Grandpa Knew Best
Drinking wasn’t invented in 1919, so why are we acting like Prohibition was the end of history?
It was May 2008. Michael Nutter, only months into his first term as mayor, still thought reform was possible. Presidential candidate Barack Obama had just made his pivotal “race speech” here. The Phillies hadn’t won a World Series since 1980. And we were all downing Ketel and tonics, though the Mayor stuck to chardonnay.
But then it happened. Over at the corner of 13th and Drury, in a neighborhood then still largely known as the Gayborhood, the neon-framed Dragon Palace Chinese Restaurant gave way to a peculiar drinking spot called Apothecary. There, uniformed bartenders with a penchant for pomp and the long-winded spiel birthed splendidly complex concoctions with names like Duke of Marlborough and Symphony of Moist, thus spawning a drinking revolution: a frenzy of faux speakeasy and pre-Prohibition madness. And suddenly, the well-to-do found it desirable to get drunk on something that tasted more bridal bouquet than booze.
Well, enough already. Fast-forward three years to the present, and we get the point. This burning obsession with Volstead’s experiment has given us a new palette of flavors, access to long-lost ingredients, and the understanding that drink mixing, like cooking, can be equal parts art and craft. And that’s wonderful. But there’s now enough raw egg in our cocktails to burn out a USDA inspector’s salmonella meter. We worship at the boozy spigots of a select few craft bartenders, who shun the title “mixologist”—far too modern and cold for their ancient art. Like love-blind fools, we seek out their secrets for making … ice.
Meanwhile, in this Lillet-and-Aperol-soaked age, it seems we’ve forgotten the delight of drinking simple cocktails. Of drinking the way our grandparents drank. Grandpa wouldn’t just have looked down on the lavender-hued Aviation, with its whiff of Granny’s soap. He would have done so only after smashing it on the ground in a profanity-laden tirade. Too fussy. Too frilly. Now bring me a CC and soda, kid, and don’t skimp on the pour.
And so, in the spirit of rediscovery this holiday season, and, you know, goodwill to all, let us raise high our glasses—filled not with tinctures, essences, barrel-aged bitters and flame-tinged garnish, but with the primal pleasures of a rum and Coke (never Pepsi or “cola”—you’ve got to have some standards), a Seven and Seven, a proper gin greyhound, the dangerous Long Island iced tea or a Tom Collins. Or, hell, when was the last time you had a White Russian? Make Grandpa proud.