Author’s note: I wrote this piece for the Winter 2001-2002 issue of Route 66 magazine. It was my first professionally published magazine piece. I was a different writer then, though not perhaps quite that different than I am now. In the spirit of a happily haunted Halloween, I reprint it here, literary warts and all, unaltered even though some of the details are no doubt out of date. Photos by Ellie Tam.
Over at my other home on Alcohol Professor, I’m spinning the tale of the rise and fall and rise of the American hotel bar and cocktail culture. Or rather, in Cocktail History: American Hotel Bars, I am writing about “Rediscovering the American Hotel Bar,” a Manhattan Cocktail Classic event in which Rene Hidalgo, head bartender at the Iroquois Hotel’s Lantern’s Keep, recounted the history of hotel bars to us while serving an awful lot of really good illustrative cocktails.
It’s time for a Kentucky Derby Frolic Afield. I’m back on Alcohol Professor, and in An Urban Bourbon Trail Through History I’m taking y’all on a tour of Louisville’s three most historic hotels: The Brown, The Galt House, and The Seelbach. Or, more accurately, I’m taking you on a tour of their bars. Special guest stars Abraham Lincoln, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the hot brown.
Kentuckians grow up with Stephen Foster. He wrote “My Old Kentucky Home,” our state song, and The Stephen Foster Story has been playing at My Old Kentucky Home State Park for over fifty years. Although “America’s first composer” was born in Pennsylvania and later lived in Ohio (albeit in Cincinnati, which is just across the river from Kentucky), he is by right of his music an honorary Kentucky boy and a part of the fabric of the state. I’d been taught his songs since I was old enough to learn — “My Old Kentucky Home,” of course, but also “Hard Times Come Again No More,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” They’re what we learned in elementary school music class when we weren’t mangling “Greensleeves” in accompaniment to a classmate awkwardly tooting it out on a recorder. I had no idea until recently that he lived — and died — just a stone’s throw from where I work now in New York City, on a block that is packed with New York history both glamorous and sordid.