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.

 

3 thoughts on “The Zombie Cocktail: Invented in Chicago During WW I? (Part II)

  1. 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.

    • Thanks Jan. It occurs to me too now, a menu of one of his three other restaurants, in the period concerned, may have carried the drink as well.

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