If Christmas is a movie directed by Frank Capra as in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” then New Year’s and New Year’s Eve is a movie directed by Billy Wilder as in “The Apartment.” One is a holiday about what’s really important: family, love, friendship, and being good to your fellow man. The other is a holiday about what’s really important: sex, drinking, and being able to look at yourself in the mirror after the sex and the drinking have run their inevitable course. I don’t think there’s any mystery why a drink named the Hanky Panky caught my eye as a possible New Year’s beverage.
One thing that’s certain about 2013 is that we’ll almost certainly have to take the bitter with the sweet, and so the Hanky Panky contains the time-tested but increasingly trendy cult beverage, Fernet Branca. An old time digestif that’s been discovered by those infernal cocktail hipsters, Fernet Branca is yet another of the beverages that came my way through the holiday miracle of publicity. It’s kind of thrilling to have it on hand, as I’d never tried it before just a few days ago.
On its own, Fernet is a beverage not for the faint of heart or even, I think, many of the fairly stout of heart. I’m not saying it doesn’t taste good — drinking it straight is, shall we say, a strangely invigorating sensory experience beyond taste. In my case, that invariably includes a few facial expressions reminiscent of Red Skelton selling Guzzler’s Gin. On the other hand, it’s basically used in this drink as bitters and, on that level, it’s mighty dandy. In cocktails, proportion is everything.
The Hanky Panky itself is a good to superb drink but also mighty stiff…so much so, you might consider cutting this one in half, or not, depending on your plans.
Combine your liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Stir vigorously — I never discourage shaking, but I stuck with stirring on this one for instinctive reasons — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add your orange peel, being sure to twist it over the drink to express a bit of that elusive citrus oil I keep reading about into the drink. I really think the additional bit of citrus flavor added by the twist is crucial here.
Sip, toasting the New Year and Ada Coleman, the legendary Savoy Hotel bartender who created the Hanky Panky.
I tried this drink in several versions of the above. All were good and one version came close to knocking my socks off. We’ll start with that one, which turned out to be the least tried out version of the drink, which is usually listed as containing strictly gin but was, we are told, first made with Cognac.
While I’m too cheap to buy the finest Cognac, I used my sturdy and very reasonably priced fallback brandy of Reynal (with offices in the Cognac region of France) which you can buy for about $12.00 at Trader Joe’s and BevMo. The Reynal and the wondrous Carpano Antica I featured last week made such beautiful music together with Fernet Branca, I had to wonder at how this drink came to be pretty strictly identified with gin.
Well, gin is pretty much England’s official booze, give or take a Guinness, and the Hanky Panky is nevertheless quite good that way, too. It was very definitely a more pleasurable and interesting drink with the wondrous but relatively pricey Carpano (usually about $27-$30.00 for a big bottle), but it worked just fine with our old pals, Martini & Rossi (about $10.00 a bottle). There’s no point at all, however, on trying to skimp on the Fernet Branca. Love it or hate it, there’s no hanky and no panky without it.
The only version I can’t vouch yet, since I haven’t had a chance to try it, is brandy with the more proletarian sweet vermouth listed above, but I can’t imagine any version is particularly unlovable. After all, isn’t it true that, like pizza, even bad Hanky Panky is still Hanky Panky?
Since this post is for New Year’s, I want to end with an appropriate entertainment. The connection here is that Ada Coleman worked at the Savoy’s American Bar, which was the hang-out of the legendary D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. As hardcore musical comedy geeks, and everyone whose seen Mike Leigh’s 1999 smash “Topsy-Turvy,” knows, that highly dramatic opera company was widely associated with the work of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose particular gifts for combining music and often rather silly comedy foreshadowed everyone from Cole Porter to those South Park guys. While the connection might not be immediately apparent, I can’t think of a more apt accompaniment to your Hanky Panky than the scene below. Happy New Year, everyone.
P.S.You can see a more orthodox production of the same G&S tune from “Topsy-Turvy” here.
2012 wasn’t exactly an unforgettable year at the movies – I know that, you know that – but it can hardly be described as a disappointment, because while there weren’t many films that will be remembered 20 years from now, there was still plenty of quality to be found if you looked hard enough. As is usually the case with these year-end features, my Top 10 deviates a little from the typical crop of movies that you’d expect to find on most critics’ lists (some that I didn’t love as much as others, and some that I never had the chance to see), but it’s nothing that will surprise anyone who’s read my past work.
It’s not every day that the author of a critically acclaimed novel gets the chance to adapt their book for the big screen, let alone direct it, but after watching Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. After all, Chbosky knows the material inside and out, and it definitely shows in this modest but heartwarming tale about finding your place in the world. It’s your typical coming-of-age story, but one that’s handled with a certain level of maturity rarely found in high school films, and though the comparisons to “The Breakfast Club” may not be completely warranted, it’s one of the few movies about high school that actually gets it right. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller all deliver excellent performances in their respective roles (especially Miller as the openly gay senior that takes Lerman’s freshman under his wing), and Chbosky’s deft script earns every emotional moment. It’s just a shame that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will probably get lost in the shuffle come awards time, because it has everything you could possibly want in a film.
Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. Of course, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks that it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its outstanding cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance that all but guarantees she’ll win the Oscar for Best Actress.
Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the Boston-born multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of his hometown to a much larger stage, delivering arguably his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones appear almost effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.
You’ll probably recognize this great character actor from movies like “Tootsie” or “The Sting.” Charles Durning passed away at the age of 89, and the man lived an incredible life, as you can see in his obituary.