Brodi’s Bar and Restaurant, Plattsburgh, NY

Of Big Birds and Less Big (but Interesting) Beers

I mentioned on Twitter yesterday a long-closed bar and restaurant in Plattsburgh, New York, Brodi’s. That was in fact the spelling, not the more commonly encountered Brodie or Brody.

Using digitized news and other sources, I pieced its history pretty well. First though, how did I know about the place? I grew up in Montreal, about 70 miles to the north over the international border. On weekends sometimes we drove down to hear the music and drink a beer, as Brodi’s was known for its live bands. Even the jukebox was great as it was a golden era for rock and roll, so you couldn’t miss.

At that time, traffic was much lighter than now, we did the trip in about an hour and half allowing for the border (usually just a wave-through). We might leave at 6:30 pm., spend a couple of hours in Plattsburgh, and were back before midnight. We used to eat something first, or after, so the actual time at Brodi’s may have been just an hour or ninety minutes.

From the centre of Plattsburgh you had to drive over a bridge, past Air Force barracks on South Peru Street. Brody’s was on McKinley Street and the area today is fully urbanized but at the time was quite sparse in buildings and amenities.

Brodi’s was a hangout for airmen of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, a Strategic Air Command base for the “big birds”. Of course the war was on and there was a lot of activity in Plattsburgh.

I recall going to Brodi’s only with Charles, a good friend who now lives in Las Vegas. This was between 1970 and 1973. After I got married I don’t think I went there again, maybe once or twice. We still made the drive but usually during the day for shopping and to try different restaurants. The first McDonald’s I went to was in Plattsburgh and I still remember the taste, the pink mayonnaise from the Big Mac.

My early interest in beer was definitely kindled at Brodi’s. The reason simply was the different beer range one saw – brands like Genesee, Piel, Utica Club, Ballantine, Schaefer, Budweiser, Pabst. The glowing curved signs made an impression as well.

I can’t recall ever drinking a dark beer at Brodi’s, but even regular lager and ale seemed noticeably different to Canadian beers. Unlike today when mass market brands are available internationally, each region had its own brands. Eastern Canada as a whole had a different style of beer than lager or even ale in the U.S. In fact, Michael Weiner, in his 1978 Taster’s Guide to Beer, states that “Canadian sparkling ale” was a distinctive type as worthy of notice as other international styles of renown.

Had the style been maintained in its mid-20th century integrity, it may have sustained the Canadian industry longer than actually occurred. Signature brands were Molson Export Ale, Labatt 50, O’Keefe Ale, Brading Ale, Labatt India Pale Ale, Molson Stock Ale. But in time the brands got lighter or were supplanted by light-tasting lagers. Finally American brands appeared, Budweiser and Miller Lite were the first. Ironically, today that older Canadian style can be tasted again via the craft brewers, Beau’s Lugtread Ale is a good example.

Despite circa 1970 Canadian ale being ostensibly better than American beer, one is always attracted by the new, or different, so I tried the beers at Brodi’s and liked them for that reason. I remember Schaefer being particularly good with a lingering bitterness in the throat.

Brodi’s was originally owned by Mike and Beatrice Brodi, now deceased. It started as a ranch-style bar and steakhouse, outside the centre of Plattsburgh, with a later addition for dancing, which became the nucleus of the club.

According to this 1975 news report in the North Countryman of Elizabethtown, NY the founders sold Brodi’s in 1969 to two brothers in a band, Deane and Dale Tremblay. In turn they sold it in 1973, so the time I recall at Brodi’s was under their ownership. It makes sense as the music was particularly good and clearly it is their house band I recall.

Here is something I have no recollection of, but in retrospect may have helped to stimulate my interest in beer history. The North Countryman states that Dale Tremblay liked Genesee Beer and:

While playing at Brodi’s, [Dale] and bass player Spencer Bosworth (also a staunch Genesee man) would often do important spoofs of the Genny ads.

I must have seen these, and would have known the ads because Plattsburgh TV stations could be viewed in Montreal via aerial antennas and Rediffusion.

It was a way of looking at beer differently, anyway. It’s funny the things you learn 50 years down the road.

On Google Maps you can see well the geography and how we travelled there. Plattsburgh is between broad Lake Champlain (Vermont to the other side) and Interstate #87, which took us down from Montreal. The big airfield in the centre was the Air Force’s, and is now Plattsburgh International Airport.

The site of Brodi’s is now a dancing school. As far as I can tell, the buildings are original. I’ll elaborate in a future post.

For a second part to this post, see here.

Note re image: the image above is from the April 25, 1970 issue of the Press-Republican in Plattsburgh, NY, sourced via Fulton Newspapers, see here. All intellectual property therein belongs to solely to its lawful owners, as applicable, and is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

“Conviviality’s Firmament”

New York’s Boîtes in the Golden Days

In a December 1934 article in the New York Sun Martin Green described the notable bars and saloons of pre-Prohibition New York.

Green was a 1930s journalist for the Sun, Herald, Jewish Post, and other newspapers. He recounts that G. Selmer Fougner, the New York food and drink writer, asked him to record pre-Prohibition New York saloons to show, we might say, “the way things were”. Hence it is a kind of guest column for The Wine Trail, Fougner’s daily chronicle in the Sun between 1933 and 1941.

Green stressed that he only offers highlights, yet still mentions 40 or 50 establishments. While essentially a catalogue and important to drinks historians, Green also includes amusing and even cautionary asides. He notes that his erstwhile cohorts, while presumed to have iron constitutions and kidneys, ended with the “iron machinery” “rusted” and “disintegrating”.

Some of the old friends “went on the water wagon”, and those who did not, were no longer present to muse on Green’s account. A few, as clearly Green himself, survived the old days quite well, probably due to observing more than absorbing…

Most or all of the old Manhattan bars we have discussed in these pages, such as McSorley’s, The Grapevine, and Billy’s Bar, are not mentioned by Green. I think the reason is, he covered more high-end resorts, alluding often to their “classy” or “very classy” nature. (Here we focus resolutely on the beer bar, a resort of the hoi polloi almost by definition).

Hoffman House is a good example, remembered to this day for its lurid wall paintings and great and good (or not so good) patrons. This 2013 post in the blog Ephemeral New York sets out the essentials well.

Green describes the great ambition of south Manhattan bar crawls: to reach Hoffman House or another storied aerie. But 14th Street proved the limit every time, even for the iron-lined bon ton.

When you read enough about American bar and liquor customs into the Prohibition period, you get a sense that there did seem to be a licentiousness at the core. A drink or two wasn’t enough, it seems, for much of the clientele. The idea of excess and a certain riotousness seemed writ into the system, and this is reflected in Green’s piece.

Another way we know this is reports of people, and post-Prohibition Ontario is no different, on the new legal beers whose strength was held to around 4% ABV. Press stories regularly reported complaints of not being able easily to “get drunk”.  Taste was remarked too as I discussed earlier in the context of Fougner’s investigations, but the main problem was to get drunk without undue cost, or to order enough beer at one sitting to get the effect faster. In Ontario in the mid-1940s waiters could only serve one beer at a time to the customer, whence a mini (?) social crisis ensued.

This atmosphere is what the Temperance people aimed to stop, and while the ambition was flawed – Green calls it a “blight” – the practical reasons impelling it were hard to gainsay. Industry self-interest could not, and cannot, disguise this.

The answer of course was reformation, not abolition, and this in fact did occur finally. Tight controls were placed on the post-Prohibition bar, including in Canada, with as well a continuation of dry policies in large parts of both countries.

Still, to have been a fly on the wall for one of Green and Co.’s sorties… “I’ll have a schooner of still ale or India Pale Ale, please, and maybe a bourbon to follow, but no more, Mr. Green. An electric cab awaits me at 5th Street”.

Obs. The Russian vodka ad in the same issue shows that the Slavic drink was gaining traction well before Russian emigre Rudolph Kunett and New Jersey’s Heublein Inc. made their mark with Smirnoff commencing c.1940. Between 1934 and 1938 Kunett produced vodka in Connecticut but did not succeed, it was too new (although probably available in tiny amounts before Prohibition, I did not check).

An exacerbating factor though was surely the presence in New York of the Russian original.  The brand shown seems clearly to be what was later known internationally as Moskovskaya.

 

 

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.