Saturday, May 25, 2013

Booze And Burlesque



For the third year in a row, I was fortunate enough to attend an event at The Manhattan Cocktail Classic.  This year, I went to a Cointreau mixology event called “Putting The Tail In Cocktail” at The Macao Trading Company in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan.  During this event, we were treated to a lecture about how both burlesque and cocktails thrived during Prohibition – Era Manhattan.  The cocktails part of the discussion was conducted by Kyle Ford, the cocktails and spirits expert at Cointreau; his talk also consisted of sampling various cocktails that included Cointreau in their recipe. 

As for the burlesque portion of the evening, the lecture was given by “The Asian Sexsation” herself, Calamity Chang, a local burlesque performer who also produces shows in the New York City area – and yes, just in case you’re wondering, her presentation also included a demonstration of the grand art itself by several of Ms. Chang’s expert ecdysiasts. 

With the recent opening of Baz Luhrmann’s film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, the theme of this evening felt particularly timely.    Ford began by stating that during the period known as The Roaring 20’s, burlesque and cocktails flourished because of the country’s environment.  The United States was experiencing peace time and the economy was good; increasingly, Americans were opting for city life and consumerism, causing more cities than farms to spring up and an increasing exodus of the citizens to these teeming population centers. 

The decade of the 1920’s was bookended by two major events:  it began with the 18th Amendment to The United States Constitution, which ushered in a time of prohibition of the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol.  On what came to be known as Black Tuesday – October 29, 1929 – the decade unofficially came to an end when the stock market crashed and the economic era known as The Great Depression started. 

All this while, people tried to secretly make their own alcohol – such as bathtub gin – and much of it was quite bad.  Cocktails came about because they realized that the poor quality of the alcohol needed to be masked with things like juice and/or sweeteners. 

Soon, Speakeasies became popular and such cocktails as The French 75 (a Tom Collins where Champagne replaces gin) , The Bee’s Knees, The Sidecar, The Mary Pickford, Mojitos, Daiquiris, Highballs and Rickeys turned into instant classics.  Speakeasies commonly had what were known as “tipping shelves” behind the bar; these were installed in case the police raided the establishment – during a raid, the bartenders would push the tipping shelves, which would then pour all of their liquor into the sewer so the police could not use it as evidence against them. 



For the first cocktail of the evening, we had something called The Cointreau Rickey, which was Cointreau (of course) served with fresh lime juice and club soda in a tall thin Collins glass. 

The next cocktail was called The Attaboy, made of Ford’s Gin, Cana Brava Rum, Cointreau and fresh lemon juice shaken and served straight up in a coupe glass with a lemon peel floating on top. 

Lastly, we had Cointreau Noir, served neat in a wine glass.  Cointreau is owned by the Remy Martin company, so the marriage of their cognac with the liqueur was somewhat inevitable, I suppose.  Cointreau Noir has a rather nutty nose to it but is by no means overly sweet with the addition of the liqueur to the mix.  Ford characterized this as something of the French version of The Rusty Nail. 


Oh, yeah, I almost forgot – there was a burlesque demonstration afterwards.  Right, well, you know, I could probably write an entire blog post just about that alone – but since this is a cocktail-themed blog, there’s no need to bore everyone with those excruciatingly painful details.  Suffice it to say yes, that indeed turned out to be a live python. 

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