Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem

Archive for the ‘Cocktail History’ Category

March 9th, 2014 by Cameron

The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874

My Favorite Drinking BuddyOne of the joys in my life is that my dear mother can take a joke.

My mother is brilliant, effusive, hilarious, (and in a very lovely way), kinda nuts. She’s easy to make fun of, and badgering her about one of her many quirks (such as her inclination to chitchat with everyone who crosses her path) is always good fun. But Mom can also dish it back, and this sort of back-and-forth banter always makes for an amusing evening when we’re visiting. While we’re at it, the scene is usually accompanied by gin, colorful language, and laughter as we make fun of each other and (of course) others.

Frequent topics include how one should never willingly ride in a car my sister is driving, accounts of my misbehavior during high school/college/last week, or even the time Mom sprayed eyeglass cleaner in her mouth because she thought the little spray canister was a breath refresher.

I’ll also go to work on her with an annoying little game I call “That’s from St. Louis”. It’s a simple game, especially for a guy who knows thousands of useless facts about St. Louis. Here’s how it works:

During our fun chats, all I do is wait for my mother to say something that I can relate to the city of St. Louis. I’ll usually start with something trivial that everyone knows:

Mom & Cameron BanterIn the beginning of the game, Mom will usually respond with something simple like “That’s nice, dear”. But the key is to keep it going. The more random the fact, the better:

Mom & Cameron BanterAfter five or six of these, it’ll start to get to her. I’ll hear a “sigh” in return, or maybe I’ll get one of her “looks”. My mother adores the city of St. Louis, but the button pushing is getting to her. This is when I go in for the kill:

Mom & Cameron Banter(Snap)

Mom's Fed UpI actually have a good reason for telling the story about how I mildly torment my mother. It’s a good lead-in to this post, which is a first in the life of Distilled History. Instead of promoting something that did happen in St. Louis, I’m going to promote something that didn’t.

The Hot Dog: Not a World's Fair Creation

My dumb little game not only led me to learn that I had one of my facts wrong, but it also led me to the fun story behind a classic drink. It’s not exactly St. Louis history, but it’s drinking history. That’s one-half of this blog, so it’s good enough for me.

On the evening when I informed my (somewhat exasperated) mother that the gin-based Tom Collins cocktail was invented in St. Louis, I remember suddenly wondering if it was actually true. Although I’ve been told by a few reliable sources the Tom Collins was born here, I’ve fallen for more than a few myths of St. Louis before.

How to Mix Drinks

Others have as well, and that’s why we sometimes hear people incorrectly boast that the hamburger, the hot dog, and peanut butter were all invented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. They weren’t, and minimal research will provide evidence that the three foods were around well before 1904. But all is not lost, dear St. Louis. Our magnificent fair 110 years ago can still claim the waffle ice cream cone and cotton candy.

With a bit of research, I also learned the Tom Collins cocktail also belongs in the same “Not-from-St. Louis” category as peanut butter. It turns out the classic libation of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda was almost certainly first poured in New York City.

Many claim the drink is a St. Louis creation because of a famous bartender named Jerry Thomas, the “presiding deity” of the bar at the famous Planter’s House Hotel that once stood downtown. One of the most famous hotels west of the Mississippi in the 19th Century, it’s possible that during his tenure, Jerry Thomas served drinks to notable guests including Charles Dickens, Ulysses S. Grant, and Jefferson Davis.

The claim does have merit on the surface, because “Professor” Jerry Thomas (as he would come to be known), was in fact there. He did work as the head bartender at the Planter’s House at some point in the mid-19th Century. But it’s a flimsy claim to say he invented the Tom Collins cocktail during his tenure. Not a single shred of evidence exists to support it. In fact, there is no record of how long he was at the Planter’s House, what he did (other than tend bar), or why he eventually left.

What can’t be argued is that in the years after he left St. Louis, Jerry Thomas would become the most famous bartender in American history. This happened in part because of a benchmark book he published, The Bar-Tender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion. Published in 1862, it is considered the first book of cocktail recipes ever published in the United States.

"The Professor" Jerry Thomas

A significant clue that the Tom Collins cocktail is not a St. Louis creation is that the recipe doesn’t appear in the that book. The Collins doesn’t appear (for the first time in print) until the second edition, published fourteen years later in 1876. By that time, Jerry Thomas had been for years firmly rooted in his own bar on Broadway in New York City.

A second (and most convincing) clue is remarkably, a simple practical joke.

In 1874, some random fellow in the saloon-filled streets of New York City came up with an idea to provoke one of his drinking companions. It worked, and the success of the joke caused it to become a popular form of entertainment in the city. It didn’t stop there. As fast as news could travel, folks in Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and any town that could claim a bar and a guy looking to rile up his pal became a place where the prank was rehashed. It was known as The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874, and it’s one of the more amusing (and well-documented) stories in the history of drinking and mixology.

An article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 13, 1874, details how the prank worked:

How the Hoax WorkedWith his friend sufficiently riled up, the two men would set forth to locate Tom Collins. Entering the crowded saloon he was directed to, the joke’s pawn would angrily demand of the bartender “Where is Tom Collins?” Already in on the prank, the bartender would direct the man towards some unsuspecting patron about to deny being familiar with anyone named Tom Collins. In the resulting confusion, tempers would flair, the joke would eventually be realized, and the crowded bar (most certainly in on the act) would erupt with laughter.

Tom Collins Ad

Of course, this sort of scene would require a round of drinks to get everyone to simmer down and heal egos.

The prank became so popular that even newspapers became participants. False sightings of the notorious “Tom Collins” were reported, advertisements promoted his preferences in hats and cigars, and articles with titles such as “That Infernal Tom Collins!” appeared frequently when the joke succeeded. People even wrote songs to memorialize the good times had with the prank.

In one humorous account, the joke caused conflict even when the victim knew what was happening. In June 1874, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed an account of a hotel patron who became quite angry when he was handed a card that said “Tom Collins wants to see you after dinner”. Already victimized by the joke two or three times previously, the man became “wrathful”. This led to “hard words” with the identified prankster, and a “first class scrimmage hung in the balance”. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

As 1874 wound down, so did the joke. The more it was staged, the more difficult it became to find someone who’d be an unknowing patsy. But the hoax has a lasting legacy that lives on today. According to cocktail historian David Wondrich (and several other sources), it’s this joke that gave us the name of the famous Tom Collins cocktail we know today. In his book Imbibe: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, Wondrich asserts that the ancestor of the Tom Collins is a gin-based punch with the similar name of “John Collins”. Popular in England, the recipe was likely transported across the Atlantic by British sailors visiting New York City. However, Americans have a tendency to put their own spin on things, and before long the “John Collins” became known as the “Tom Collins”.

And it’s delicious gin that gives us the answer why.

Tom Collins Quote

In 1874, the London dry version of gin (think Bombay Sapphire, for example) that many prefer today was practically unheard of. Order a gin drink in 1874 and you’d either get Dutch Jenever or British Old Tom gin. Both are sweeter and maltier versions of the London dry everyone is familiar with today. These (delicious) versions are still around today, but London dry is now the standard (due in large part to the popularity of the martini cocktail).

Anyway, when angry guys started storming into saloons in and demanding to see a “Mr. Collins”, bartenders started putting their own spin on the joke. A “Collins” was also a drink, so holding one up and bellowing back “Here’s your Mr. Collins!” became an amusing way to enhance the prank.

Title Page of Jerry Thomas's Book

The final piece of the puzzle occurred when an unknown bartender or patron decided to refer to the drink as a “Tom Collins” instead of a “John Collins”. This likely made more sense at the time, because it was very probably that Old Tom gin (or just “Old Tom”) was used to make it.

Like the hoax that had spread from bar to saloon, and town to city, so did the freshly named drink. Then, two years after the joke took the country by storm,  Jerry Thomas sat down to write the second edition of his popular cocktail recipe book. Surely recalling his own experiences from the hoax the Tom Collins recipe was included. It would be the first time the recipe appears in print. The rest, as they say, is drinking history.

Tom Collins Recipe

The Drink

The Planter's House

The location of the drink for this post is one I have been saving for few months. The Planter’s House, named after the famous St. Louis hotel, recently opened on the on the corner of Mississippi and Chouteau just north of Lafayette Square. Frequent readers of this blog will likely become very familiar with Planter’s House, because it’s going to be featured in this blog for years to come. The first time I walked in the door, I instantly recognized that St. Louis had been blessed with another place at which I could satisfy my cocktail fix.

I knew it would be good even before that because a guy named Ted Kilgore is one of the proprietors. I don’t know Mr. Kilgore personally, but his name carries weight among cocktail connoisseurs in this town. I’ve been telling people for years that the best Manhattan in St. Louis is the one he served when he ran the show at Taste. Now it’s at Planter’s House, and I’m giddy that it’s actually possible to order a pitcher of them from the cocktail menu.

The Planter's House Tom Collins

Another aspect of the (new) Planter’s House that I appreciate is the attention to St. Louis drinking history. Not only is the name of the establishment a nod to Jerry Thomas and the original Planter’s House, but the accompanying “Bullock Room” is named after a notable African-American bartender who worked in St. Louis in the early 20th Century. That’s a guy who will be getting attention in this blog sooner or later.

I’ll be back often for the Manhattans, but the purpose of my visit was to get a Tom Collins. It’s listed as one of the “House Favorites” on the Planter’s House cocktail menu, and I’ve never had a better version. My only complaint is that this brutal 2014 winter continues. Accompanied by fresh lemon juice and orange peel, I believe a Tom Collins is most enjoyable during warmer weather.

To add to my excitement, I was elated to learn that Bol’s Genever, not London dry gin, is used in the Planter’s House Tom Collins. That’s how Jerry Thomas would have prepared it.

Served in a tall Collins glass over perfectly clear ice, the drink is ideally made at Planter’s House.

Now all I have to do is get Mom, my favorite drinking buddy, back to St. Louis so I can take her to the Planter’s House for another.

October 22nd, 2013 by Cameron

Haunted Alton & The Corpse Reviver (No. 2)

Haunted Alton at Night

Writing a slightly popular blog has its benefits. Maybe I shouldn’t boast that Distilled History is popular, but my Rolodex has certainly bulked up in the past several months. I’ve met new friends involved in the St. Louis history scene, and others who are into drinking. Many are into history and drinking, and that means life is good.

One of them is a clever and entertaining woman named Ginger Justus. She’s the author of a terrific blog named Missouri History & Hauntings.  Like me, she’s deeply interested in the history of the St. Louis area. The difference is while I add drunkenness to my history, Ginger adds ghosts. Fans of what each of us are doing, we started emailing each other and talking about working together in some context. We’ll do that eventually, but in the meantime, Ginger asked me if I’d like to be a special guest on a haunted tour of Alton, Illinois.

Haunted Alton

I’m not a believer in the paranormal, but I do know that ghost stories always come with good history. With Halloween right around the corner, it seemed like a fun event in which to take part. At the very least, maybe someone else would see a ghost, freak out, and make a run for it.

Hearing someone yell “We got a runner!” would make for great reading.

The walking tour Ginger invited me to join is the Alton Hauntings Ghost Tour, created by a ghost guru named Troy Taylor. Founder of the American Ghost Society, Mr. Taylor has authored more than fifty books about ghosts and haunted things, including Haunted Alton, a book I read just last year.

Mr. Taylor wasn’t around that evening, so my tour was in the hands of an equally knowledgeable man named Len Adams. Mr. Adams is the Vice President of the American Ghost Society, a good friend of Troy Taylor’s, and someone who really knows how to tell a good story.

Before leading us into the eerie Alton night, Mr. Adams made it a point to explain that “psychics, Ouija boards, and crystal balls” are not a part of this tour. I was interested to hear him explain that he (and many others who share his interest in the field) believes many hauntings are simply lingering energy imprints left after a traumatic event. A term even exists for this type of occurrence. A “residual haunt” describes things like the inexplicable sound of footsteps in the hall, a door slamming, or a sudden drop in temperature. It could even be the reason why kitty suddenly bolts into another room.

"One of the most haunted small towns in America"

On the other hand, an “intelligent haunt” is the major league of haunts. This is the kind of haunt when you have a tangible and conscious spirit living in your bedroom closet. Intelligent haunts can move things around your house and even join you for a cocktail. According to Len and Ginger, if you encounter one, you could hear, record, and even photograph it.  When I started telling people what I was writing about for this post, I was surprised to find out that many of my close friends are steadfast believers. A few even insisted they had experienced encounters of their own.

I may be a non-believer, but maybe this explains why I found my car keys in the freezer last week.

My tour had many who truly hoped they’d see a ghost. Despite my hope someone would snap, Mr. Adams did his best to allay any fears. He insisted that no harm would come to anyone, and he delivered one of his best lines when informing us the tour even had a safe word:

Haunted Alton Safe Word

The tour lasted a full three hours that night. As it progressed, Mr. Adams wound us around the dark corners of Alton, offering unnerving tales and enlightening history at every turn. Even if ghosts aren’t your thing, you’ll get a fascinating history of the town and the people who lived there.  Len Adams is a ghost expert, but the man knows his Alton history from top to bottom. He accurately recalled topics I have previously written about in this blog, including the stories of Elijah P. Lovejoy and Sunflower Island.

Other topics I was less familiar with, such as the disturbing tale of Hop Hollow Road. This path, a former road between a Civil War prison and the Alton Cemetery, is where Union prison guards unceremoniously dumped the bodies of Confederate soldiers in the woods. Displeased with their improper mode of burial, many claim the ghosts of these men now wander the woods around Hop Hollow Road.

The Enos Sanatorium

A special aspect of this tour is that it will take you inside a few of the stops. Even if you are the most stoic of non-believers, try sitting inside a darkened church and hearing the story of a priest found hanging from the ceiling above you. Other creepy locations include tales of a ghost that smells of lavender and a night watchman who disappeared without a trace. You’ll also hear the story of Tom Boothby, a one-eyed Indian fighter whose demise became the first ghost story of record in Alton.

I enjoyed the entire tour, but it was the first stop that really hooked me. Sitting at the corner of East 3rd and George Streets in Alton is the Enos Sanatorium. Originally known as the Nathaniel Hanson Mansion, the original structure dates to 1857.

Nathaniel Hanson was an ardent abolitionist. With Alton situated across the river from slaveholding Missouri, the town was an active stop on the Underground Railroad in the years prior to the Civil War. Hanson built his home precisely to accommodate that cause. Built on a high bluff that overlooks the Mississippi River, the cupola atop it was visible from afar. Nighttime lanterns inside the cupola reportedly alerted slave runners across the river if the coast was clear or if threats prevented crossing. Additionally, Hanson had tunnels carved into the limestone beneath the house, allowing fleeing slaves a safe place to hide when arriving in Illinois.

There are no records of how many slaves hid in the tunnels beneath the mansion, but it is a documented and verified stop on the Underground Railroad.

In 1911, Dr. W.H. Enos purchased the mansion and converted the building into a tuberculosis sanatorium. Soon after, a fourth floor was added and an adjoining nurses home constructed, making the building look as it does today. Tuberculosis was an incurable disease at the time, and scores of suffering patients died in the mansion during the next several years.  Today, many believe a few of these unfortunate souls continue to roam the halls and make themselves at home.

Today, the house is an attractively restored apartment building. According to Troy Taylor and Len Adams, many apartment residents have reported strange odors, sounds of footsteps, flushing toilets, and even sounds of people screaming. Many others residents have decided to find a new apartment elsewhere for the same reasons.

The Tunnel Beneath Enos Sanatorium

On a dark and windy night, the home definitely has a mysterious feel to it. The highlight of this stop (at least for me), is when Mr. Adams informed us we’d be heading into the tunnels. This is when my heart skipped a beat and “Haunted Alton” became a priceless experience for me. The Underground Railroad happened, but very few physical examples of it still exist today. Getting to step inside a physical Underground Railroad location is a big deal for me. It is something I’ve never been able to do. When I did, I stood quietly and thought about people long ago who hid from evil in the exact same space. That’s a profound moment for a history nerd like me.

Of course, the real reason to get us down there was for Mr. Adams to scare the hell out of us. He did an admirable job, and the stories he tells are another reason to take this tour. He also informed us that if someone freaks and starts running, a dark tunnel fifteen feet underground is the worst place for it to happen. As much as I hoped I’d see someone lose it, I agreed this wasn’t the best place to see it.

First Unitarian Church

If there’s a “most haunted” stop, many claim it’s the First Unitarian Church, the final stop on the tour. It’s where the story of the hanging priest I mentioned earlier comes into play. It’s the highlight of the tour, so I won’t give anything else away. Instead, I’ll just say that I’m grateful for Ginger and Len allowing me to tag along that night. I had fun while hearing a few peculiar stories and good history. Anytime that happens, I’m good to go.

For more information about Alton Hauntings Tours, or to make reservations, click here. Tours fill up quickly during the Halloween season, so plan ahead.

Finally, before I move on to the delicious drink I selected for this post, I want to be clear that my intention here is in no way an attempt to demean any believers in ghosts and spirits. While I don’t personally believe in the paranormal, I completely respect the beliefs of anyone who does, like my new friends Len and Ginger. They have an interest in a subject they hold dear, and that’s good enough for me.

However, if you tell me that you should shake a Manhattan and serve it on the rocks, then you need to get your head examined.

The Drink

The Savoy Cocktail BookIf ghosts and spirits are being revived within the walls of Enos Sanatorium, then why not a corpse?  This is one of those Distilled History posts where I knew the drink well before putting a single word to paper. The Corpse Reviver (No. 2), a prohibition-era cocktail created by a man named Harry Craddock, is also one of my favorites.

Craddock was an American who (wisely) fled to England when Prohibition kicked in. As a barman at the Savoy Hotel in London, he became famous for inventing notable cocktails (like this one), popularizing the dry martini, and publishing The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930.

The Corpse Reviver #2 was named for exactly what it’s meant to do. After a night of heavy drinking, drinking one (or maybe two) is an effective way to “revive one’s corpse”.  However, Craddock is also quick to point out in his book that “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”

The Corpse Reviver (No. 2)

I’m familiar with such experiences, so along with containing my beloved gin, this is a perfect drink for me. While Craddock recommends drinking the cocktail before 11:00am, I’ve had hangovers last much longer into the day. I mixed mine at 7:00 pm, and I can say it with certainty it worked very well at what it had to do.

The name suggests a “Corpse Reviver (No. 1)” also  exists, and that is correct. Craddock also created that recipe to cure hangovers, but it’s a completely different drink. I also don’t find it nearly as satisfying as the Corpse Reviver (No. 2).

I’ve always thought this cocktail can taste radically different based on the quality of the ingredients used. I won’t make it at home unless quality gin is at hand (Broker’s is my personal preference), and low-end triple sec can’t substitute the extra kick provided by Cointreau.

Don’t wait for a brunch with a pounding hangover to try a Corpse Reviver #2. While it is a great alternative to the ubiquitous Bloody Mary, it’s suitable for any time of the day (or evening). A well-made version is that good.

Corpse Reviver No. 2 Recipe

Finally, if you don’t want to make one on your own (the ingredients are not cheap), Demun Oyster Bar in Clayton makes an excellent version.

November 26th, 2012 by Cameron

The Fanciulli & More Tower Grove

Using a Garmin for the Bike-a-Sketch

Recently, a few readers have hinted to me that Distilled History has been a bit heavy on the History. I’ve been told the Distilled side of things needs a bit more love. Looking back at my latest posts, I think my readers have a point. It’s time I get back to drinking.

With that in mind, I’m going to try keep the history to a minimum in this post. Instead, I’ll describe a great drink and add a bit more to the fun I first introduced in the Tower Grove Park & A Fantastic Manhattan post. Since writing that post, I’ve created a few more Tower Grove Park drawings (or “Bike-a-Sketches”, as they have come to be known).

To make these, I plot a drawing out using Tower Grove Park as a canvas. Using a bicycle and a GPS, I ride around the park like a complete fool and track the route. When it’s done, I export the route to Google Earth save the image. The fun of doing this is starting to wear off, but they do make for interesting rides to work.

Flower Bike-a-Sketch: I get a kick out of using the main roundabout in Tower Grove Park for these sketches. Since that’s where most of the traffic is each morning, it’s also where I get most of the curious looks from people trying to figure out what the hell I’m up to.

Bike-a-sketch: Flower

I Heart Mom Bike-a-Sketch: Did this one to celebrate my Mother’s 67th birthday in September. I can’t deny it. I am a Momma’s boy, and I heart my Mom.

Bike-a-Sketch: I Heart Mom

I Love Fried Chicken Bike-a-Sketch: My mother also makes the best fried chicken in the world. I drew this one the week before she came in for a visit. Read between the lines and it says “Mom, you will make me fried chicken when you get to St. Louis”.

Bike-a-Sketch: Chicken Leg

Turkey Bike-a-Sketch: Although I’m told this turkey looks pretty good, it’s not anywhere what I hoped it would be. The head looks awful and the feathers are a bit rough. The turkey on paper was far prettier.

Bike-a-sketch: Happy Turkey Day

The Drink
Olio Cocktail Menu

Another reason I chose to focus on the drink in this post is because I found another place in St. Louis that makes a great one. As I sit here writing this, I’m still elated about the fantastic cocktail I had a few days ago in the McRee Town (er, I mean Botanical Heights) neighborhood. It’s located just a few blocks north of Tower Grove Park.

Before I even get to discussing the drink, it’s important to mention the building. Just a few years ago, if you drove through the intersection of Tower Grove and McRee, you’d see a 1930′s gas station in a severe state of disrepair.

Drive through the intersection today, and you’ll see a fully restored structure housing Olio, a wine bar operated by Ben Poremba.

Olio is actually only one-half of Mr. Poremba’s recently completed project. Behind the restored gas station is Elaia, a restaurant in a restored 1890′s house. Elaia serves Mediterranean cuisine, but I did not dine on my visit. I came for the drink experience at Olio, and it went very well.

Olio

Olio has everything I want in a drinking establishment. First of all, it’s in the city of St. Louis. It sits in a structure that someone took the time to renovate and improve. I fully support projects that preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods in St. Louis. Obviously, it’s even better when I am able to drink in them. Olio has provided that opportunity. Score one point for them.

Second, the staff at Olio is knowledgeable and attentive. John Fausz, the bar keeper who served me, took the time to meticulously prepare the cocktail I ordered. He was extraordinarily friendly and offered additional information about the drink. Olio, you score another point.

Fernet-Branca

I ordered a Fanciulli, which is a close relative to the Manhattan.  The big difference (and I do mean “big”) is that a Fanciulli replaces the bitters ingredient of the Manhattan with fernet. Fernet is an aramo, which is Italian for “bitter”.  It’s made from dozens of herbs, fungi, bark, roots, and spices to create a remarkably sharp and complex taste.

To the uninitiated, it’s said that drinking fernet can be something like taking a blow to the side of the head. It’s so strong that it can easily overwhelm any other ingredients in a drink. In an article for the Atlantic Monthly, Wayne Curtis tells a good story to validate this. In 1960, the Broadway actress Betsy von Furstenberg was suspended from Actor’s Equity Association (the labor union for live theater) because she spiked Tony Randall’s drink with it. He thought he’d been poisoned with iodine.

In many parts of the world, Fernet is used as a digestif and is considered to be an effective remedy for hangovers. It’s extremely popular in Argentina, where it’s considered by many to be the national drink.

At Olio, the Fanciulli is served with rye, Capano Antica vermouth, and Fernet Branca. It’s served neat. And here is where Olio closed the deal. As the bar keeper served my cocktail, I was told the story behind the Fanciulli.

Sorry folks, but it seems I can’t avoid the history side of things after all.

Fanciulli Cocktail at OlioMy new friend John informed me the cocktail is named after Fernando Fanciulli, an Italian immigrant who had success composing martial music. In 1892, Fanciulli was selected to lead the Marine Band in Washington, replacing the legendary John Philip Sousa. For a few years, Fanciulli enjoyed success leading the band and composing his own marches, but he chaffed at the lasting legacy of his predecessor.

Fanciulli's Band

While on parade in 1897, a military officer asked Fanciulli to have his band play a Sousa march so the men could march in “full swing”. Fanciulli didn’t take the request kindly. He sternly replied that he’d play what he saw fit. Taken aback, the Lieutenant responded by issuing a direct order to Fanciulli, demanding he play Sousa’s “El Capitan”. Fanciulli again vehemently denied the request. The Lieutenant responded by issuing an order to have Fanciulli arrested and brought up on charges.

In less than a week, Fernando Fanciulli was court martialed and dishonorably discharged from the military.

Fortunately, Fanciulli had someone in his corner. The Secretary of the Navy at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, ruled the sentence was too harsh. He overturned the ruling and Fanciulli was able to quietly serve out the remainder of his enlistment.

Fanciulli soon moved to New York City to lead the 71st Regiment Band. After daily performances in Central Park, Fanciulli would often spend his evenings at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue. As Olio’s menu suggests, it was here that the “brooding and bitter” Fanciulli would order the drink that shared these qualities and would soon share his name.

July 3rd, 2012 by Cameron

Making the Compton & Dry Map

This isn’t really a St. Louis history post. It’s just a description how I created my own version of the Compton & Dry mapped that I detailed in a previous post.  However, there’s some history in the drinking section of this post.  Read (or skip) through an you’ll learn a bit how the Manhattan, my favorite cocktail, came to be.
The Prints Arrive

The plan for my own living room version of the Compton & Dry map was to obviously recreate it on a much smaller scale. To start, I’d have each plate printed on 4×6 photo paper. Next, I’d adhere each print to a painted board that is cut slightly larger than the print itself (I wanted each plate to have a small border). Finally, I’d simply glue all 110 plates to my living room wall, recreating the entire view of St. Louis that Richard Compton and Camille Dry published in book format 137 years ago.

For printing, I needed to get high-res images of all the plates. The map is public domain, so downloading them from the Library of Congress website was an easy first step. I uploaded the images to Snapfish, ordered a 4×6 of each, and waited for the prints to arrive.
When they did arrive, I was really happy with how they came out. My only concern was that some of the prints had a noticeably darker tint. But, my goal was not to create something exact. I wanted to make it look “crafty” (for lack of a better word). I thought the color variations would likely add to that effect.
Compton & Dry Map Key

In the published book, Compton & Dry include a key for how all the plates fit together. This would obviously be my guide. As it shows in the key, there are 16 horizontal rows and 8 vertical columns. If each plate is printed as a 4×6, the map will be about 8 feet long and just under three feet high.

Overlap Example

As mentioned in the original post about this map, a closer look at adjoining plates shows Pictorial St. Louis is really not meant to be viewed as a full map.  Compton and Dry had made the decision to incorporate some overlap to the pages. It’s very noticeable when viewing certain plates that adjoin vertically.

Take note of plate 38, which sits just above plate 28 in the key. Circled white, the same building has been drawn on both plates.  The streets (Russell Ave. and Geyer Ave.) also don’t quite line up.

To help the viewer see the map as a whole, I decided to space all the plates apart by 1/2 inch. With that space, and the small border around each image, I felt the overlap would be less noticeable. I think adding this space also makes the final map look aesthetically better. Butting all the plates up against one another would make it look too cramped.

The next step was the really tedious park of the project: making the wooden boards that the prints would mount on. I started by going to Home Depot and buying some cheap pine shelving boards. I cut 110 boards, each at  a size of 4.5″x6.5″ (giving the finished plate about an 1/8″ border on each side).
Sanding the Boards
After cutting the boards, I had to sand all 110 of them. For a few days, this is where my neighbors had to think something really weird was going on. I’m pretty much already known in my neighborhood as the guy who sits on his porch at all hours reading and drinking cocktails. Adding to the mystery, I was now hauling out stacks of 4×6 boards and sanding the hell out of them for hours on end. It took some time, but I finally had them all sanded smooth. I hauled all the blocks into my basement and set up a spray paint station. I gave each board two coats of black paint with a satin finish.
Gluing the plates

Then it was on to gluing the prints to each board. For this step, I used Mod Podge, a craft glue I had never really used before.  I started with a layer of glue between each board and print. Then, I put two coats on top, covering the entire board.  I used a paintbrush to apply the Mod Podge, so each block has a bit of texture to it. I like the crafty look of it.

It took some time to get through the entire stack of 110 boards, but it was simple process. After a few days, I was ready to get all the boards up on my living room wall.

That is… until I made my first big gaffe.

The Setback

Of course, my setback would be caused by St. Louis weather. I’ve been here sixteen years and I still can’t get used to the heat that hits this town.  It gets hot here… and it’s an angry, “I will make you suffer” kind of hot.

And here’s where it haunted me again. Since I was documenting this  this project with pictures, I decided to stack all the blocks on a table and get a final shot before putting them up on the wall.

Since I still needed to plot out where the boards would actually mount on the wall, the blocks stayed stacked on the table for a few days. While stacked, St. Louis decided to ring in the first humid day of 2012. Not knowing that Mod Podge gets very tacky in humid weather, I soon discovered that many of the plates had glued together. I tried to carefully pull them apart, (and I may have cried a bit as I did ), but I was only able to  salvage a few. About twenty plates needed a new layer of glue, but about thirty prints and blocks needed a complete replacement. Ugh.

So, it was back to the hardware store for more wood, back to the craft store for more Mod Podge, and back to Snapfish for more prints. I cut the new boards, sanded them, painted them, and Mod Podged them again. The enthusiasm for this project was long gone, but I trudged on. To make sure I didn’t make the same mistake twice, I sprayed all of the boards with three coats of acrylic sealant to eliminate any potential tackiness.

Plate Placeholders

The step that I thought was going to be the most difficult actually turned out to be the one of the easiest. I was really concerned about making sure the prints were level when mounted on the wall. I was terrified that I’d have 110 plates mounted on the wall and somebody would walk in, look at my project, and promptly say “It slants to the left”.

To make sure I’d get it right, I mocked everything up with numbered pieces of foam board. I used mounting putty to temporarily hold them all in place.

I snapped a level chalk line on my wall where the first row would mount.  I worked from the center, adding a piece of foam board 1/2″ offset from the left, right, top, and bottom of a previously mounted board. I made a 1/2″ spacer out of wood to help make sure the boards were offset by the same distance on all sides.
Plates Going Up

The next step was to replace the foam boards with the finished boards. Again, worried that I’d create something off-kilter, I used mounting putty to stick the boards to the wall and make sure it all looked level. The whole map went up in this manner before permanently gluing anything.

And here’s where my final setback comes in. As I put the final board up, I had a gaping hole in the middle of my map. Where in hell did plate 51 go?

Where in Hell is Plate 51?

I scoured the house looking for the rogue plate 51 (maybe the cat hid it?). After a couple of days of fruitless searching, I had to go back and make another board. Not tough, but very frustrating being so close to the end of the project.

Finally, the last step was to glue the boards on the wall using Liquid Nails.  I used mounting putty again to secure the bottom of the board, holding it in place for a few minutes while the glue cured. It worked perfectly because as it set, I’d verify it’s place with the spacer and level.

The gluing actually took much longer than I expected, but the project was finally completed on May 25, 2012. It took about two months total to complete. Two days later, I showed it off to everyone at my Memorial Day barbecue.  I’m happy to say that the final result is even better than I hoped for. And nobody told me it slants left. Below is a series of photographs stitched together to show the map in its full glory.

Pictorial St. Louis
The Drink
Since there’s really no history in how I put that map up on my wall, I’ll throw some history into the drink side of things. And there’s no drink better to start with than my personal favorite, the Manhattan cocktail.
Manhattan Cocktail

Today, the martini is often referred to as the “King of Cocktails”, but the Manhattan actually came first. Before discussing  how the Manhattan came to be, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term “cocktail”.  Today, a cocktail is  considered anything with alcohol in it. In truth, the Choco-licious Martini you ordered at Applebee’s is not a real cocktail, nor is the straight shot of tequila you chased with a PBR. The original definition of a cocktail is far more precise: It is a drink that contains a spirit, is sweetened with sugar, is diluted with water, and is spiced with bitters.

People with knowledge of the recipe know that only one more ingredient is needed for a Manhattan cocktail: Vermouth. Originally made in Italy and France, vermouth is a fortified wine that was initially used for medicinal purposes. In the mid 1800′s, people started mixing vermouth into cocktails. In America, the red, sweet, Italian kind became especially popular. That’s where the Manhattan (followed closely by the martini) got its start. Here’s one of the earliest recorded recipes of the Manhattan, taken from the 1884 publication How to Mix Drinks – Barkeeper’s Handbook.
EarlyManhattan Recipe

What’s really interesting to me about this recipe is the type of whiskey is not specified. I had been told the original Manhattan recipe insists on rye whiskey. Actually, David Wondrich, author of the terrific book Imbibe! writes that of the twenty or so pre-prohibition recipes he consulted, only four specify which type of whiskey to use, and two of them call for bourbon. Wondrich elaborates that the type of whiskey is not as important as the proof. In his opinion, 100 proof rye will make an ideal Manhattan, but 100 proof bourbon will make a better Manhattan than 80 proof rye.

Jennie Jerome

The actual origin of the Manhattan is still debated today. A popular story is that the drink was invented for an inaugural banquet held by Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s American mother. According to the story, she asked a bartender to make a special drink in honor of Samuel J. Tilden, the 1876 Democratic Presidential nominee. A good story, but there’s no truth to it. Jennie Jerome was in Oxfordshire giving birth to baby Winston at the time of the inaugural balls in 1876.

What is known is that it’s named for the New York city borough where it was invented. Many sources credit the cocktails origin to a bartender by the name of “Black” at a bar located on Broadway near Houston street.

Today, the Manhattan is still considered one of the classic cocktails. It is often the subject of wide variation, with some bartenders serving it on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass (shudder). Other variations include the Rob Roy, which uses Scotch whiskey, and the Dry Manhattan, which uses dry vermouth instead of sweet.

Many of these variations will be discussed (and debated) in this blog going forward.

Notes:

As mentioned earlier in this post, the book Imbibe! by Davide Wondrich is a great book to learn about the history of specific drinks and cocktails. Focusing more on the craft of making drinks, the Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan is another great resource.

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