningless Milestone: Sesquicentennial Times Ten

I note for the record that this constitutes the 1,500th post in this website’s history. As you were.