Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part VII.

An English Dinner, Los Angeles, 1942

On November 2, 1942, an “English Dinner” was held by the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles. No beer was served in this case, but one of the dishes contained beer, a Welsh Rabbit. The menu compels in any case, on grounds of restaurant, food, and beverage history.

The Venue

The dinner was held at The Cock and Bull Restaurant in Los Angeles. More typically it was styled the Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant, or Cock ‘n Bull Pub.

The pub was located at 9170 Sunset Boulevard, and opened in 1937. It closed a full 50 years later, in 1987. The founder and long-time owner was John A. Morgan, Jr. (1899-1974), a former MGM scriptwriter who turned to the restaurant trade.

Numerous websites and other sources describe the pub. From inception it was a popular movie industry haunt, and became an institution. Judging by surviving photos, the decor evoked the historic English wine tavern or inn, more than a public house per se.

An upscale pub, is another way to look at it.

In 2017, Alison Martino in her Vintage Los Angeles site wrote a good, latter-day account of the bar. Photos are included with a sample recipe of its trifle. One can see the house dish, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, arrayed with other dishes in a buffet.

The carpeted dining room featured wood tables and chairs, a beveled glass partition, oak ceiling beams, and half-panelled, light-hued walls.

Older pictures may be viewed in author Martin Turnbull’s blogpost on the Cock ‘n Bull in 2015. A table fronts a mock fireplace decorated with the lions rampant. A recipe for the pub’s Welsh Rabbit is included, which seems taken from a rare cookbook it issued in the 1970s. For details of the book see this listing at Cookbook Village.

Finally, George Geary’s book L.A.‘s Legendary Restaurants: Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank, and Played (2016), has a good sketch of the Cock ‘n Bull and John Morgan.

The pub is well-remembered. Google searches bring up many other resources, with pub memorabilia regularly offered at auction sites.

The Dinner Menu 

The following menu was served:*

 

 

A relish was probably a pickled vegetable or mixture, something to nibble on with sherry before the main event, along with the olives and celery, a very English vegetable.

The Cock-a-Leekie soup and clear consommé were certainly traditional British. Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding followed, and steak and kidney pudding, also typical British eating.

Oxtail and noodles and braised pork knuckles were also offered. These last two do not sound particularly English, or other British. Oxtail with noodles can be an Asian dish, especially Chinese or Korean, so can braised pork shank.

Maybe the knuckles were cooked in a German way, but there is no obvious connection – especially then – to British foodways.

The atypical dishes likely were meant to extend the choice for attendees, as surely one person could not eat everything, unless perhaps buffet-style allowed this.

Vegetable marrow was the striped, thick-skinned type long popular in Britain although of New World origin (it is a squash). String beans and garden peas speak for themselves. So do the salad, trifle, and berries dish.

I could not parse “Crumrarebit”. The chef George Crum invented, so it has been handed down, potato chips at Saratoga, New York in the 1800s. Could this have been a Welsh Rabbit garnished with chips? The cookbook of the pub may offer more information.

The rarebit was served as a savoury, the salty, spicy course that followed the dessert in Victorian and Edwardian practice. Cheese as such, next to a heated cheese dish sounds unusual, but again probably the idea was to offer a choice.

A solid meal of English type with a few “guest dishes” to add interest.

The Drinks

The group started with a Dubonnet, the French wine-based aperitif or cordial that by this time had been chic in both the U.K. and U.S., as period ads in both places show.

Except, this Dubonnet wasn’t French strictly, the menu called it “American Dubonnet”. Dubonnet was manufactured during the war in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A 1942 Ebay ad states this clearly on the label.

Pictured is the Dubonnet we get in Ontario, which is French-made.

 

 

The Duff Gordon Fino Coquinero was Spanish sherry, the full designation meaning a style mid-way between classic Fino and Amontillado. Today Osborne, of which Duff Gordon has long been part, markets the same style.

The red wine was three vintages of the classified Graves Chateau Pape Clement, from 1900, 1920, and 1929 – this was a wine Society after all, and some big guns were pulled out.

Hugh Johnson, in his 2018 Pocket Wine Book, states of Chateau Pape: “dense, long-ageing reds”, awarding the winery his four star rating of “grand, prestigious, expensive”. The estate is the oldest in Bordeaux, and was long church-owned, until the Revolution.

Finally, the orange-flavoured brandy drink, Grand Marnier – American-prefixed again. And this is because during the war it, too, was manufactured in America, in Alladin, PA. A news item confirmed it on September 11, 1941 in the New York Times.

The fact that no beer was served is not unusual – by the 19th century, the practice of serving it at genteel meals had fallen out. I discussed this in February this year in my notes, “Beer on the English Table“.

No doubt the Cock ‘n Bull through its history offered a good selection of British beer, or American beer in that style. Details must await another day, should a bar menu surface.

The “Missing” Drink

The Cock ‘n Bull pub will forever be famed for inventing, in 1940 or 1941, the Moscow Mule, a mixture of ginger beer, vodka, and lime, served in a copper tankard. It would be satisfying to know that the 1942 Wine Society dinner served the drink, but as we see, it did not.

For a full discussion of the drink’s history, this webpage in Barina Craft is most helpful, a site that deals with bartending, drinks, and accoutrements. There are various origin stories, reviewed well here.

One states the cocktail originated in New York, at the Chatham Hotel. Another holds the Cock ‘n Bull’s bartender devised it, as a way to use stock otherwise languishing in the cellar.

Barina Craft includes a video clip of English-born John G. Martin (1906-1986), who ran Heublein/Smirnoff in Connecticut for 30 years, stating his version of the origin. He states it was invented at the bar of the Cock ‘n Bull in Los Angeles by himself, John Morgan, and Morgan’s girlfriend who had a connection to a company making copper mugs.

Heublein dealt in wine and liquor, bottled cocktails, and specialty foods. It had bought the rights to Smirnoff vodka in 1938 from a Russian immigrant, Rudolph Kunnet, who had already started production, but had difficulty selling the product.

Of course the Smirnoff brand, originally Smirnov, started in Russia but after the 1917 Revolution was re-established in the West.

Heublein started making it in Hartford in 1939, with sales small but starting to spark regionally. Martin with Heublein helped make vodka a national hit in America. One way it was merchandised was via mixed drinks like Moscow Mule.

Barina Craft states that the first published mention of the drink was by L.A. journalist Edith Gwynn, in her column “Inside Hollywood” in December 1942. The piece is linked in the references.

In the video, Martin states Smirnoff was not made during the war and promotion of the Moscow Mule only resumed after the war. He was in the army for most of that time, so the gap in production and marketing makes sense.

An item in the Tacoma Times on January 2, 1942 stated the Washington State liquor board had raised the price of Smirnoff vodka, and small quantities only were available.  This stock likely was distilled before the war.

Yet, as Barina Craft noted, at least one ad for the Moscow Mule and Smirnoff vodka appeared in 1943, in a Nevada newspaper. It stated in part: “A delicious drink has captivated the West and is moving Eastward”.

The ad set out the established recipe – vodka, ginger beer, lime, ice – adding, “Be sure the vodka is Smirnoff”. Presumably this was still prewar stock, but it shows too that word of the vodka and drink had spread.

Postwar was the era of fast growth for the drink. A 1947 ad in the Portola Reporter (Northern California, 50 miles from Reno, Nevada), exhibits the zeitgeist:

 

 

A photo at the Calisphere library shows a bartender making the drink at the Cock ‘Bull, in the 1940s or 50s. The backbar is festooned with the indispensable copper mugs.

Missed Opportunity?

Why did the Cock ‘n Bull not serve the drink at its English dinner for the Society? Ginger beer has strong British associations. Perhaps Cock ‘n Bull had no vodka by November 1942, but perhaps it did, if some Smirnoff was available the following year in Nevada.

Maybe the Society was looking for a traditional approach to the meal, and a mixed drink did not fit. If the pub did suggest the Moscow Mule to the Society, the dinner committee may have thought it too trendy.

After all, few new drinks become well-established; no one could know at the time that one day, the Moscow Mule would be famous.

*Menu extract is copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part VII.”

  1. Poking around online, stewed oxtail shows up a fair amount in British cooking, sort of a cousin to Osso Buco.

    Oxtail is very popular in Jamaican cooking, and maybe that has dim roots in England, but obviously they weren’t sneaking the Jamaican version into this dinner.

    Reply
    • Thanks, of course there is oxtail soup, but a main course dish with noodles – not called even macaroni but noodles, seemed not to denote a UK dish.

      The Caribbean dish does perhaps suggest some British influence, although many other cultures know oxtail and I’d think West Africa as well.

      It’s a interesting question, certainly I don’t claim anything definite here.

      Gary

      Reply

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