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 Streamliner America

A German-American Promotes the English Tavern, 1939

1. General Background

These pages have chronicled off and on the importance, marked in some periods, of the English inn or tavern in the American imagination. The Colonial tavern was mainly 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 River, in time the British takeover of New York effaced it).

With political independence and the passage of time the cozy English hostelry rose in appeal. Still, competition abounded. There were the German beer hall, the saloon, the cocktail bar, soda fountain, and coffee shops. And newer forms continually emerged such as the beachcomber beer, described in an atmospheric, 1940 spread in PM, a newsmagazine-style spaper in Manhattan.

Despite this competition, up to Prohibition and to an extent after, British-style taverns and hotels drew custom, especially in the Northeast. Early pubs included The Grapevine in New York, McSorley’s also in New York, and the Bell-in-Hand in Boston, which I’ve discussed in earlier posts.

The porter-house, chop-house, and finally steak house, or steak and seafood joint, was an enhanced British tavern. Keens Steak House, The Old Homestead, the former Bull & Bear in the now-closed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and Pete’s Tavern all flew the flag in New York, among others.

Yet in Ontario from 1934 until ca.1975 the British pub had probably reached its lowest ebb, ironically given the American image of Canada at the time. Post-Prohibition regulation turned our beer tavern into an unappealing appendage of (mainly) unappealing hotels.

Decor was minimal or non-existent, to keep the drinking minimal and clinical. Still, older associations were sometimes preserved, perhaps via a nicer-than-usual wood paneling scheme, or perhaps simply in the tavern’s 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 arrival of the Irish pub, with no unsettling political implications as to us it was all the “British pub”.

A substantial British and Irish influx to Canada after WW II partly explained their success. 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, which had a definite influence.

The British/Irish pub in Ontario replaced finally to a large extent the old beverage room but still in competition with the hotel or other cocktail bar, roadhouse bar, and countless less differentiated bars such as T.G.I.F. or the Cheers type.

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

2. The English Tavern Between the Wars

Bob Brown’s classic Let There Be Beer!, published in New York in 1932, described pubby speakeasies:

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 likely with an eye to post-Prohibition. Home realty developers, even 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 immediate background. The revival was assisted by the tavern’s relatively benign image, in contrast that is to the more purely American but also more clearly malign (in the public mind) saloon.

And so Repeal spawned many new or refurbished English-style taverns in New York and other cities. One example of many, from 1934, was in The Wave, a newspaper in Rockaway Beach, New York that carried an impressive advertisement for the Town Tavern. The ad took the form 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, both before and during Prohibition, were eulogised by Bob Brown in his book.

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


English strap work and thatched-style roofing seemingly adrift in Rockaway Beach, 1934 … Of such stuff is America made.

3. An Eclectic Food Culture Emerges

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

And so by the late 1930s a certain culinary diversity characterized the urban hotel and restaurant scene in New York and some other large cities. Fougner could write (1939) of his “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 “Old English” Eating to New York

Was there still room for the British tavern/chophouse in this newly eclectic food culture, other than a Keens Chop House or other “old reliable” from the past? Yes there was, as August Janssen, a pioneer of German ethnic cuisine, showed in 1939 with his new English restaurant. Janssen, who had founded the famed Hofbrau-Haus in New York 41 years earlier, was a proponent of the upscale English tavern late in life. An unlikely development, but surely one with practical spurs.

He had to wonder if his Hofbrau-Haus, which survived WW I and Prohibition, would survive the Nazi era and America’s likely entry in another war. (It did, in the result). Why not hedge your bets, so to speak?

A 1939 column by columnist Malcolm Johnson described the new venture. As quoted, Janssen spoke in dulcet, “society” tones but the meaning between the lines is unmistakable.

“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 supervise his new creation, but the family continued to operate both restaurants. 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 of London, venerated as he had noted by prewar American visitors to London and “the country”.

A not dissimilar approach is shown by this menu of the same year, from the non-venerable Frankie and Johnnie, also founded after Repeal (it had roots in a 20s speakeasy).

Neither restaurant, in other words, was a hardy survival of a 19th century emulation of the London chop house, but was something re-imagined, essentially new.

For the beers, one may note on these menus Bass Ale, presumably a post-V-E Day importation unless pre-war stock. Guinness Stout: the same. Black Horse Ale on the Boar’s Head menu was probably from Dawes Brewery in Montreal. Both menus also featured some good American ales and lagers.

And so the robust Anglo-Saxon food and drink tradition, or one branch of it, the implantation of which in America from the mid-1800s had been carefully noted by observers, was given new life by a German-American restaurateur in the rather different conditions of 1939.

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

Johnson added to Janssen’s explanation:

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 went 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” Janssen introduced to create wide-screen romance for New Yorkers who ate out, down to the “British red” for the waiters’ uniforms.

5. Takeaway

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

Whether it will last is another question, given how our craft taprooms have sprouted in London and other UK centres of influence. Put another way, for this and other reasons, the English pub may be dying in its homeland.

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.

 

 

 

 

Notes on the Ontario Beverage Room

As part of new liquor laws introduced in 1934, the Province of Ontario introduced what became a cultural touchstone here: the hotel beverage room.

The sale of liquor in government stores, and of beer via company warehouses (now The Beer Store system), had been lawful since 1927, but from 1934 licensed taverns were allowed to sell full-strength beer.

Generally, a tavern had to be part of a hotel with a lobby and separate dining room. Special licensing for clubs, soldiers’ messes, trains, and Great Lakes steamships completed the new system.

Beer and wine only were served in taverns. Stand-alone cocktail bars were not allowed until the end of the 1940s. The best remembered is the Silver Rail on Yonge Street. I visited it a number of times until its closure about 15 years ago. Its decline was evident in the tired decor, but one could not doubt glitter and glamour once ruled.

In retrospect, I should have gone more often, for the history. It was all mirrored walls and shiny banquettes, anchored by a sinuous curved bar.

In contrast, as mandated by Premier Mitch Hepburn in 1934 hotel beverage rooms had a clinical mien. Basic round tables and chairs handled the traffic, and frosted glass or other stratagems hid the interior from street view.

Separate men’s, ladies’, and “with escorts” sections were intended to preserve an orderly atmosphere.

There was no standing in the tavern, patrons had to drink beer seated. Changes in 1946 meant only one beer could be ordered at a time, in small measures. English or even American pints in the bar were far in the future.

In the 1930s and ’40s Toronto journalists regularly investigated these statutory haunts. Maclean’s magazine ran major features in 1934 and 1945.

You can read, here, Morley Murray’s crisp reportage on December 1, 1945, notable for its “just the facts, ma’am” period style and comprehensive scope.

 

 

In August 1946 Lex Schrag wrote a three-part series for the Toronto Globe and Mail, successively “the Customer”, “the Hotelman”, and appropriately, “the Law”. Sadly, he omitted “the Beer”, but at the time neither customers nor the Fourth Estate expressed much interest in beer as such, not any recorded to my knowledge.

Schrag did state that with war-era rationing still in force, beer was often not sufficiently aged. Short of that, he offered no discussion on colour, style, temperature, or taste.

Murray did not discuss beer at all, meaning its intrinsic merits again. His piece gains value for the social and economic insights offered. For example, temperance as a public issue was far from a spent force then. He made sure to address the issue.

Schrag for his part contrasted the beverage room with the British pub, noting the latter’s image as a largely peaceful, organic part of the community. He hoped the beverage room would morph into this, which it did to a certain extent finally.

Schrag pictured a 1946 Ontario wracked by historical guilt about alcohol. This caused mechanical and furtive drinking and drunken scenes, as he well described.

The temporary English pub at the 1949 Canadian International Trade Fair in Toronto is all the more striking in this light. The same applies for a similar pub in late 1960s Toronto at British Week in Canada. I described both these in recent posts.

Despite the warm reception “Toronto the Good” gave the British pubs, that style of drinking only took root here from the 1970s, ditto the idea a tavern could stand alone, sans hotel.

Yet, there are still drinking places in Ontario, even Toronto, that resemble the old beverage room. Sometimes the hotel is still there, perched alongside or on higher floors, disused.

 

 

The advertisement above is from November 1957 in Maclean’s magazine. With the beverage room still retaining its anodyne 1934 form, beer ads might portray brands being consumed in comfortable, even stylish homes.

The subtext was the tavern’s beer needn’t be consumed only in austere surroundings of prewar Canadian imagination.

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

 

Roistering in Toronto the Good, 1949

Strange Brew, What’s Inside of you

In my last post, I discussed a temporary English pub, the Lion and the Unicorn, at the 1967 “British Week in Canada” fair.

18 years earlier, in 1949, another trade event in Toronto featured another English pub. 1949 is very early for such an event, in Toronto or almost anywhere (the 1939 New York World’s Fair featured something similar, although more a restaurant).

To sample British beer in a British pub, in Canada in 1949, was certainly a novel experience. The pub was an exhibit of a British brewery which participated in the Canadian International Trade Fair (CITF).

The fair ran annually from 1948 until the late 1950s at Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, the city-owned building and park complex where the historic Canadian National Exhibition, or “Ex”, is held annually in August. The CITF was the off-season event, held in spring.

The 1949 fair featured an impressive “eight-booth” presentation by Hope & Anchor Breweries in Sheffield, England, an ambitious regional brewer which saw its future in international expansion.

Brian Glover discussed Hope & Anchor in his (2009) The Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain, see here. He stated the brewery participated in numerous overseas exhibitions in this period.

It had two beers marked for export in particular, an oyster stout and honey ale. These are included in its 1950s-era ad above. Both beers are mentioned in Toronto press stories describing the replica pub at the 1949 fair, the Rose and Crown Inn.

On May 25, 1949 the Globe and Mail reported the pub was part of a 15-ton, 80-foot long exhibit built in England, shipped over for the fair. It comprised a Manx cottage with cauldron and spinning wheel, picturesque English scenes, and depiction of Windsor castle. At the pub one could play darts and shove ha-penny.

Other than noting oyster stout and honey ale were “out of the ordinary” the Globe journalist perceived nothing unusual in the beer types. Probably they were more bemused than anything else.

A New Zealand oyster concentrate was used for the stout, as mentioned by Brian Glover. The odd-sounding ingredient was noted in the Globe story as well, making for a strange brew in those pre-craft times, in Canada certainly but Britain too. All was taken in stride, evidently as well by Toronto fairgoers.

On June 10, 1949 the Globe reported beer ran out at the Rose and Crown. Hope & Anchor had to fly in more! (Czech beer was a hit too at another beer outlet onsite, according to the report).

The same paper (June 6, 1949) mused on fairgoers’ avidity to visit the Rose & Crown. It quoted a harried staffer:

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 had withered in Canada, but the oyster stout was lapped up, as was rich Bohemian lager, even as Canadian breweries were making their beers lighter.

Hope & Anchor marketed its oyster stout across North America in the 1950s. Brian Glover states it was even a cult item in California, c.1952. This is interesting, as to a considerable extent modern craft brewing has its origins in the state, some 20 years later.

As archived here, a 1954 Times-Union (Albany, New York) ad touted about 30 imported beers. Manx oyster stout and honey (or mead) ale from Hope & Anchor were included.

The ad demonstrates pre-craft North American interest in a variety of imported beer. That history is part of craft evolution as well, as craft brewers would later routinely brew styles reflected in the ad, and then some.

 

 

On May 25, 1949 the Globe reported the Rose and Crown was such a success Hope & Anchor was mulling setting up an affiliate here. It planned to use Canadian oysters to make oyster stout, and our honey to make honey ale.

The plan made perfect sense but was ahead of its time, and never implemented. Once again, similar efforts by small independent brewers a generation later were acclaimed by an emerging craft market.

Anyway, in an era of supposed civic rectitude, Toronto in 1949 showed it could party with the best of them. Oyster and honey beer? Bring it on.

A repeat of pre-craft taste occurrred in 1967 when 50,000 bottles of British beer sold out in 10 days at British Week in Canada. 

And still, Canadian beers were getting ever lighter. It seems the big brewers just didn’t get it. Their consolidation and retrenchment only proceeded apace.

What happened to the replica Rose and Crown?

The Globe reported, June 7, 1950, it was still at the fairgrounds, it’s mission ended and seeking a buyer. The brewery hoped a well-heeled Canadian would buy it for their basement bar or “rumpus room”.

Whether that happened or not, who knows. The pub could be lodged in the nether regions of a Rosedale or Forest Hill mansion, for all I know. Or maybe a Muskoka cottage. If so, I hope the current owners know its history.

 

 

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

 

The lore and mystique of the British (and Irish) pub have worldwide appeal. I have examined instances in North America and elsewhere but not omitting Britain.

Canada, as the United States, was always apt for the charms of Britain’s unique institution. In 1967 a replica English pub was erected in Toronto for the 10-day British Week in Toronto festival.

A UK trade and cultural showcase, it was of sufficient importance that our then prime minister Lester B. Pearson travelled from Ottawa to open the fair.

British dignitaries were present, with two Guards regiments piping music for respectful Torontonians.

Double-deck Leyland Titans, some marked “Bristol City Line”, were shipped over in their vermilion glory as icing for the pageantry.

Reports stated Lester B. arrived in Toronto at what is now appropriately Pearson Airport, at 11:00 a.m. He was ferried downtown by car on the Queen Elizabeth Way, in time to open ceremonies at 12:00 p.m., held at Toronto City Hall Plaza.

That tells you something about our traffic then, even with a police escort. (Add at least 30 minutes for that trip today).

The replica pub sold classics such as Bass ale, Whitbread Brewmaster, Mackeson Stout, McEwan’s Strong Ale and I.P.A., and no less than three English ciders (Globe and Mail, October 14, 1967).

The pub, called The Lion and the Unicorn, sold 50,000 bottles of British beer during the fest (Globe and Mail, October 21, 1967). Not bad eh? We know how to drink beer in Canada. We don’t need the British to teach us about that. Well maybe they did, long ago.

The pub helped lay the foundations for the British and Irish pub craze that took root in the city a few years later.

Yet, the influence also went the other way, we can say in a manner of speaking.

Estelle Silverman was a native of Kingston, Ontario in 1969, working in a local law firm. I don’t know if she knew about the temporary Lion and the Unicorn in Toronto, but somehow she got a hankering to run a pub in London, England. She had visited London in 1967, maybe that was the spur.

Along with Jean Corbett, a Briton who descended from a famous boxing clan, she achieved her dream to run a real English pub.

The December 5, 1969 Globe and Mail reported that Silverman and Corbett acquired the pub from Truman’s, the venerable London brewer.

They ran an exemplary business by all accounts, which is notable as earlier the pub had a raffish reputation, in part connected to the Kray Twins of the London underworld.

Silverman’s father had owned a delicatessen in Kingston. This shopkeeping background probably assisted running a pub.

Jean’s prize-fighter father Harry had been a pub landlord in London, so she knew the business that way.

A 1970s story in the Toronto Star reported the juke box was well stocked and priced fairly.  Another story in the Star (July 8, 1978) reported Anne Murray’s Snowbird echoed through the pub, a nod to Ms. Silverman’s native land.

The landladies, wrote the Star, took no guff, using diplomacy or “a bit of the verbal” to parry the risk of bother.

It was hard work of course – running a pub always is – but commensurate rewards were obtained.

The women operated the pub for at least nine years, but after 1978 the trail ran cold for me.

I offer the story as a further example of Anglo-Canadian cooperation in the service of that great institution, the British pub.

The Carpenter’s Arms today is far removed from the Kray era, certainly. It continues at the same location on Cheshire Street, see the website, here. A stylish food and drinks menu features in a setting both contemporary and traditional.

The Silverman-Corbett tenure had to help the place along to its present status. The Star reportred how champagne might be opened for a “special occasion” .

Such event might be, the ladies were quoted,  a client’s willingness to pay a “fiver” for the bottle – before the cork was pulled, mind.

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.