Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem

Archive for the ‘Manhattan’ Category

June 30th, 2016 by Cameron Collins

The Magnificent Southern Hotel

The Southern Hotel on Plates 4 & 24

As much as I love the rich history of St. Louis, I must admit that a vivid imagination is often necessary to enjoy much of it. This city has always had an inclination for knocking down old stuff, and that fact makes it tough for many in St. Louis to recall what the streets, buildings, and people who moved among them looked like years ago.

Fortunately, I believe I’ve always had a pretty good ability to think things up. As much as I wish I could still gaze upon long-lost treasures such as the Planter’s House Hotel or Chouteau’s Mansion, I’ve never had a difficult time staring at a parking garage and imagining a vivid St. Louis street scene that occurred there 150 years ago.

And that’s what I did just a few weeks ago. I hopped on my bike, rode downtown, and worked my way to the corner of 4th and Walnut. That’s where the Stadium East Parking Garage stands today. It’s an active garage, often filled with cars and surrounded by ticket scalpers on Cardinal game days. But as I sat there and stared, I saw something completely different. I was looking at the majestic Southern Hotel, and I envisioned it dominating a bustling corner filled with people, horse-drawn carriages, street vendors, and noise.

4th & Walnut Today

Before I go into detail about that vivid scene, I should mention that one could spend days thinking about what’s happened on that corner. First of all, it’s where Fort San Carlos once stood, the centerpiece of the only battle fought west of the Mississippi River during the American Revolution (an event I wrote about in this blog back in 2013).

It’s also where many believe the famous Odowan Indian Chief Pontiac is buried. Historically significant for the military campaign he personally launched against the British in 1763 (the appropriately titled “Pontiac’s War”), Chief Pontiac was murdered near the village of Cahokia by a Peoria warrior in 1769. It’s believed his remains were brought over the river to St. Louis and interred in the ground near that intersection.

The Southern Hotel in 1869

Those are pretty good reasons to stare at a corner and wonder what once happened there, but I think the magnificent Southern Hotel, which stood on that corner from 1865 until 1934, provides many more. I should also admit I’ve been boasting about the Southern Hotel for years. The guy who owned it from 1865 until 1877 is someone I’m a huge fan of. That man is Robert Campbell, and it his house (now known as the Campbell House Museum) that is the base of operations for this blog and where I spend time as a volunteer.

The Southern Hotel in 1868

The idea behind the Southern Hotel’s construction, a project of several prominent city leaders in the 1850’s, was based in the belief that St. Louis required a world-class hotel as it rushed to become a world-class city. Profit was surely a motivation, but civic pride was the driving force behind this particular hotel. And when it opened in December 1865, the city celebrated. Marching bands played, governors visited, and glowing reports of the opening night’s gala were printed in newspapers across the nation. The Missouri Republican proclaimed it the “finest hotel in the world” and it was “the theme of many celebrated pens and tongues, both native and foreign”. It even became the subject of song: “The Southern Hotel Waltz”, which was published in 1865 by composer Albert Mahler.

The Southern Hotel Waltz

The Southern Hotel occupied the entire block bounded by Walnut, 4th, 5th (now Broadway) and Elm Streets (of which Elm no longer exists in that part of the city). The principal front and entrance of the hotel faced Walnut Street, stretching 270 feet from one end to the other. The Southern was six stories tall, with an exterior made of “Chicago stone”, which the St. Louis Republican at the time described as “magnesian stone of excellent properties”. It contained over 350 guest rooms and apartments, and employed nearly the same number of people to keep it running. It was designed in the Italianate style by the famous St. Louis architect George Barnett, who’s other notable works included the Old Courthouse, Henry Shaw’s Tower Grove House, and the Grand Water Tower.

TChief Pontiac Commemorative Plaqueo imagine what this special hotel looked like in its day, it’s important to note that the city of St. Louis at that time was a very crowded place. The population was almost exactly what it is today (about 320,000), but the city itself was much smaller. Before 1876, the city’s western boundary sat just a few hundred feet west of Grand Avenue, and Carondelet hadn’t been added yet. Although new neighborhoods had been developed away from the congested riverfront starting in the 1850’s, the city around the Southern Hotel remained densely populated. The neighborhood around the Southern was also a very upscale part of town. Grand homes and elegant buildings surrounded the hotel, especially to the north and west. It was a time when St. Louis was one of the biggest cities in America, and it could rival the glitz and glamour of cities like New York and Philadelphia.

The Southern was the most luxurious hotel in St. Louis, and if one wanted to be seen, the Southern was the place to be. If one stood on the corner of 4th and Walnut in the 1870’s, seeing a celebrated actress of the day, a business tycoon, or even a president walk through its doors would not have been a surprise. Inside, one could find Mark Twain playing billiards, Adolphus Busch sipping wine, or Ulysses S. Grant leaning against the Southern Hotel’s famous mahogany bar. In the hotel’s immense rotunda, Theodore Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, or the famous actress Lily Langtry could stride by, all of whom were guests at the Southern at one time or another. And if one was fortunate to be invited, attending a lavish banquet in honor of a prominent citizen such as James Eads, Henry Blow, or Robert Campbell was a possibility.

The Southern Hotel in 1888

Famous guests aside, the Southern Hotel was also the site of some remarkable events. The most tragic of them explains why there were actually two Southern Hotels. In the early morning hours of April 11, 1877, a fire broke out in the hotel’s basement. The result was a tragedy that rocked the city of St. Louis and became front-page news across the nation. Perhaps more than twenty guests and hotel employees were killed, many more were severely injured, and the original Southern Hotel was completely destroyed. However, the story of that fire is also remarkable for the bravery and heroism shown by the St. Louis Fire Department (and that story is coming up next in this blog).

The Southern Hotel Dining Room in 1894

Another amazing story is the Preller trunk murder.  On April 12, 1885, the manager of the Southern Hotel checked room 144 after reports of a foul odor emanating from the room. Inside, he found the decomposing body of a man stuffed inside a trunk bound with rope. The victim, identified as Charles Arthur Preller, was found wearing nothing but a pair of white underwear with the name “H.M. Books” stitched into the waistband. A cross had been carved into Preller’s chest and a placard with the inscription “So perish all traitors to the great cause” was found along with the body. The subsequent trial of H.M Brooks (who had to be fetched from New Zealand) is so fantastic that I can’t do it justice here (in other words, Preller also gets his own future Distilled History post).

Bob Wilkinson, barber of the Southern Hotel

Along with fires and murders, the Southern provided the backdrop for a host of notable events. It’s at the Southern where a man named Logan Reavis argued that the capital of the United States should be moved from Washington D.C. to St. Louis. It’s where James Eads proposed building a ship railway across Mexico, and where William McKinley caused an uproar when he did something no other president had done before: he lit a cigarette in public. In a room at the Southern Hotel in 1888, Democrats decided to nominate Grover Cleveland for President. Eight years later, Republicans used the Southern to negotiate the nomination for William McKinley. The outlaw Jesse James was rumored to stay at the Southern Hotel during his visits to St. Louis under the alias “J.J. Howard”. He came often for the purpose of racing his horses at the St. Louis Jockey Club (and he was recalled as an excellent tipper). In the years prior to becoming a publishing icon, Joseph Pulitzer lived in rooms 305 and 306 at the Southern Hotel, and he was there on the night of the tragic fire. In an article written for the paper Pulitzer would own just two years later (the St. Louis Dispatch), it’s reported that Pulitzer had to flee the building “sans shirt, stockings, or anything else”.

The Southern Hotel in 1914

Sports and recreation were also no stranger to the Southern. People gambled, drank, boasted, and challenged each other daily at the Southern Hotel. The hotel’s bar is where Adolphus Busch placed $100 bets that he could name any wine he sipped, and it’s where “Gentleman Jim” Corbett challenged John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight championship in 1892. The result of that bet was one of the most famous fights in boxing history, and the first match to require that gloves be worn by the heavyweight contenders. Even baseball can point to the Southern for some of its history. Newspaper accounts of the time reported that the Southern Hotel’s lobby is where two newspaper men helped the American League’s Ban Johnson and the National League’s John Brush settle their differences. As a result, an annual event known as the “World Series” would come to be.

The Southern Hotel in 1934

After the fire in 1877, the Southern Hotel was rebuilt (eventually) and it opened again to great fanfare in 1881. The new version was bigger, fancier, and advertised as “completely fireproof”. This newer version of the Southern continued as the city’s premier hotel, and it thrived during exciting times such when the world came to St. Louis in 1904. But cultures change, cities change, and the glimmer of the Southern began to fade in the early 20th Century. Citing declining patronage, the Southern Hotel was closed for good on August 1, 1912. Despite immediate rumors that it would soon reopen as a hotel, be converted into an office building, or even turned into a beer garden, none of them came to fruition. The former Southern Hotel spent its final two decades mostly empty or sporadically utilized as an exhibition hall for automobile shows. Burdened by taxes they no longer wanted to pay, the owners announced in 1933 the building was to be demolished.

And just two years later, a shiny new Mobil gas station opened on a pretty remarkable corner in downtown St. Louis.

The Drink
Tony Faust's Restaurant and Oyster Bar

For someone like me (someone who spends way too much time thinking about how and what people were drinking 150 years ago), places like the Southern Hotel are special. Today, great bars can still be found at hotels, but it’s not quite the same. Hotels were social centers back then, and hotels were places where 19th Century drinkers went if they wanted something other than a shot of whiskey (see: saloon) or a stein of beer (see: beer garden). Specifically, it was hotel bars that helped usher in an increasingly popular form of drink in the late 19th Century: the cocktail. St. Louis’s most famous example of this is the Planter’s House Hotel, which stood on the other side of the Old Courthouse. That’s where Jerry Thomas, a man known as the “father of American mixology”, plied his trade in the mid-19th Century.

Today, good cocktail bars are ubiquitous, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of passing one of them up in order to get a drink for this post. For one thing, parking is no fun for hotel drinking, especially at the many downtown St. Louis options. However, it’s only fitting that I make my way to a hotel bar and toast the Southern, so I chose the St. Louis Union Station’s Hilton Hotel. Thinking it’s probably closest I can get to the spaciousness and grandeur of the Southern Hotel in its prime, I can report that I wasn’t disappointed at all. Union Station’s Grand Hall, with all its tourists, light shows, and lack of cocktail snobbery (that I can provide), is a fun place to have a drink.

Union Station's Grand Hall

I ordered the New York Central Manhattan off the cocktail menu (of course), and I’ll admit I wasn’t disappointed with that, either. The price is ridiculous ($11 for Four Roses?), but I’m pleased to report it was stirred and served up without me asking for it that way.

Cheers to you, majestic Southern!

Southern Hotel Timeline

 Key sources:

  • The Campbell House Museum archives gave me enough material about the Southern Hotel to write a book about the Southern and everything that happened there. I’m considering it.
  • “St. Louis’ Southern Hotel Fire of 1877” – Gateway Heritage, Fall 1985, pages 38-48
  • Many of the anecdotes about stuff like Busch’s wine bets, Corbett’s challenge, and the presidential nominations came from newspaper articles “remembering” the Southern Hotel when it was demolished in the 1930’s. Someday, I’d like to go back and nail them down with primary sources, but I think that will have to wait for a bigger project (book) to do that. In the meantime, the September 8, 1933 and the August 15, 1934 editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were a big help
  • In researching this post, I probably dug through over one hundred newspaper articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the Missouri Republican, the New York Times, and many others. I’m not going to list them all here, but if anyone would like a list, please contact me.
  • More attention to sources will be given in my next post about the 1877 fire that destroyed the Southern Hotel
August 21st, 2012 by Cameron Collins

Tower Grove Park & A Fantastic Manhattan

Pictorial St. Louis 1875: Tower Grove Park

Most St. Louisans will agree that Forest Park is the flagship park of their city. Bigger than Central Park in New York City, Forest Park has museums, golf courses, restaurants, lakes, fountains, trails, and countless other amenities. It’s a magnificent park.  The site of the 1904 World’s Fair, I’d go as far as saying it’s the most cherished acreage in the entire metropolitan area.

But go to Forest Park on a weekend and it’s like walking into Woodstock during the Summer of Love. It’s bedlam. People are everywhere.  Cars are everywhere. It has a zoo, so wild animals are everywhere. The paths are filled with bratty rollerbladers and cranky runners . Worst of all,  Lance Armstrong wannabes zip around at twenty miles per hour on the most congested bike path in the city.

Catalpa Tree in Tower Grove Park

Tower Grove Park,  on the other hand, is a bit more subdued. It’s much smaller than Forest Park, but at almost 300 acres, it’s still the second largest park in St. Louis by more than 100 acres. It’s more laid-back, quieter, and it’s rarely crowded. The paths are wider and the roads aren’t congested. Tower Grove recreation leagues like softball (where I play) aren’t ultra-competitive (and unlike Forest Park, you can bring your own beer). It’s location reflects the diversity of the neighborhood it sits in. Tower Grove is where you can find the Festival of Nations, the Pagan Picnic, and PrideFest. It also has a great Farmer’s Market that many of my foodie friends make a habit of visiting each Saturday.

This may ruffle some feathers, but in my opinion, Tower Grove Park is also prettier. Tower Grove sits on the southern edge of the Missouri Botanical Garden. The two go hand in hand since Henry Shaw, the founder of the Garden,  was the original owner of Tower Grove. In 1868, Shaw deeded the land to the city of St. Louis for the purpose of creating an urban park for St. Louisans to enjoy. At the time, the largest park in St. Louis was Lafayette Park, at just over 30 acres. Shaw’s plan called for park that spread over 276 acres. The only conditions Shaw imposed on his gift were 1) that it “shall be used as a park forever,” and 2) that an “annual appropriation” be made by the city “for its maintenance”. Today, Tower Grove Park is run by a Board of Commissioners selected by the Missouri Supreme Court. That board makes an annual report to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, but it is not under the direction of the city of St. Louis.

Henry Shaw

Shaw himself was instrumental in the planning, design, and creation of the park. He oversaw the planting of thousands of trees, plants, and shrubs. Some of the trees Shaw planted are still standing today.  The care Shaw took in designing this open space is still apparent to visitors today. In fact, Tower Grove Park has a greater variety of shrubs and trees than any other urban park in the country. Today, Tower Grove Park holds over 7,500 trees, representing over 325 varieties. Many of the trees standing in Tower Grove are some of the finest specimens native to the state of Missouri.

Tower Grove is also home to a diverse population of wildlife. The park’s bird life list is now well over 200 species, making it a popular place for birders to visit. A couple of years ago, a coyote famously made her home in Tower Grove for a few weeks. Named “Gal” by the local press, someone even created a Facebook page for her. After picking up a few thousand “likes”, Gal moved on to greener pastures.

I bike through Tower Grove Park on my commute to work each day. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, I recently decided to see how many days in row I could bike to work (currently at 113). I love riding to work, but it sometimes gets a bit repetitive. It also takes longer to bike to work, so sometimes my mind wanders. I needed to do something to break up the monotony. As a result, I’ve turned Tower Grove into my own special canvas. A friend of mine dubbed them “Bike-a-Sketches”.

For years, I have used a hand-held GPS to track my ride. A friend gave me an idea that I could actually draw things with these routes, and I saw someone on the Internet do something similar on foot. So, I set out and made my first “Bike-a-Sketch” to celebrate my 100th day of riding to work. I had fun doing it, so I’ve kept it going. Here are all the Bike-a-Sketches I’ve done so far.

Bike-a-sketch: 100 Days

Pencil Bike-a-Sketch: This is the most recent Bike-a-Sketch. I actually do quite a bit of plotting and mapping before I go on the ride. I have also started using markers for certain points. My planning wasn’t so good for this one. I had to get around the Piper House, which makes it look like someone took a bite out of my pencil.

Bike-a-Sketch: Pencil

Zipper Bike-a-Sketch: This was easily the most difficult. I had to go very slow and it wasn’t really very fun to do. No more zippers.

Bike-a-Sketch: Zipper

Manhattan Bike-a-Sketch: I can’t get my head around people drinking a Manhattan on the rocks. I know it happens, I know people like it, I just don’t understand it.

Bike-a-Sketch: Manhattan

Fishing Bike-a-Sketch: This one seems to be the most popular among my friends. Unfortunately, some people have claimed I simply Photoshop these and I’m not really riding them on a bike. I have proof, however: GPS track records and eyewitnesses. You doubters can sod off.

Bike-a-Sketch: Fishing

Finally, here’s one of my favorite photographs taken at Tower Grove Park back early in the 1900’s. The man driving the car is Gus Meyer, a man who worked as a servant at the Campbell House for thirty-seven years. There are a couple good stories about Gus. If any readers are interested in hearing them, head over to the Campbell House in downtown St. Louis for a fun and informative tour.

Gus Meyer in Tower Grove Park

The Drink
Millionaire Manhattan

It’s tough to tie a drink to the history of a park. For this post, I simply went and found the drink I wanted.  After a busy day giving tours at the Campbell House Museum, I wanted a good Manhattan. No need for the “what will I get” game on this day. Recently, a few people (including a reader of this blog) told me that a great Manhattan can be found at Sanctuaria, a tapas restaurant in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. Many St. Louisans may know this area by its new trendy name “The Grove”.

For the record, “The Grove” is the name of the business district Sanctuaria sits in. It’s a catchy name that a few of the businesses came up with a few years ago. I think that’s fine, since it’s an area that has been getting better and better in the last few years.  There are some great bars and restaurants to go to in the Grove. However, the name of the neighborhood is “Forest Park Southeast”.  Since I’m kind of snobby about these things, I will henceforth be telling people to drink cocktails at Sanctuaria in Forest Park Southeast. Whatever neighborhood you want to call it, know that you are going to get a damn good cocktail at Sanctuaria.

Millionaire Manhattan

I knew this the minute I walked in. Sometimes you can just tell you are going to get a well-made drink. I saw fresh fruit behind the bar, a diverse liquor selection, and more varieties of bitters than I’ve ever seen in one place.

I sat down and asked for a menu so I could see what sort of special cocktails Sanctuaria offered. Right away, the “Millionaire Manhattan” caught my eye. With high-end ingredients such as Parker’s Heritage Bourbon and Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, It had a thirty-two dollar price tag. Since I essentially write a blog about the drink, I don’t think there’s any question here. Game on.

Since ordering this drink, a few people have called me crazy for spending $32 on one drink. I think that is absurd. Ingredients matter. Go to baseball game and you’ll spend ten bucks on warm shitty beer. Go to a movie theater and you’ll spend six bucks on corn syrup and carbonated water. You know what’s crazy? My thirteen year-old niece owns a pair of $200 Air Jordans. Do they even still make those? I’m pretty sure she’s never dribbled a basketball in her life.

For a mere thirty-two bucks, I had one of the greatest Manhattans I’ve ever imbibed. The flavor was fantastic. It had a heavy taste to it, with an array of spices and flavors that you don’t notice in a “regular” drink. The bartender (mixologist, really) who made my drink took the time to talk to me about the drink and the ingredients. He knew his stuff backwards and forwards. He let me sample the Carpano Antica on its own (unbelievably delicious). He mixed it impeccably. I savored the damn thing and I look forward to the next special occasion when I get another.

Sanctuaria's "Millionaire Manhattan"

To top off my great experience at Sanctuaria, I eavesdropped on a group of people discussing drinks to my left. I chimed in and we had it out over the Manhattan rocks vs. straight-up preference. In the end, the guy bought me another Manhattan. Can’t beat that.

There’s far more than just a good Manhattan at Sanctuaria. While there, I joined Sanctuaria’s Cocktail Club that offers 150 recipes of vintage and original cocktails. I’m looking forward to many trips back. I simply can’t recommend this place highly enough for people who enjoy well-made cocktails.

Note: Most of the information about this post was gathered directly from Tower Grove Park’s website. Not much research went into this post since much of it is common knowledge to many St. Louisans. I just wanted to show a bit of appreciation for one of my favorite places in St. Louis.

July 3rd, 2012 by Cameron Collins

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 KeyIn 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 woodenboardsthattheprints 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.

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.

The SetbackAnd here’s where it haunted me again. Since I was documenting 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 stickiness.

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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