The Zombie Cocktail: Invented in Chicago During World War I? (Part V)

In Which we Introduce the Zamboanga

A few more comments on the Zombie. First, my interest is in its origin more than the drink itself. That said, I was surprised by the drumbeat of opinion, G. Selmer Fougner leading the pack (1940) that the Zombie is a clunker of a drink. Canonical cocktails man David M. Embury weighed in to similar effect (“overadvertised liquid hash”) in his 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

Some exception is made in the literature for Donn Beach’s original 1934 version as elucidated by Jeff “Beachbum” Barry (the acknowledged Tiki drinks and culture authority), but otherwise many writers seem to apologize for giving a recipe.

I made a Zombie from a generic recipe of the 1950s: a couple of rums, pineapple juice, lime juice, one or two other things. It was great. I mean, what’s not to like?

So why the critical disfavour? I think because the Zombie was relatively new, only coming to prominence in 1940 in New York, and earlier to be sure on the West Coast but New York “made” the drink without question. Also, the drink used rum, always behind whisky, brandy, and gin in the prestige ranking of liquors, then and today still, probably.

The Martini, Manhattan, Sazerac, Old Fashioned, whisky-and-soda had 19th century roots – pedigree. The Zombie wasn’t going to enter the pantheon so fast, and in fact the hostility of its early chroniclers helped speed it to an early demise, IMO.

Objectively, there is nothing in the recipes I’ve seen and now tasted that seems inferior to any of those aristocratic mixtures. The Cuba Libre and of course The Daiquiri are exceptions perhaps but used up the available territory allotted rum by mid-20th century drink arbiters, for status I mean.

While I continue to believe that Donn Beach and Harry Quin are the main claimants to the original Zombie, other explanations should be mentioned.

Charles H. Baker, Jr.’s great volume on cocktails in 1939 mentions a Zombie and ascribes a Haitian origin to it. See pp. 138-139, here, in Baker, Jr.’s The Gentleman’s Companion, Vol. 2, “Being an Exotic Drinking Book”. His ingredients are mainly cognac and coconut cream, although Baker suggests that a substitution of rum for part of the cognac is an improvement.

Of course the zombie as a figure – the dusty automaton brought from the dead by witchy summons – was part of African-influenced folklore in Haiti. So it makes sense a drink with that name became known there, but did it originate there? I don’t think so.

I am not suggesting by any means that Baker, Jr. made up the story. I think though Donn Beach’s drink, or quite possibly Harry Quin’s if he did invent it, made its way to American circles in Haiti, literally or simply by reputation, whence Baker’s friend Christopher Clark returned via Pan American with a now localized recipe.

Here is one intriguing thing though, which as for Harry Quin’s account, no cocktails historian has hitherto raised as far as I know. On the same p. 138 Baker, Jr. gives a recipe for a Zamboanga “Zeinie” cocktail. He explains on p. xiii that he had travelled to an area called Zamboanga, and found the drink there, in the Sulu Sea as the recipe itself states. From p. xiii:

We found additional evidence [of beverage alcohol in remote places] after three voyages to Zamboanga in Philip­pine Mindanao…

Is “Zeinie” a diminutive for Zamboanga? To my mind it doesn’t scan all that well. Note too (see p. 138) the asserted origins of the Zamboanga “Zeinie”, which wended from Manila to Zamboanga in south Philippines through the Islands.

Baker introduced the recipe as follows:

THE ZAMBOANGA “ZEINIE” COCKTAIL, another PALATE-TWISTER from the LAND where the MONKEYS HAVE No TAILS

This drink found its way down through the Islands to Mindanao from Manila, and we found it in the little Overseas Club standing high above the milk-warm waters of the Sulu Sea, on the suggestion of a new friend, just met…

 

While it seems the actual name of the drink was Zeinie, at least as heard by Baker, the association with Zamboanga may have lent its name as an alternate term. And Zombie is quite plausibly a diminutive of that word.

Did the Zamboanga “Zeinie” reach the California coast in the 1920s or early 30s…? Remember that Ching, who worked initially for Donn Beach in Hollywood and later Monte Proser in NYC, claimed (March 15, 1940, New York Sun) to introduce the Zombie in California as a legacy of an alleged Tahitian background. Maybe he did and the name was shortened to Zombie?

More plausibly perhaps, Ching encountered the drink somewhere in pan-Asian circles and presented it to Donn Beach, his California employer, in 1934. Then, or earlier on the path the name was shortened to the cute-sounding Zombie, and only later did the embroidery of the Haitian meaning attach.

I find it interesting that two key ingredients of the Zombie feature in the Zamboanga “Zeinie”, pineapple, in syrup form here, and lime juice. True, the syrup is only three dashes, but that would be concentrated, and originally probably real juice was used.

It is not much a stretch that in California, a Tiki-minded barman would elect rum to replace Cognac due the tropical, warm seas commonality of two otherwise unconnected, widely-separated regions, and maybe for cost reasons as well. And the Cognac of the Zamboanga “Zeinie” was probably originally an indigenous hard alcohol, as Baker, Jr. implies in his fuller remarks on p. xiii cited.

It always struck me as odd in fact, and probably not only me, that Caribbean rum ends as signature of a drink so intimately connected with Tiki culture.

To my mind, the most persuasive accounts on origin are either Harry Quin’s – a story I like for a number of reasons, including Quin’s relative insouciance toward the drink – or the Donn Beach/Don the Beachcomber origin story.

But I’m now thinking as well if Donn Beach introduced it, the Zamboanga “Zeinie” may lurk in the history. Spelling and pronunciation too would have varied when the drink was simply in oral tradition; it is not much of a leap to think the diminutive Zombie emerged, just as Coke did for Coca-Cola.

 

 

The Zombie Cocktail: Invented in Chicago During World War I? (Part IV)

Silly me, it was right there, above the formal start of the “Liquor List”: “Ruby Foo’s Special Zombie – 75 c”. I checked the menu again and now see it.

See the menu here (from nypl.org’s digitized menu collection), it is the same Ruby Foo’s menu I referenced in Part I, but not realizing the Zombie was there.

This source, www.newbookdigitaltexts.org. dates it to April 30, 1939, which is the opening date of the New York World’s Fair. Ruby Foo’s Sundial featured at the Perisphere there.

This accords with Harry Quin’s claim to have brought the Zombie to Ruby Foo’s before Monte Proser and his barman Ching introduced it in New York at the Manhattan Beachcomber or Proser’s Zombie bar at the New York World’s Fair. The Proser/Ching uses can only be documented, as far as I know, in 1940.

This adds considerably to the veracity of Harry Quin’s accounts to Malcolm Johnson in 1940 that he brought the Zombie to New York via Ruby Foos, and indirectly supports his invention story viz. Chicago in 1916.

True, Quin could simply have lifted Donn the Beachcomber’s idea before Monte Proser did, or the owner of Ruby Foo’s may in fact have done so – but if a key part of Quin’s creation account to Malcolm Johnson is true, it adds to the veracity of the other part.

The final,  Part V of this series follows.

The Zombie Cocktail: Invented in Chicago During World War I? (Part III)

Further searching in the digitized 1940s press produces a few more tidbits. They may, for some readers, put a nuance on one or more aspects.

First, I will set out here a statement of my own I placed in Comments to Part II:

“Some may wonder, as I did, at the conclusion of Quin’s “testimony” to Malcolm Johnson where he states he can drink 10 Zombies but even half of a Jersey Cyclone, made with “white mule” or corn whiskey, apricot brandy and applejack (apple brandy) would be the maximum of anyone’s consumption of that cocktail.

Johnson gives the recipe for the Cyclone aka (he states) the Kentucky killer-diller. It is only four ounces of alcohol in total, plus, it is diluted with a long mix, so how lethal could it be? Was this the punch line in an extended joke? (The mix is “apple cider” which generally means, or did then, sweet or non-alcoholic cider).

True, corn whisky can be very strong and unpleasant to drink, but still, someone should be able to get down one Cyclone without any trouble.

This must remain a puzzle, but it is still worthwhile to check out Quin’s story, as one never knows what will be found. Why would he invent such an otherwise detailed origin story? Although, his boss Chin (or Chen) Foin had long been deceased by then – he died in an accident at the New Mandarin Inn – and could not be contacted to confirm yea or nay.

Yet, if Johnson saw the ruse, why did he say he was so persuaded by the agent Rubin, who introduced Harry Quin to him to tell him the “real” origin account? Unless Johnson was playing along with the joke, I guess”.

Second, I had stated earlier that two Zombie recipes provided by food journalist G. Selmer Fougner in 1940 apparently represented the drink as served by each of the Beachcomber/Ching in New York and Ruby Foo’s/Harry Quin in New York. This may not be so, as on February 4, 1941, see here, in commenting again on the drink, Fougner stated that two distillers “claimed paternity”, so likely the two recipes he earlier provided were from them.

One Zombie used a selection of Cuba rums, the other a selection of Puerto Rican rums, so evidently the producer of each national range had a recipe, which may well have differed from what the Manhattan Beachcomber and Ruby Foo’s used.

Third, on March 12, 1940 Johnson stated that Milton Rubin, a press agent who may have represented Ruby Foo’s, told him a principal of Ruby Foo’s had directed Harry Quin to dub a drink Zombie after seeing a revival of the 1932 film, “White Zombie”. Yet, as I showed earlier, when Rubin brought Quin to meet Johnson, the story was that Quin invented the Zombie in Chicago in February 1916.

Apart from what I remark in the quotation above, this “double-story” may tell against the veracity of Quin’s tale to Johnson. Possibly Rubin invented both accounts, or at least the 1916 Chicago one as a more exotic story for wide-eyed readers.

Or maybe not, maybe the full story came out only when Quin met Johnson and the other tale was quickly made up to head off the claims of Ching as true originator.

Interestingly, Virginia Forbes on November 1, 1943, by then writing the “Cafe Life in New York” column, states Quin is “credited” as inventing the drink in Chicago in 1916. It was mentioned on the occasion of his move to Lum Fong on 52nd street, to run its bar.

This is a kind of imprimatur by the New York Sun of Quin’s elaborate story to Johnson when they met. Certainly it off-sets to a degree the factors I mentioned suggesting Quin and/or Rubin had told a tall tale.

Next, columnist Earl Wilson of the New York Evening Post, later in 1943, interviews Quin himself (the surname is sometimes rendered as Quinn), at Lum Fong, and he has a new cocktail, Bazooka. Quin, as even on the earlier meeting with Johnson, seems oddly disconnected from his asserted, now famous invention. He wants to promote the new drink, clearly. Yet still he repeats that the Jersey Cyclone is the strongest drink, and Wilson duly repeats the recipe Johnson first reported, one that on its face seems no stronger than the typical Zombie.

To my mind, this counters the idea of a tall tale for the 1916 origin, as clearly the Zombie is now old hat and Quin has a new creation to sell, so what devious purpose did the Cyclone story emphasize now?

In a sense, too, Quin’s impatience viz. the Zombie is understandable, as assuming the 1916 Chicago story is true, what did it avail him when others – Donn Beach in Hollywood and later Monte Proser and Ching in New York, had made the drink “theirs”?

Surely Quin hoped the Bazooka (name of a U.S. Army shoulder-fired rocket) would set him on a new course of unalloyed cocktail fame. In other words, the jazz about the Cyclone doesn’t mean what he told Johnson about the Zombie wasn’t true. Quin may simply have rated the Cyclone an off-putting drink, “strong” in the sense that it turned off the drinker. Given that corn whisky was an ingredient, not the easiest spirit to like for many, this is plausible in our view.

While not material to this inquiry, readers might like to read the Lum Fong menu served to the Gourmet Society of New York in 1940, a shimmering example of high-end Chinese cuisine making its mark even in prewar Manhattan. Quite a dinner, and it would be today if an imaginative soul sought to recreate it. (The menu below was sourced from nypl.org at the link stated above).

While no alcohol was served apparently – contrary to Gourmet Society usual procedure! – if I did a recreation of the dinner the opening drink would be a Zombie. I’d call it Harry Quin Zombie, in honour of the man who quite possibly invented the drink in old Chicago in 1916, at the Mandarin Inn, as he claimed twice to the New York press. Note too the literate notes – food history in the making. The Gourmet Society were as much cultural as gastronomic investigators – pedagogues no less than sybarites.

See our continuation in Part IV, in which we show Ruby Foo’s did sell the Zombie in 1939, before Monte Proser’s first sales are documented to our knowledge.

Note re images: the menu images appearing in this five-part series are sourced from the New York Public Library’s website at www.nypl.org, as linked in each case in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Zombie Cocktail: Invented in Chicago During WW I? (Part II)

In Part I, I set out a theory of the Zombie cocktail’s origin not previously raised by cocktails historians (as far as I know), namely that it was invented at the Mandarin Inn, a Chinese restaurant in Chicago, in February 1916 by its bartender Harry Quin whose boss, Chin Foin, directed him to prepare a new rum cocktail. Foin had bought excess rum by the barrel inadvertently and wanted a way to use it up. Famously, the Zombie uses a lot of rum and blends different sorts.

Quin also claimed he introduced the Zombie to New York in 1938 when working at Ruby Foo’s restaurant there, also called Ruby Foo’s Den.

The accepted explanation to date on the Zombie’s origin is that Donn Beach invented the drink at his Don the Beachcomber bar in Hollywood, CA in or about 1934.

In Part I, I stated I could not locate a sample menu of the Mandarin Inn between 1916 and the onset of Prohibition. Below is more information on that inquiry.

Jan Whitaker is a restaurant and menu historian, known for her books and excellent blog Restaurant-ing Through History. She posted an interesting essay on Chin Foin in February 2011, “Anatomy of a Restaurateur: Chin Foin”, which you may read here.

From her study, it appears Foin was a major figure in early Chicago restaurant history, and was connected to four restaurants. Further, the Mandarin Inn was later followed, on the same South Wabash Street, by the New Mandarin Inn which opened approximately when Prohibition started. It isn’t clear to me if the first Mandarin Inn had closed by then but it is not relevant in any case to the inquiry.

No sample menu is included, but in the comments Henry Voigt, a well-known collector of restaurant menus (with his own excellent site, The American Menu, see here) comments that he has two Mandarin Inn menus in his collection. Henry states:

I have a 12-page menu from the Mandarin Inn at 414-16 South Wabash from about 1912 which shows Chin F. Foin as manager. An 8-page menu in the collection from 1921 shows him as president of the New Mandarin Inn at 426-28 South Wabash.

Unfortunately, neither seems relevant to my inquiry. 1912 predates Quin’s claimed invention year of 1916, while the second menu postdates the start of Prohibition, so neither would have mentioned the Zombie. I would ask Henry, whom I have communicated with previously, if he has a menu between 1916 and Prohibition but I am almost certain he does not, since I think he would have mentioned it in his comment to Jan’s post.

If a menu surfaces from the Mandarin Inn in that period, it will help to further progress in the matter.

For a continuation, see Part III.

 

The Zombie Cocktail: Invented in Chicago During WW I? (Part I)

The story I’ve read, from numerous sources over the years, is that “Don the Beachcomber” invented the potent Zombie cocktail, a blend of rums, juices, falernum, Pernod or absinthe, and some other odds and ends.

A good account is given in this Wikipedia essay which ascribes it (by “legend”, maybe justly) to Donn Beach aka Don the Beachcomber in 1934 in California, at his famous Beachcomber bar. Donn Beach was an assumed name of Ernest Gantt (or Beaumont-Gantt), see some biographical details here.

Yet, a fairly detailed account of a February 1916 origin in Chicago, related by New York bartender Harry Quin in 1940, is described in an April 3, 1940 column in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson, a food and entertainment reporter. You can read it here. Johnson refers to his March 15, 1940 column reporting an earlier stage of the controversy; you may read it here.

Quin, of Chinese origin or ethnic origin, stated he worked at the Mandarin Inn in Chicago in the teen years, and his boss, Chin Foin, had bought a surplus of rum and directed Quin to come up with a recipe to use it up. Having seen an unsettling dance performance at the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1915 (while visiting relations) by an African troupe exclaiming the term “Zombie”, Quin decided to call his drink a Zombie.

Quin also told Johnson (see the article) that he joined the U.S. Navy after American entry into the war, serving on the U.S.S. Gopher. He states he served his cocktail to his shipmates on shore leave. While a number of sources state Gopher, formerly U.S.S. Fern, or Tern (sources vary) was a training ship on the Great Lakes by this time, clearly it did serve on the Atlantic, as this service history states (“it returned to the Atlantic during World War I”).

Quin grandly called the craft a “destroyer”, whereas the service record cited states “gunboat”, but close enough. So Quin’s account in that respect seems to hold up, as he refers to some ports of call that would have been reached only on Atlantic service. For what it is worth, he states one port of call was in California, at San Francisco.

Quin also claimed to introduce the Zombie at Ruby Foo’s in New York in 1938, so two years before the Beachcomber, a New York club owned by Monte Proser, introduced it about January 1, 1940 – see this account by Johnson again in December, 1939. The Beachcomber was at 50th and Broadway and Proser later established a small chain of them on the East Coast.

Proser also had a Zombie bar at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. The Fair opened on April 30, 1939, and it is not clear to me (sources vary) whether the bar at the World’s Fair, sometimes described as part of the Hurricane Bar, preceded or postdated the Beachcomber in Manhattan; I think postdated is more correct, however.

In any case 1938 would trump Proser’s introduction of the Zombie in New York either at his Beachcomber or the World’s Fair.

In NYPL.org’s menu archive, a digitized menu of Ruby Foo’s appears for each of 1938 and 1939. Many cocktails but not the Zombie are listed on both, yet the 1939 menu lists a Ruby Foo’s Special, so this might have been Quin’s Zombie, not yet bearing the Zombie name.* The 1938 menu contains no reference to a special cocktail of the house.

Proser brought his bartender, Ching, from Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, CA to run his New York Beachcomber bar. Ching claimed to originate the Zombie in Polynesia, which seems unlikely (but is possible); more likely either Donn Beach invented it as understood to date, or Harry Quin’s story is actually true.

To my knowledge, the account by Quin of a 1916 origin in Chicago has not previously been raised by (modern) cocktails historians. One would hope a sample menu of Mandarin Inn between 1916 and the start of Prohibition is available to test what Quin claimed, but so far I have not located one.

In terms of 1930s recipes, the New York food journalist G. Selmer Fougner somewhat reluctantly gave two recipes for the Zombie in a July 1940 column in the New York Sun. His exasperation is explained, it seems, by not being able to track down the original recipe. Fougner states each recipe represents one of the two claimants to “the title”, so presumably one is the Quin-Ruby Foo’s recipe, the other the Beachcomber Manhattan one that Ching stated he brought from Donn the Beachcomber to Proser in New York.

This recipe claims to be the original, 1934 Donn the Beachcomber Zombie as recreated by Tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Barry. This recipe differs in key details from both recipes offered by Fougner.

For a continuation of this discussion, see Part II.

……………………………………..

*In fact, this 1939 Ruby Foo’s menu did mention the Zombie, I simply missed it on my first review. See a correction in my Part IV.

 

 

 

“Merrie Olde England” in the Streamliner era

A German-American Restaurateur Promotes the English Tavern, 1939

1. General Background

These pages have chronicled off and on the importance, greater in some periods than others, of the English inn or tavern in the American imagination. The Colonial tavern was in the main a duplication of the British original adapted to the new frontier. (If the Dutch bar made any mark in New York or up the Hudson, in time it was effaced by the British takeover of New York).

With political independence and passage of time including arrival of settlers from non-British lands, the cozy English hostelry competed with other forms, alcoholic and non-. There was the German beer hall, notably, but also the saloon, cocktail bar, soda fountain, and coffee shops. Newer forms continually emerged such the beachcomber beer, described in an atmospheric 1940 spread in PM, a newsmagazine-style newspaper in Manhattan.

Despite the competition, up to Prohibition and to some extent after many old ale-houses continued to function, especially in the Northeast. For example, there were The Grapevine in New York, McSorley’s also in New York, and the Bell-in-Hand in Boston, all of which I’ve discussed in earlier posts.

An enhanced form of tavern was the porter-house, chop-house, and finally steak house, or steak and seafood. The English-style bar endured in Keens Steak House, The Old Homestead, Frankie and Johnnie’s, the former Bull & Bear in the now-closed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Pete’s Tavern, etc., all in New York.

In Ontario from 1934 until ca. 1975 the British pub probably reached its lowest ebb. Post-Prohibition regulation turned the tavern into an unappealing appendage of (mostly) unappealing hotels. Decor was minimal or non-existent: early rec room sums it up. Still, the older associations were sometimes preserved, perhaps in a nicer-than-usual wood paneling scheme, or simply perhaps the name.

The British pub was given a new lease on life in New York, Montreal, Toronto, and other large centres from the 1960s onward. This was reinforced by the Irish pub’s arrival, with no unsettling political implications: to us it was all the “British pub”.

A substantial British and Irish influx to Canada after WW II partly explained this. As well, the classic British pub was showcased to thousands of visitors, millions in total, at international exhibitions and trade fairs between 1939 and 1967; this had a definite influence. The British/Irish pub in Ontario finally replaced to a large extent the old beverage room but still in competition with the cocktail bar (often in a restaurant or hotel), roadhouse bar, and countless less differentiated bars, e.g. the T.G.I.F. or Cheers type.

The craft beer bar took root from the 1980s and has made inroads on the older forms but all still compete for the consumer’s beer and food dollar.

2. The English Tavern Between the Wars

There remain periods in this evolution I haven’t examined, notably 1933-1941 and U.S. Prohibition. Prohibition you say? How could that apply? Well it does because of the speakeasy, the illicit drinking establishment.

Bob Brown’s classic Let There Be Beer!, published in New York in 1932, describes pubby speakeasies, linking matters up from pre-Prohibition times:

Every big city has its distinctive English pubs and chop houses, where ale is served in silver tankards and drawn direct from the wood. Even in prohibition America a great quantity of English beer still seeps in, and Canadian ale is a general favourite with bootleggers and their patrons. Some smart speakeasies are still fitted out in the best public house style of Old London.

Earlier I discussed a charming Tudor hotel built in 1920s Niagara Falls, NY, probably with an eye to post-Prohibition. Home realty developers, before liquor became legal in 1933, designed an “English tavern” basement for the suburban stockbroker belt. See my earlier discussions here, and here, on these matters.

The English tavern resurged after Repeal in 1933 due to this historical background. The revival was assisted by the tavern’s relatively benign image in America, in contrast say to the more purely American but also more clearly distrusted saloon. (And the saloon, in its pre-1920 form, never returned).

And so Repeal spawned many new or refurbished English taverns in New York and other cities. As one example of many, in 1934 The Wave, a newspaper in Rockaway Beach, NY, carried an impressive advertisement for the Town Tavern. It took the format of a personal message from the promoter:

I take this opportunity to explain briefly the character of the Town Tavern soon to be opened in the Hotel Rogers, on the Boulevard at Beach 116th Street.

Its exterior will be the reproduction of a charming Old English Tavern with its colorful roof, peaked gables and little stained glass windows, the whole bathed in the mellow glow of wrought iron lanterns hanging from the eaves overhead. So realistic will be this reproduction that one will almost expect to see the genial landlord standing in the doorway awaiting the arrival of the stage-coach.

Inside, the impression of an Old English tavern will still prevail. The walls will be panelled in walnut and around the entire room will run a wide shelf beautified by interesting objects of art. On the walls above this shelf will hang paintings picturing in brilliant colors the scenes for which Merrie Olde England was famous. From the ceiling will hang great ornamental iron lanterns shedding their soft light on the tables and chairs below—-large, roomy tables covered with snowy white cloths with borders of green and gold, and comfortable chairs with colorful slip-covers snugly fitted over their backs. In keeping with this charming setting, the table service will all be new, the dishes in chaste white with ornamental borders and the silver in tasteful design. In short, the whole atmosphere of the dining room will be one of restful refinement—a place in which to dine—and wine if you wish—-leisurely and In comfort.

And the quality of the foods and beverages served at the Town Tavern will be in keeping with the character of the surroundings—the best foods that the markets provide and the choicest of wines and liquors—such foods and drinks as combine to produce the kind of a meal that one lingers over lovingly and looks back upon with fond recollection.

Similar settings, pre- and during Prohibition, are eulogised by Bob Brown in his book.

Charmingly, the Town Tavern still exists, now called Rogers Irish Pub. A July 27, 2017 story in the Rockaway Times illuminates the history including via the image below.


English strap work and thatched-style roofing way out in Rockaway Beach in 1934 … now that’s cool, or at any time.

3. An Eclectic Food Culture Emerges

As the Depression continued, an urban elite encouraged the revival of gastronomic tradition in general. I canvassed earlier the many food and wine clubs formed, new influential restaurant columns such as G. Selmer Fougner’s, Consumer Reports’ pioneering alcohol beverage ratings, and the world cuisines on display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. All gave succour and encouragement to budding, post-Prohibition epicures, the foodies of their time.

And so by the late 1930s a decided culinary diversity characterized the urban hotel and restaurant scene, at least in New York. Fougner could write (1939) of a “week in the life”:

The week’s activities further included the Waldorf-Astoria dinner, previously rehearsed and described in this column, of the Committee of One Hundred of Miami Beach; a happy luncheon in the shadows of the snow-white vats of the Ruppert Brewery, prior to attending the first game of the World Series at the Yankee Stadium; a Society of Restaurateurs dinner at the Belgian Pavilion at the fair [the 1939 New York’s World Fair]; the opening of August Janssen’s new Boar’s Head restaurant in Lexington Avenue; a Viennese “packhuhn” at Park Avenue’s Restaurant Crillon, with one of Otto J. Baumgarten’s few remaining bottles of delightful Austrian wine, reminiscent of the gayety and sparkle which Vienna once knew, and finally a feast of our own household’s special treatment of a five-pound  two-and-one-half-inch flatbone sirloin, with a generous helping of Yvonne’s French-fried potatoes, done as no one else knows how, golden brown and crisp, yet tender … Yes the season is on.

4. War Clouds Bring a new English Tavern to New York

Was there room for the British tavern/chophouse in this newly eclectic food culture, other than a Keens or other “old reliable” as a curio of the past? Yes there was, as you see above, August Janssen, a pioneer of German ethnic cuisine in New York, created in 1939 a new English restaurant in town. Janssen, of all people one might think, who had founded in 1898 the famous Hofbrau-Haus in New York and satellite restaurants in and outside NYC, became a proponent of English tavern cuisine.

At 72 he was still active and late in his career formed the idea to create a temple of English food and drink, called the Boar’s Head. Now, why would a (long-naturalized) German immigrant think to do that, with war afoot in Europe? Well, he was also an excellent businessman. He knew his Hofbrau-Haus had survived WW I, had survived Prohibition, but would it survive the Nazi era and America’s inevitable entry (it came two years later) in another war? Why not hedge your bets, cover both ends so to speak?

I mean this in culinary terms to be sure, not political/cultural. He had to know that renewed anti-German feeling, increased by the brutalities and atrocities of the Nazi regime, might spell the end of his first restaurant (it did not, in the result).

The warmth of feeling for the English tavern reached a zenith in a 1939 column by New York journalist Malcolm Johnson. Johnson, who like Fougner wrote on food for the New York Sun, described Janssen’s new venture and thinking. As quoted, Janssen spoke in dulcet, “society” language but the meaning between the lines was unmistakable, in our view.

“For those of us who are sympathetic with the ample English appetite … I am trying to make the European war less serious for transatlantic travelers by duplicating at the Boars Head just about everything for which they once made pilgrimages to Simpson’s, the Cheshire Cheese or any of those delightful little inns down in the country, where you ate by a roaring fireplace under rafters 500 years old and besides sporting prints and gleaming pewter.”

Janssen died later in 1939 and could not superintend his new creation, but the family carried on both businesses. A Boar’s Head menu survives in the NYPL menu archive from November 1945. It gives a good idea how Janssen sought to emulate the Simpson’s and Cheshire Cheese menus, venerated as he noted by prewar American travellers to London and “the country”.

A not dissimilar approach is shown by this menu of the same year from Frankie and Johnnie. It is noteworthy that both these establishments were founded after Repeal (Frankie and Johnnie had roots in a 20s speakeasy). Neither, in other words, was simply a survival of a 19th century Manhattan imitation of the London chop house as, say, Keens Chophouse was (and is).

For the beers, one may note on these menus Bass Ale, so presumably a post-V-E Day importation unless pre-war stock. Guinness Stout would be ditto. Black Horse Ale on the Boar’s Head menu almost certainly was from Dawes Brewery in Montreal, and both menus featured good American ales and lagers.

And so the robust Anglo-Saxon food and drink tradition, whose continuation was so carefully noted by observers from the 19th century onwards, was given new life by a German-American restaurateur in 1939.

Unlike Fougner who was more the harried chronicler, Johnson was an accomplished writer, a stylist. He proved it later by authoring, in the late 1940s, a multi-part exposé, “Crime on the Waterfront”, which inspired the film On The Waterfront.

These lines from Johnson’s report on the Boar’s Head give the flavour, but read the piece in full.

With this objective in mind, Mr. Janssen has done everything he could, in decor, cuisine and service, to provide a nostalgic spot for lovers of the old-fashioned English inn. Leighton Budd, whose drawings appeared in Punch for many years and who has been associated with Mr. Janssen for ages, has been in charge of the “restoration” of the Boars Head and has painted a four-panel mural depicting a boar hunt and feast in the legendary day of Robin Hood.

Johnson goes on to lyricize Roy Leighton Budd’s wood beams “that might have come over the Channel from Caen” (!), “flints and shepherds’ crooks”, and all the “embellishments” that created wide-screen romance in the American imagination. Oh, he did not forget the “British red” chosen for the waiters’ uniforms.

5. Takeaway

The next time you gaze at a Duke or Royal this or that pub in Toronto, or the equivalent in 200 other cities in North America, consider it is not new, not even in the last generation. It is a contemporary expression of a very old idea, or sentiment, in our folk memory.

Note re images: The first image above was drawn from Derek Flack’s (excellent, recommended) 2017 blogpost, “The Lost Taverns and Bars of Toronto”, see here. The second image was sourced from the news article of the same year identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owner(s), as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Some Beer Notes, Spring 2019

Some notes on recent beers tasted.

Muddy York’s MY Bock is a 7% maibock or heller style, so not the dark brown, cakey Doppel Bock associated with colder seasons. Maibock is lighter in colour and taste, a pale-leaning tawny. This was the style of our large brewers’ bocks 30 years ago, e.g., Super Bock from Labatt. Think slightly sweet, relatively mild, hop-spicy from a noble hop addition.

My Bock is a better beer than those but reminds me still of them, possibly due to common use of Canadian malt(s). There is a certain “taste” common to both, in other words.

MY Bock is perfect with German food, and most food for that matter, due to its strength yet light body.

Another winner is good old Lug Tread, the lagered ale from Beau in eastern Ontario. This beer has definitely improved in recent years. It occasionally had “green” tastes (in our estimation) but now drinks clean yet rich and tasty for the style offered. It is best consumed cold, and really is a craft version of Canadian sparkling ale, the filtered, carbonated ale type that replaced naturally-conditioned, stronger, and more hopped beers after World War I.

Side Launch’s Midnight Lager, the new name for its Dark Lager, is also at a peak of quality. In the past I thought it had a tendency to over-dryness but the last samples showed a richer taste more attuned to the Munich origins of Dunkel Bier.

I’ve tried Fat Tire Amber Ale, licensed to Toronto’s Steam Whistle by a well-known Colorado craft brewery, a few times now to ensure a fair trial. I find it very light-tasting, was the American original always like that? I only had it a couple of times and can’t really remember.

I’m sure the producers know the market they want to attract, ditto for Steam Whistle’s Von Bugle from its Etobicoke plant, so fair enough for them. For me though, these beers are bland, not enough happening. It’s particularly unfortunate for Von Bugle whose inherent taste is excellent, it just needs more of it.

I revisited 1870 Amsterdam AK Bitter, our collaboration with Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto earlier this year, and it tastes fresh as a daisy at about three months from canning. The taste is seemingly deeper than earlier. Even though the beer is roughly filtered, some development must go on in the cans I think. Of course too IPA, of which this beer is broadly an example, was “built to last”, so it all ties together really.

Henninger lager, brewed still in its historic Frankfurt home but by former competitor Binding, impressed with its toasty malt and spicy hop flavours. It did remind me of Henninger when brewed in Ontario under license in the 1980s-90s, more than the Henninger in the black can imported by The Beer Store in recent years.

The current can has a new white design, and is being sold at LCBO. I don’t know if the formulation changed or the freshness of the stock explains it, but the beer seems better now, more craft-like and richer.

Henninger used to be available here in pilsener and export (Dortmund) variations, the current label simply states “lager”. I’d guess it is export-style due to the well-defined malt quality.

Henninger, with other influences I’ve been discussing in recent weeks, is a key part of Ontario craft pre-history. That it is just “another import” vying for consumer favour is kind of ironical in historical terms considering that Henninger carved the path many later followed here of all malt, European-style lager.

Try the beer, Ontario beer fans, not only is it history in a glass, it’s a rock solid brew, more substantial than many German names of renown.

Finally, Nickle Brook’s Winey Bastard, an Imperial Stout aged in Ontario red wine casks, stored at least 6 months since purchase, wowed diners who tried it last night at a catered dinner that was BYOB. It was perfect with an Italian, steak-based meal with its edgy yet approachable rich palate. Certainly one iteration of the old stock porters of the 18th and 19th centuries.

 

 

 

 

The Ontario Beverage Room

With new liquor control laws in 1934, Ontario introduced or at least enshrined as a cultural touchstone the hotel beverage room. Since 1927, sale of liquor and beer through government stores and authorized beer warehouses (forerunner of today’s Brewers’ Retail aka The Beer Store) was lawful, but public drinking of regular strength beer in the province did not resume until the beverage room system was authorized.

In principle this meant a tavern had to be part of a hotel and lobby which also had a separate dining room. Licensing of clubs, soldiers’ messes, trains, and steamships (the Great Lakes) completed the system. Only beer and wine was supplied, no stand-alone cocktail bars were permitted until the end of the 1940s, the best remembered is the Silver Rail on Yonge Street. We visited it a number of times before its demise about 15 years ago, but in retrospect wish we had gone more often. Think mirrored walls, shiny banquette seating, and the famous long bar.

In contrast, as mandated by Mitch Hepburn’s 1934 government, the hotel beverage rooms were clinical in nature, packed with round tables and chairs, shielded from street view, separated into men only and ladies and escorts sections. There was no standing at the bar, drinks were to be consumed sitting only and from 1946, only one beer could be ordered at a time (served in small measures, no English or even American pints then).

In the 1930s and ’40s journalism regularly investigated the new beverage rooms. Maclean’s magazine ran major features in 1934 and 1945. You may read here Morley Murray’s crisp report of December 1, 1945, notable for its scope and “just the facts ma’am” style, as much of North American journalism then.

In August 1946 Lex Schrag authored three pieces in Toronto’s The Globe and Mail, each successively on the Customer, the Hotelman, and the Law. Sadly he omitted the Beer, but as Murray’s piece shows too, this was the last of the many things to think about when considering the beverage room of Ontario. Schrag did advert briefly to beer, in the sense that with rationing still in force it was often too green from lack of age. Short of that, no discussion was allowed to the type of beer consumed: colour, style, temperature, taste characteristics, none of it mattered.

Murray’s article did not discuss the beer at all, it is more a social and economic analysis of the hotel beverage system without ignoring its nemesis, the Ontario Temperance Federation.

Schrag counterpointed to the beverage room the British pub heritage with its more peaceful, organic approach to community alcohol consumption. In Ontario, exacerbated by rationing shortages but also (wrote Schrag) historical guilt about drinking descended from early Scots and Ulster settlers, beer was consumed mechanically and furtively, sometimes causing the kinds of drunken scenes and rows described by Murray.

It is against this background that the exhibition of a functioning English pub of charming decor at the 1949 Canadian International Trade Fair must be considered, as its 1969 follow-up at British Week in Canada, both mentioned in my recent postings.

Only by the 1970s did rules relax in Ontario to permit stand-up drinking and a pub without benefit of guest accommodations. The English pub phenomenon that burgeoned here from the 1970s, initially in the largest urban centres, was an outgrowth of the new era. These English and Irish pubs still flourish albeit often overlooked by craft beer commentators.

Yet, there are still pubs in Toronto that reflect their hotel beverage room roots. I may visit one soon to report.

The advertisement above is from November 1957, in Maclean‘s again, and reflects the succeeding era. The elegant home setting is notable. As the beverage room of the ’50s and ’60s still largely retained its anodyne, 1934 form brewers used home and recreational backdrops, with the most elegant suiting their most aspirational brands.

Note, too, how the drumbeat of “light” is emphasized, later crowned by the technological achievement (?) of light beer, still after all a major force in national beer sales.

Note re images: The first image above was drawn from Maclean’s archives, here. The second was drawn from sootoday.com, here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Roistering in Toronto the Good (?), 1949

Strange Brew, Look What’s Inside of you

In my last post I described beers served at a temporary English pub, the Lion and the Unicorn, built in October 1969 for “British Week in Canada”, a trade and cultural event.

I mentioned the beers served, bottled beers from the renowned houses Bass, Whitbread, McEwan’s, Mackeson, with three English ciders to boot.

Further investigation shows that another trade event in Toronto featured another English pub – 18 years earlier. 1949 is very early for such a thing in Toronto, and I’m fain to call it the first Canadian showcase of the 20th century British pub.

Certainly, to sample English beer in a “British” pub in Canada in 1949 was a novel experience, barring ex-military who knew pubs in Britain during the war. The pub was an exhibit of a British brewery participating in the Canadian International Trade Fair (CITF), which ran annually from 1948 to the late 1950s (at least).

The CITF was held at Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, the city-owned building and park complex where the Canadian National Exhibition, or “Ex”, is held annually in August. The CITF was an off-season event, held in the spring.

The 1949 edition featured an astonishing “eight-booth” exhibit by Hope & Anchor Breweries of Sheffield, an ambitious regional brewer that saw its future in international expansion. Brian Glover tells Hope & Anchor’s story in his 2009 The Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain, see here. He states Hope & Anchor toured North American business exhibitions in this period to promote its beer for this market.

It had two beers in mind in particular, oyster stout and a honey-based ale, which you see pictured in the 1950s ad above. Both beers were mentioned in Toronto press stories on the replica pub, called Rose and Crown Inn.

A May 25, 1949 Globe and Mail story stated the pub was part of a 15-ton, 80-foot long exhibit, all built in England and shipped here for the fair. It comprised also a Manx cottage with cauldron and spinning wheel, English scenes, and view of Windsor castle. At the pub you could play darts and shove ha-penny. Other than noting oyster stout and honey-based ale were “out of the ordinary” the Globe saw no exotica in the beers sold, or if it did held its counsel out of deference to the British participants.

The New Zealand oyster concentrate discussed by Brian Glover in the history of oyster stout is mentioned by the Globe as well. It’s an ostensibly weird element in those distant pre-craft times, but again was taken in stride, including evidently by the fair-goers. On June 10, 1949 the Globe reported that beer supplies at the Rose and Crown ran out and Hope & Anchor had to fly more in. It noted the bar was one of six on site, another featured Czech beer, probably Pilsner Urquell, which was so popular supplies had to be “rationed”.

A June 6, 1949 story (same paper) is an amusing riff on fair visitors wanting to visit the pub. Interviewing staff at the information counter, the writer relates the queries of John Q public rapid-fire and deadpan style, almost like Monty Python. A harried staffer signalled the takeaway for the reader:

Four out of every five people have wanted to know where that pub is. It is about the only thing we have to know.

Stout and porter by this time had practically died out in Canada, yet oyster stout was lapped up with avidity at the fair, as rich Czech lager. Hope & Anchor marketed its oyster stout across North America. Glover reports it enjoyed c.1952 a cult status in California, which is interesting considering where the roots of modern craft brewing started.

Here you see a 1954 ad in the Times-Union of Albany, NY for over 30 imported beers. Manx oyster stout and the aforesaid mead ale of Hope & Anchor are included. This ad is another example of the early interest in (especially) bottled imported beers. This history played a definite role in the later evolution of craft beer.

On May 25, 1949 the Globe reports that the success of the Rose and Crown here got Hope & Anchor thinking to set up a brewery in Canada to make oyster stout with Canadian oysters, and honey ale with Canadian honey. Brig. Basil Hopkins led the trade mission for Hope & Anchor and announced the hopeful plan to the journalist.

The landscape of Canadian brewing might have changed considerably had it happened and succeeded, and if the Rose and Crown Inn moved to the business centre to feature good beer. Maybe by the 1960s a vibrant craft industry would have emerged, Henninger of Frankfurt would have been received with open arms (vs. the later 10 years of indifferent success), and we would date modern beer writing to the early 1960s, or even 1950s, instead of the mid-1970s.

Toronto showed, back in the supposed days of early post-war rectitude, that it could party with the best of them – with discrimination. It showed it again in 1969 when 50,000 bottles of characterful British beer sold out in 10 days at British Week in Canada.

But a regionally-based brewing system with complex regulation, steady consolidation and cost-cutting, and probably too the Korean War (1950-1953), checked a potential beer revival. A consolation is it all did happen, finally, starting from about 1985.

Coda #1

The Globe reported on June 7, 1950 that the pub was still on the fairgrounds, now surplus to requirements and seeking a buyer. According to this account, the pub was a replica of the bar at the Barrel Inn, Derbyshire, a storied English hostelry. It came complete with crossed battle-axes over mantle, pewter candlestick holders, oaken chairs and bar, and much else – everything except, said the writer, an Ontario Liquor Control Board license…

The brewery thought a well-heeled Canadian might like it for a basement bar or “rumpus room”. What happened to it, we wonder… Maybe it remains in the nether regions of a Rosedale or Forest Hill mansion. For all I know it could be 1000 yards from where I write (outside the precincts of either district, I might add).

Coda #2

The full story of oyster stout is beyond our scope here, but we summarize below our view of the history.

  1. 1700s-early 1800s, practice spreads of adding crushed oyster shells to vats of porter to head off acidity. The shells’ carbonate content neutralizes acetic acid. Little or no fishy taste is imparted.
  2. Due to this connection of the oyster to stout, people think it natural for porter to be consumed with oysters, so the pairing emerges about the same period. In other words, we don’t see that oyster and stout are a natural gastronomic combination.
  3. 1930s in New Zealand, an idea emerges to add an oyster concentrate to porter or stout, hence providing the pairing in one go. This has nothing to do with oyster shells being used to control sourness in beer. As the pairing of beer with oyster was long a custom by then, adding the concentrate was essentially a food processing development.
  4. The concentrate idea, as chronicled by Glover and the late, game-changing Michael Jackson, migrates to Britain by 1938-1939. Hammerton in London, Young’s in Portsmouth, and other brewers take it up. The war interferes.
  5. Sheffield’s Hope & Anchor, via its Castletown unit on Isle of Man purchased 1947, releases oyster stout 1948. Distribution extended to in North America, 1950s.
  6. Michael Jackson described oyster stout, wreathing his trademark romantic spell, see e.g., (1988) The New World Guide to Beer, (1993) Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion (Glover appears to rely on the latter in part), and this 1995 article on the still-extant Jackson website.
  7. Oyster stout becomes a staple U.S. craft offering, and re-establishes in Britain via that channel and Jackson. E.g., Marston of Burton issues one, sans addition of bivalve.*
  8. Oyster stout again becomes known in Toronto, via modern craft beer. In the Globe and Mail on August 14, 1999 Steve Beaumont described an early collaboration between Durham Brewing Co. and Rodney’s Oyster Bar for an oyster stout featured at a local oyster festival.
  9. The 1999 Rodney’s Oyster Stout came 50 years after the (presumed) first appearance of oyster stout in Ontario.
  10. Today numerous Ontario brewers offer an oyster stout off and on. Producers have included the Perth, Durham, Amsterdam, and Barley Days Breweries.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from an eBay listing, here. The second was sourced from the archived news story of Fulton Newspapers, linked in the text. The third was sourced from a free page viewing of newspapers.com, from a July 5, 1950 advertisement in the Daily Gleaner, Jamaica, see here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*The idea here, and other oyster porter or stout that does not contain oyster, is that the beer is meant as particularly suitable to accompany a plate of oysters, so fair enough. After all too, the beer taste is the main thing and even where oyster is used, one doesn’t want a marked taste of Neptune in the beer. A good oyster stout was never fishy, it seems.

 

 

 

 

The 1970s Carpenter’s Arms: an Anglo-Canadian Partnership

The lore and mystique of the British – although I think more properly English – pub are famously of world-wide scope. I’ve examined aspects in the United States and Canada, as well as in Britain in regard to the wartime pub and evolution of the pub image in British society.

I mentioned on Twitter today that a replica of an English pub was built for the 10-day British Week in Toronto festival held in October 1967. A trade and cultural showcase, it was of sufficient importance that Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson travelled from Ottawa to open the fair with British and other dignitaries, not to mention two Guards regiments piping music. Double-deck Leyland Titans, some marked Bristol City Line, were shipped in their vermilion glory to complete the picture (with much else).

Stories report Lester B. arrived at what is now, appropriately, Pearson Airport at 11:00 a.m. He was ferried by car on the Queen Elizabeth Way for the start of opening ceremonies at 12:00 p.m. on Toronto City Hall plaza. It tells you something about the era that under one hour was allowed for the car trip. That would be doable today if you landed, say, at 2:00 a.m.

The British and Irish pub phenomenon commenced in the city a few years later, surely influenced by this signal attraction that offered Bass ale, Whitbread Brewmaster, Mackeson Stout, McEwan’s Strong Ale and I.P.A., and three English ciders (Globe and Mail, October 14, 1967).

The pub, named The Lion and the Unicorn, sold 50,000 bottles of British beer during the fest (Globe and Mail, October 21, 1967). Pretty good eh? We know how to drink beer in Canada. The British didn’t need to teach us about that – well maybe long ago.

I am not sure if Estelle Silverman ever read about The Lion and the Unicorn at Exhibition Place during that year, or perhaps even visited it. But one way or another, this Kingston, Ontario native, who by 1969 had worked for 10 years in a Canadian law office, got a hankering to run a pub in London. An immediate inspiration was a visit she made to London in that same year of 1967.

And she achieved her dream, in partnership with a Briton called Jean Corbett, a descendant of the famous boxing clan.

The pub was notorious in the mid-1960s for being a fief of the Kray Twins. According to a December 5, 1967 report in the Toronto Globe and Mail by Irvin Lutsky, in 1969 Silverman and Corbett acquired rights to the pub from Truman, the venerable east London brewer.

They ran an exemplary business by all accounts. Silverman’s father had owned a delicatessen in Kingston, the family was part of the small Jewish community in Kingston then. Running a pub perhaps came more easily to Silverman due to this background. Jean’s prize-fighter father Harry had run a pub in London, so she knew the business that way.

Lutsky reports the juke box was well stocked and fairly priced. A later story in the Toronto Star (July 8, 1978), also by Lutsky, reported that Anne Murray’s Snowbird echoed through the pub, a nod by Ms. Silverman to her native land.

The landladies took no guff from untoward patrons, while any real bother was avoided by their diplomacy, “a bit of the verbal” as Lutsky reported. It was hard work to be sure – running any good pub is – but the ladies obtained commensurate rewards from their dedication and first-rate hospitality.

They ran the pub for at least nine years, but the trail ran cold for me after Lutsky’s second article. I offer the story as an inspiring example of Anglo-Canadian cooperation in the service of the great institution, the English pub. Certainly if either woman is still living her memories would be of great interest.

The Carpenter’s Arms is now far removed from the raffish Kray years, and goes from strength to strength at the same location on Cheshire Street, see the website, here. A stylish food and drinks menu is offered in a setting both contemporary and traditional. No doubt the Silverman-Corbett tenure helped it along to the present status as a prestige pub of East London. Lutsky, for example, recounts how champagne would be opened on special occasions, so the path to gentrification seemed set by the 1970s.

The proprietors explained that a special occasion was a client’s willingness to pay a “fiver” – before the cork was pulled mind. Wise policy, then and perhaps still.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the pub’s website linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable, and is used here for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.