The Drinks of Hollywood Blvd, or TCM 2013: A Booze Odyssey

Booze and the movies go way back. From the self-medicating part-time hooker heroine of 1931′s “Safe in Hell” — a highlight of 2013′s Turner Classic Movies Festival — to the lovable dipsomaniacs of “The Thin Man” and “Harvey” and on into more recent times with such frequently soused superheros as James Bond and Tony Stark, the movies have glamorized alcohol. When the movies wanted to, they could make habitual drunkenness charming, funny, and, of course, sexy.

While the movies once celebrated cigarette smoking as well, modern day Hollywood Boulevard makes it tricky for smokers to indulge in their passion, give or take some hookah bars and a medical marijuana “clinic.” Booze, however can be obtained with great ease. All you need is plenty of ready cash to afford the inflated prices or a clean credit card or two and you can have your fill of cocktails.

And that’s exactly what I did between classic, near classic, and merely really interesting movies the weekend of the 2013 TCM Fest. What follows is a (relatively) brief journal of the drinks I found going up and down the boulevard we call Hollywood the final weekend of April.

Now, I should add that this listing is my no means exhaustive and is, with one exception, limited to cocktails one can purchase on Hollywood Boulevard proper, no side streets allowed. They can all be obtained within a fairly easy walk of Sid Grauman’s old Chinese and Egyptian Theaters and the legendary Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the heart of Hollywood and the home base of the TCM Fest.

And so we begin our journey across the street from the Egyptian at what is still Los Angeles’s most famous bar.

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Drink of the Week: The Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary plusLong before I began to get more than casually interested in mixology, I wondered into a dive bar on Sunset Boulevard and requested a bloody Mary from a crotchety bartender.

“Bloody Mary’s are what alcoholics drink in the morning!” he informed me brusquely, clearly speaking of a subject he knew first hand. After it became clear he wasn’t joking and really was irritated by my order, I settled for a screwdriver, but I wasn’t happy. Sorry, but in my opinion you should be allowed to enjoy this delicious cocktail at any time of day and you shouldn’t have had to have blacked out the night before in order to merit one. In fact, if you have, you’re probably a lot better off drinking it virgin (i.e., alcohol free), which really isn’t a bad thing to drink regardless.

The origins of this fairly easy to make but still rather complex drink, with loads of potential ingredients, are vague but apparently some credit is due the late comedian and “Toastmaster General” George Jessel — today best known as the inspiration for the voice of Dr. Zoidberg on Matt Groening’s “Futurama.” It’s apparent that the name “bloody Mary” either comes from bloodthirsty Queen Mary I of England or the legendary ghost all 9 year-olds know, but that’s a bit vague too.  We do know that if you repeat the name “bloody Mary” 100 times, you’ll get a bartender even more annoyed than the one who refused to make me this drink.

Below is a good, but rather mild, starter recipe.

The Bloody Mary

1-1.5 ounces of vodka
4-6 ounces tomato juice
1-3 dashes of hot sauce
2-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 dash of ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. pure horseradish (or more)
1-3 dashes celery salt
1/2 ounce of lemon juice (optional)’

Possible garnishes: celery stalk, lemon slice, olives, pickled green beans, carrot sticks, dill pickles, cucumber, cooked cold shrimp, whole Maine lobster (just kidding on that one)

Pour tomato juice and vodka over ice into a glass (Collins or larger), add Tabasco or the hot sauce of your choice, Worcestershire, pepper and other spices. Stir vigorously with swizzle stick or bar spoon, add as many garnishes as you dare.

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As you can see, there’s a lot of room for variation and personal taste here. To be honest, I’m still perfecting what proportions and technique work best for me and I’m not sure why sometimes my bloody Mary tastes heavenly and other times, just pretty good.

A couple of quick notes. First of all, don’t be afraid to try other types of liquor other than vodka. I’ve been using gin a lot lately, but also have had reasonable success, believe it or not, with whiskeys. Also, don’t let the fact that you may not have every single one of these ingredients stop you from building your own bloody Mary.

In fact, the best bloody Mary by far that I’ve made myself came from a recipe developed by Hendrick’s gin for use with their brand. It’s just Hendricks, tomato juice, a slice of cucumber, some hot sauce, and ice. My second favorite version of the bloody Mary comes from Canada. It seems our neighbors to the north make theirs with Clamato and they call it a bloody Caesar. I’d say it was “bloody good,” but that would be annoying.

  

Drink of the Week: Highballs

Because it’s the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, traditionally a big time for picnics and barbecues, we’re going to keep it extra simple this week. So simple a “recipe” in the usual sense isn’t even required.

highball gin and tonicHighballs are not any one particular drink but any cocktail comprised of an alcoholic base and a much larger proportion of some non-alcoholic beverage. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t bother with a lot of highballs because there’s not much point in giving you a recipe for, say, rum and coke or a 7 and 7 (just in case you’re extremely new to booze, that’s 7-Up and Seagram’s 7 whiskey).  Your basic highball is 1-2 ounces of booze, a mixer to taste — about five or six ounces, maybe, and some ice. You can throw in a garnish of your preference, like a lime or lemon wedge, if you want to get fancy.

We’re making an exception this weekend because highballs really are the easiest cocktails to make if you’re going to be outdoors and away from the conveniences of home. Yes, it’s possible to drag your cocktail shaker, measuring shot glass, plenty of ice cubes (which you’ll be quickly tossing), assorted bitters, garnishes, and — most tricky of all– the appropriate type of glasses with you on a picnic. However, we’ve tried it and had fun with it, but it was no picnic. Yes, you can use plastic champagne glasses in place of martini glasses and it won’t be bad, but it’s still a lot of work, those plastic champagne glasses cost a few bucks, and they will never be the same as an actual chilled glass right out of  your freezer.

Of course, cocktail snobs look a bit downward on many of the most popular highballs — you’ll never see James Bond ordering a Jack Daniels and Coke, but then again you’ll never see him gnoshing on a Hoffy’s or Hebrew National at a picnic, either. Nevertheless, there are many beverages in the highball family with a degree of nobility that Bond and even snootier folks have been known to favor. For starters, no one should look down on you for your Scotch or bourbon and soda. (Depending on liquor laws and enforcement in your community, however, police officers may feel otherwise.)

If you really want to kick it old-old-old school, try taking some ginger ale along with the usual cola and lemon lime sodas. Dry ginger ale (not too heavy on the ginger) was the mixer of choice during prohibition, when most liquor was not of high quality; it still works very nicely. Canada Dry and Canadian whiskey was our grandmother’s beverage of choice and we think the old lady kind of knew what she was doing. (We love heavier, more gingeriffic, ginger ales like Vernor’s and ginger beers, and they are frequent cocktail ingredients, but they might not be as reliable mixers in a simple picnic setting.)

Better yet, the immortal gin and tonic is one highball you can knock back with pride, and not just because it’s a favorite of English aristocracy, as seen on “Masterpiece Theater.” Even back when we were young and foolish and appreciated neither gin nor tonic water, somehow the combination of the two of them made one of the delightful warm weather alcoholic beverages we’d fall back on, and we still love them. An especially good version of this uses Hendrick’s Gin, a terrific mid-priced premium gin made in Scotland — most gins are strictly English — that uses a cucumber infusion. As for garnishes, the usual lime wedge will work just fine, but a slice of cucumber stolen from whoever’s making salad really kicks this drink to life. Vodka and tonic is obviously another popular choice here.

Screwdrivers — orange juice and vodka or gin — are impossible to mess up — unless you put in more than 1-2 ounces of  booze, in which you case you probably don’t really care what it tastes like anyway. And while a gin or vodka and tonic won’t actually cure malaria with the tiny amount of quinine that it contains, we are fairly certain the vitamin C in the orange juice will be sufficient to ward off scurvy. Trust us, nothing can ruin a picnic faster than a bad case of scurvy.

  

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