2015 marks Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Over on Alcohol Professor, I’ve chosen to commemorate The Chairman of the Board’s centennial with The Chairman, The Poet, and The Dancer, looking at the history of Jilly’s Saloon, the joint Sinatra used as his home base whenever he was in New York City and owned by Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s right hand man. When he retired and sold the restaurant, it passed into the hands of a trio of Russians — including a Nobel Prize winning poet and the most famous ballet dancer in the world — who turned it into a hotspot for Russian ex-pats, intellectuals, and artists. Oh, and Johnny Carson was almost assassinated there by an angry Mob boss. Because of its length, it’s being posted in two parts. Part two is available here.
In an episode of the television show The West Wing, President Josiah “Martin Sheen” Bartlet said “Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.” But then, Bartlett also once said, “To be called bourbon it has to come from Kentucky, otherwise it’s called sour mash,” so his opinion on drinks and drink history is about as dependable as Ian Fleming’s opinion on healthy eating and drinking.
The first drink James Bond has in Risico, while meeting with his contact Kristatos, is a Negroni. Risico prominently features one more cocktail, if in a somewhat dismissive fashion. Kristatos identifies himself to Bond at the Hotel Excelsior’s bar with a signal: an Alexander, which amuses 007.
“Bond had been told to look for a man with a heavy mustache who would be by himself drinking an Alexandra. Bond had been amused by the secret recognition signal. The creamy, feminine drink was so much cleverer than the folded newspaper, the flower in the buttonhole, the yellow gloves that were the hoary, slipshod call-signs between agents.”
In his book Everyday Drinking, Kingsley Amis, who would go on to author the first official James Bond novel after the death of Ian Fleming, described the Americano as “good at lunchtime and before Italian food.” He then went on to write: “If you feel that, pleasant as it is, it still lacks something, throw in a shot of gin and the result is a Negroni. This is a really fine invention. It has the power, rare with drinks and indeed with anything else, of cheering you up.” The first drink Bond has in Risico, while meeting with his contact Kristatos, is a Negroni, “with Gordon’s please” (in the movie For Your Eyes Only, which is loosely adapted in part from this story, the drink is changed to the Greek pastis ouzo, which happens to play a major role in Amis’ Bond novel, Colonel Sun). In the cinematic adaptation of Thunderball, Bond congratulates himself for disarming a henchman by mixing himself up a Negroni. The origins of the drink, like so many, are a mix of supposition and the acceptance of hearsay as fact because, eh, why not? That’s been the story for a long time.
“The room was sumptuous with those over-masculine trappings which, together with briar pipes and wire-haired terriers, spell luxury in France. Everything was brass-studded leather and polished mahogany. The curtains and carpets were in royal blue. The waiters wore striped waistcoats and green baize aprons. Bond ordered an Americano and examined the sprinkling of over-dressed customers, mostly from Paris he guessed, who sat talking with focus and vivacity, creating that theatrically clubbable atmosphere of l’heure de l’aperitif.” – Casino Royale, Chapter 5
When journalist and former British Naval Intelligence commander Ian Fleming retired to his modest villa, Goldeneye (“Goldeneye, nose and throat” quipped his neighbor, the entertainer Noel Coward, who was as unimpressed with Fleming’s abode as he was with the fare served to him when he visited) in Jamaica to write his first novel, he didn’t expect it to be much more to society at large than a passing trifle. It was an attempt to make good on a desire that boiled up in him during his wartime service, perhaps as a way to try and one-up his popular brother, Peter, who was a well-known much beloved adventurer, war hero, and writer. It was also an attempt to keep himself occupied, his mind off his own anxiety regarding the one-time swinging bachelor’s impending marriage to his on-again, off-again girlfriend of many years, Ann Charteris.
When last we saw James Bond, in 1984’s Role of Honour, we did not part on good terms. It was an awful book in my opinion, with clumsy romance and a tremendously dull plot full of James Bond flipping through manuals about the COBOL programming language before finally ending in an idiotic blimp finale, the culmination of a plot that could have easily been foiled a dozen times before it ever got off the ground. That aspect of the storytelling — a central plot that could easily been defeated with minimal risk in the early chapters of the book but is allowed to continue because “foiling it now is exactly what they’d expect us to do!” — will typify the next couple 007 adventures, although for the most part, they are more enjoyably dumb than tediously dumb.
Over on The Cultural Gutter, I’m writing about Nalo Hopkinson’s dystopian science fiction novel Brown Girl in the Ring. A Relative Dystopia is a look at how our culture, upbringing, and personal experiences can shape what we define as a dystopian future, and how people of a different race can look at the exact same thing at the exact same time and take away very different impressions.
A Dozen Books that Made Me Who I Am, for Better or for Worse
They say if you want to write well, you need to be well-read, and while I may be deficient on a pile of classics and must-reads so vast that it seems hopeless to ever tackle it, I do try to do my homework, especially when it comes to the style of writing I’ve elected as my primary mode of creative expression: non-fiction. Specifically, journalism, dispatches, and accounts. In an effort to spread the good word and sell the books of a bunch of dead people (and a few live ones), I’ve compiled a woefully uncomprehensive list of a dozen of my favorite collections of literary journalism from a dozen writers I count as my favorite and most influential. Dozens more are lined up behind them, so I reckon this is just the first of what will potentially be several installments.
Over at The Alcohol Professor, I talked to Josh Hatton from Single Cask Nation and the Jewish Whiskey Company about their recent bottling of “light whiskey” from Indiana’s Lawrenceburg Distilling. What is light whiskey? How did LDI find itself at the center of all this controversy about fake distilleries and craft whiskey? Oh, It’s that Whiskey from Indiana strives to make sense of it all.