Friday, May 21, 2010

Frontier Mixology, Vol. 6: Several Americans In Paris

(Come for the drinks, Stay for the music)

During Prohibition, many of America's best mixologists were forced to leave the mahogany counters of New York to ply their trade across the Atlantic, ending up behind the bar at hotels and cafés in London, Venice, and Paris. Accompanying these barmen were a group of rich American expats, many with artistic aspirations. Known as the Lost Generation, this group of artists, writers, and those aspiring to same cohered around the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein, looking particularly patriotic in this photo.

In an example of symbiotic development, the expats and the barmen flourished together. Writers channeled their disillusionment while being served cocktails made in an American style, but often with new, European ingredients. No doubt long sessions of drink and discourse provided the circumstance for such classic masterpieces as The Sun Also Rises and the Bloody Mary. One example of the mix of the distilled and the literary concerns a now-forgotten magazine started in Paris by Arthur Moss and Erskine Gwynne, The Boulevardier, described at the time as a "smart-chart resembling Manhattan's New Yorker," whatever that means. M. Gwynne, in particular, epitomizes the rich, directionless hanger-on taken up with a Continental way of life. The son of a famous polo player and nephew of the Vanderbilts, Gwynne's connection to literature was less the result of any talent, and more due to his "bibulous intimacy" with the world of the expats. As Gwynne was certainly well known to the barmen of 1920s Paris, a cocktail was created and named after his magazine using an ingredient that would never have been in a drink in New York at that time: Campari. The Boulevardier Cocktail itself first appeared in 1927's Barflies and Cocktails by the famous Harry McElhone, a former barman at the Plaza Hotel who ended up running the Parisian watering hole Harry's New York Bar.

And, thus, a proper Boulevardier Cocktail:

1 ½ oz. bourbon
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

Stir with ice in a mixing glass; strain into a chilled cocktail glass; and garnish with a cherry, if desired.

We can safely say that the cocktail, although long forgotten, has been more successful than the magazine, which, although increasingly unsubtle in its efforts to copy the New Yorker, ended up becoming an upper-crust gossip rag and ended its run in the early 30s.

I'm still not sure if a rose is a rose is a rose, but when it comes to knowing how to drink, you can't beat the Lost Generation.

Drink up,

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