Those who despise the cocktail, who denounce cocktail-drinking as a pernicious habit, are out of their own mouths condemned. The person who absorbs six or more cocktails at a sitting is no more and no less a commendable member of society than would be he who, as a prelude to dinner, consumed a pound of caviar or six dozen oysters, or in the middle of the afternoon regaled himself on a box of salted almonds or a barrel of olives. Over-indulgence in cocktails betrays a gross spirit and an utter lack of understanding of the role of the cocktail.
I should state here, now, without any further delay, and emphatically, that, as a wine drinker, and a gourmet, I disapprove of cocktails. I specially disapprove of the English concoctions called (for no reason whatsoever) cocktails, and served two minutes before dinner.
The cocktail habit, as generally practised in England, is a vice—in the same way that the American baseball is a form of sadism or of masochism—unless it be a mortification. It does not in the least correspond to the elegant drinking of various mixtures in Parisian bars, or to the even more charming cocktail parties in private houses. It is then six or seven o’clock, and of course, you would not dream of dining before nine. But the idea of swallowing a strong cocktail just before your soup, then expecting to appreciate and enjoy good food and noble wines amounts to sheer insanity. How much saner, for instance, is my friend Nicole, who drinks cocktails at night, between dances. And what champagne ever tasted better than that pint of Clicquot, bought and drunk hurriedly, at breakfast time, during a ride in occupied Flanders?
Yet, one can disapprove and appreciate at the same time. And the poetic charm of the cocktail is so powerful, its appearance so perversely fascinating, its perfume so complex, its effect so subtle that one cannot help, not only yielding to so many attractions, but also being, at times, and for reasons almost purely literary, moved, if not to tears, at least to exaltation.
In fact, as it were, the mysticism of St. Therese, the pity of Dostoievsky, the laughter of the sun, the speed of a non-stop express, the jungle of Douanier Rousseau —in a small, thin glass, frosted and warming.
“ Les invites s’attardent longtemps.
Etendus dans dcs rocking-chairs ils sJ abandonment a ce climat amollissant.
Sur nn signe deson maiire le vieux Jupiter sort d}un
petit ineuble laque
Une bouteille de Xeres Un scan a glace Des citrons . . . Personne ne parlait plus . . . riy avail plus un souffle dans rait-On entendait dans le lointain le rire enorme de la
grcnouille-taureau qui abonde dans ces parages.
It is a poem of Blaise Cendrars. It might be an etching of Dufresne. Drinks, long and short. Drinks as the expression of modern life, of post-war civilisation. A romantic symbol, both remote and precise. The collaboration of the scientist and the poet – that is, the barman.
It began centuries ago, probably about 1885. There is a play of Donnay (he had just left the Chat Noir and the august Academie Franchise had not yet looked upon him as a possible member) in which an act begins by a dialogue about American drinks. I cannot remember exactly, but it runs charmingly, something like this:
“ Void venir Vele, e’est le moment de boire des alcools glaces (we said des alcools in those heroic days). Savez vousfaire des cocktails ? Pai un ami, gar con fort riche el qui aime boire.y) . . .
There was, at the same time, or slightly before, that delightful genius Alphonse Allais, also his immortal Captain Cap, great amateur of logic and of drinks. These are the classics.
There was the Bar de la Paix where celebrities spent an hour drinking short and long mixtures of an American origin, by way of a change from the absinthe dear to Verlaine and to officers in provincial garrison towns. America was not dry. England had no income tax. Drugs were unknown in Paris.
Now, a new phase in the history of the cocktails: amateurs attempt them, and successfully. To the technique of the professional they add the intelligent taste and the imagination of the educated man—though I would not go so far as recommending the Desespoir invented by M. Jean Cocteau. M. Paul Morand is, I understand a genius at mixing drinks (there ought to be one of his called Les amis nouveaux). Rumour has it that M. Max Jacob is at present working on a Cocktail a Veau Benitc, which promises well. And M. Darius Milhaud who seems to be an expert in melodious drinks as well as in musical dissonances, writes:
u Sous les tropiques, le cocktail est tine necessite. Saint leger Leger une disait qu’il fallait la latitude de Singapoure pour comprendre le cocktail. A Rio-de-Janeiro pendant les mois dele, il etait indispensable, pour cviter Vacca-blante torpeur des journees torrides, dialler le soir des six heures au bar de Vhotel des Etrangers. Vetu de blanc, tres elegant, le Barman dispose d’un choix merveilleux et Von peut varier a Vinfini la boisson qui stimule el qui fortifie.
In London also, on a chilly summer evening, cocktails are une necessite, and their exotic charm remains untouched (I am not speaking of the shouting, immediate, brutal satisfaction of almost pure gin, or of its effects on a dull company at dinner). But how few appreciate their fuller meaning, their more subtle value. One can feel exquisitely in love after two cocktails a Vabsinthe and I have had drinks mixed by a negro barman which had a languorous and nostalgic appeal, which made me homesick for countries I did not know,
“ Fuir ! la-basfuir ! Je sens que dcs olseaux sont ivres Uelre parmi Vecume inconnue et les deux ! “
Ah! names of tropical islands, liqueurs sweet and strange, negro carvings, souvenirs of the heroines of Francis Jammes, intense vegetations, steamers, illustrations in the Larousse dictionary, vague echo of childish longings, pathetic visions. The Explorer stays at home.
X. Marcel Boulestin.
From the book “Drinks-Long & Short” by Nina Toye & A. H. Adair. London: William Heinemann, Ltd.. First Published, 1925. Printed in Great Britain by Woods & Sons, Ltd., London, N. 1