Tag Archives: history

Savoy Cocktail of the Week: Modder River Cocktail


Modder River Cocktail

1/4 French Vermouth
1/4 Caperitif
1/2 Dry Gin
Shake well and strain into glass. 

Last week we sampled the Modder River Cocktail; but first, a little history:

The Modder River Cocktail calls for Caperitif—sadly (as touched upon previously), this South African quinquina is now defunct. I opted to use my new favorite substitute for Kina Lillet: Cocchi Americano. As we know, quinquinas involve the bite of quinine necessary to keep dear old malaria at bay in tropical colonial territories—similarly we have drinks taken with tonic water. Subsequently, the quinine element became integral to many a modern cocktail.

As for the actual Modder River, it forms part of the border between the provinces of Northern Cape and Free State in South Africa. The Battle of Modder River took place on November 28, 1899 during the Second Boer War, known in Afrikaans as the Battle of Two Rivers (Slag van die Twee Riviere). It was a rather bloody day-long battle, with Boer forces having the upper hand throughout most of the day, inflicting far more injuries on the British side; however, determining their position to be vulnerable, Boer forces retreated during the night, ceding victory to the British.

The cocktail itself is a light, refreshing cocktail—as can be inferred from the ingredients. It’s not terribly “ginny,” but still plenty strong. I am intrigued to try it again, with various alternative substitutes for the Caperitif—Lillet Blanc, perhaps St. Raphael Gold if that can be found (used for the Savoy Stomp’s version of the Modder River), etc.

Next week I shall confront a cocktail named for the subject of nearly all my graduate work up to this point:

The Napoleon

1 Dash Fernet Branca
1 Dash Curacao
1 Dash Dubonnet
1 Glass Dry Gin

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

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150th Anniversary of the USS Monitor

USS Monitor in action with the CSS Virginia, J.O. Davidson, March 9, 1862

Officially, the 150th anniversary of the launch of the first Union ironclad warship falls on Monday (January 30, 1862 + 150 years). The USS Monitor was constructed at Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and if you love a little local history, at this very moment in dear old Greenpoint, a whole day of festivities celebrating the USS Monitor is in swing, culminating with a Civil War concert this evening from 7-8:30 pm at the Church of the Ascension (127 Kent St., Brooklyn, NY 1122), where a suggested donation will run you $10. For those who are not lactose intolerant or fans of prohibition, there is wine and cheese before hand.

Additional events will literally carry you through the entire weekend. Go be historical! You might even see Kathleen there.

Additionally, to get in the spirit you can listen to one of my favorite historically geared songs by one of my favorite Brooklyn-based bands: Bishop Allen’s “The Monitor.”

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2011 In Review: Another Year of Books


Well friends, it’s that time again. Time to tally up the year in reading and take stock. Here’s what I read in 2011:

  1. The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, Julia Stuart
  2. The Tiger in the Smoke, Margery Allington
  3. Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz
  4. Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
  5. The Towers of Trebizond, Rose MaCaulay
  6. Ex-Libris, Ross King
  7. In the Shadow of Gotham, Stephanie Pintoff
  8. The Tempest, Juan Manuel de Prada
  9. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, Graham Robb
  10. An Expert in Murder, Nicola Upson
  11. Nightingale Wood,  Stella Gibbons
  12. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
  13. Harry Potter: La Coupe de feu, J.K. Rowling
  14. Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  15. Harry Potter: Le Prince de sang-melé, J.K. Rowling
  16. Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows (UK ed.), J.K. Rowling
  17. Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  18. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  19. The Secret of Chimneys, Agatha Christie
  20. Passenger to Frankfurt, Agatha Christie
  21. There is a Tide, Agatha Christie
  22. A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick
  23. Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh (re-read)
  24. Viles Bodies, Evelyn Waugh (re-read)
  25. The Disappearance at Père La Chaise, Claude Izner
  26. The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon, Veronica Buckley
  27. Murder on the Eiffel Tower, Claude Izner
  28. The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen
  29. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie (re-read)
  30. Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
  31. Magic and Madness in the Library, edited by Eric Graeber

A bit leaner of a list than last year’s, but alas: these things happen. A couple of re-reads, a smattering of French, some non-fiction mixed in—I like to keep it eclectic. In keeping with last year’s declaration that a year in books is a very personal yet easily (by which I mean generally painless) shared window into the soul, let’s go ahead and ponder what the 2011 list reveals.

First, I have been expanding the mystery writers in my repertoire. Second, I decided to start reading Evelyn Waugh’s body of work in chronological order (sidebar: I also purchased his collected travel works, which are sure to be offensive but amazing). Third, I am embarking on the adult tomes by C.S. Lewis. Fourth, I read a very odd mix of non-fiction.

And the result? The recommendations for your newly born year in books?

  1. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz. I started 2011 off with a hugely enjoyable (and highly anticipated) bit of non-fiction. As you may know from previous posts, I have a crazy dog and in general, I love the canines. I especially recommend Horowitz’s book for readers who have, or have ever had or even liked, a dog. The book is basically a reworking (read: making it readable for people who do not read dissertations for general joy) of Horowitz’s doctoral research on dog cognition. The tome is an incredibly enjoyable and hugely informative journey into dogness, features sections such as “Umwelt: From the Dog’s Point of Nose,” “The Vomeronasal Nose,” “Go Get the Green Ball!,” “…It Either Fits in the Mouth or It’s Too Big for the Mouth…,” “Don’t Bathe You Dog Everyday,” “Get a Mutt,” and “Anthropomorphize with Umwelt in Mind,” among many, many others. I grew up with a dog, I now have a “new” dog with whom—being an adult—I interact and experience quite differently, and I have to admit this book makes her make so much sense to me. For example, I now understand quite clearly that when she looks at me, looks at the food in my hand and then looks pointedly at the floor in front of her over and over again… yeah, she wants me to share that sandwich and she is telling me as clearly as she can—which is pretty damn clear if you think about it, but I never really had before. Maybe that’s just me.
  2. The Towers of Trebizond by Rose MaCaulay. I adore travel literature, and this is a brilliant faux travel lit from 1956, opening with the line “Take my camel, dear,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” Roughly, it is the tale of the narrator’s (Laurie’s) journey with her eccentric aunt and minister companion through modern Turkey, peppered with oscillating moments of hilarity and deep introspection. It’s one of those books that just cries out to be dog-eared and underlined. I stumbled upon it thanks to my favorite book catalog, Bas Bleu, and it was one of most fortuitous finds of my 2011. I recommend it constantly. A few choice excerpts I marked in my copy:

    “-Aunt Dot has always had her dreams. They are what take her about the world. She is an adventuress.
    About the world, yes. Tell me Laurie, does she love her country?
    -Not that I know of, particularly. Why should she? I mean, she usually prefers to be somewhere else, when she can. Most Britons do, I think. I expect it’s the climate. Besides, we’re a nomadic people; we like change of scene.'”

    He looked through my passport, turning the pages with covetous inquisitiveness, as if he suspected them of obscenity.
    ‘Profession,’ he then said, very loudly and angrily. ‘Why have you not written it here? You have written independent.’
    -‘Yes, I couldn’t think what else to put.’
    -‘Independent, you have written.’
    -‘Yes,’ I agreed. The conversation seemed rather repetitive.
    -‘You know what means independent?’
    -‘Yes, I think I do. It means no one pays me regularly for working.’
    ‘Independent,’ he said, turning the word over on his tongue in some disgust. ‘That means spy.’
    -‘No,’ I said, ‘Not in English. Spies aren’t independent. They get wages.'”

    “Still the towers of Trebizond , the fabled city, shimmer on a far horizon, gated and walled and held in a luminous enchantment. It seems that for me, and however much I must stand outside them, this must for ever be. But at the city’s heart lie the pattern and the hard core, and these I can never make my own: they are too far outside my range. The pattern should perhaps be easier, the core less hard.”

  3. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb provides a history of Paris through a mixture of obscure and well-known vignettes in the city’s history, ranging Napoleon Bonaparte’s first sexual encounter (with a prostitute of the Palais-Royal) in 1787 to Madame Zola’s personal trials, Marcel Proust’s issues with the métro, Hitler’s singular early morning tour of the city in 1940, on to and beyond Mitterrand’s Affaire de l’Observatoire. Being of the vignette sort, it’s another good read for those looking something to be read over time, bit by bit. It’s perfect for the collector of odd histories and random facts, and, of course, all the many lovers of Paris out there. Endless tomes compile vignettes about the City of Lights (and I own a lot of them), but unlike many of the others, I actually read this one without getting bored and leaving it to sit unfinished for weeks on end. Also, it has some pictures. I love a historic photograph.
  4. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. As I mentioned above, I returned to Evelyn Waugh this year. I first read Waugh back in high school when a copy of Scoop drew my eye at the bookstore (remember those?). I own about half of his works, including that recent compilation of non-fiction. Vile Bodies was his second novel, continuing with some of the characters introduced in his inaugural work, Decline and Fall. Vile Bodies is a bitingly satirical swipe at the youth of upper society in London between the world wars: the ‘Bright Young Things.’ It involves a car race begun humorously but ending horrifically wrong, a party in an anchored dirigible, a cast of singing evangelical angels who aren’t angels (reminiscent of Anything Goes), and a terribly embarrassing event at 10 Downing Street. I am a big fan of Waugh, satire, sarcasm, and of British literature of the period in general. If you have never read Waugh, this one might not be the place to start, but it is brilliant and if the style happens to be your cup of tea… it is very ‘delight-making’ (a phrase construction that will mean more to you if you read Vile Bodies) before a sobering descent into various looming realities that ruin the best of parties.
  5. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. I have always meant to read “adult” Lewis, and when a Christmas order from Amazon needed a couple extra dollars-worth to qualify for free shipping, I decided it was finally time to make it happen. Out of the Silent Planet is the first volume of the Space Trilogy, a science fiction series to which I am now committed. Lovers of the Narnia books will be happily familiar with Lewis’ creation of a new world (you eventually find out to which planet the hero is abducted), verbally painted to vivid perfection. It is a brief read, full of geeky academic-y jokes relating to being on term leave and the sorts of things in which a philologist (the protagonist) is interested. Of course, as should be expected, there is a lot going on beneath the bare surface of the plot.

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Happy Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day!


On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month…

In 1918, the armistice ending World War I signed at Compiègne, France went into effect ceasing fire on the Western Front. Eight months later, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles formally ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Forces.

French Marshal Ferdinand Foch orchestrated the major points of the armistice, which was signed in a railway car in the woods at Compiègne.


[Sidebar: Compiègne (both town and château) and its woodlands are quite lovely and you should visit them if you are ever in the Paris area, it’s a short train trip from the city, and is marred by much less mayhem than Versailles.]

President Woodrow Wilson inaugurated Remembrance Day in 1919, thusly:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

The holiday was renamed Veterans Day after World War II. In nations of the Commonwealth, November 11th is still referred to as Remembrance Day.

Most people are probably familiar with the red poppy as a symbol of this day. I recall as a child, every once in a while my mother would make a donation at an intersection and we would receive a paper or cloth poppy to twist around the rear-view mirror. Have not seen that recently though, ponderful.

The poem In Flanders Fields written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in 1915. It is from the popularity of the poem and the ubiquity of poppies it describes in battlefield and makeshift cemeteries that the flower is known in this context as the Remembrance Poppy.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Amidst all the cosmic excited surrounding the advent of 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 (which has apparently caused the Great Pyramids of Giza to be closed to the public today), it would behoove us to remember the men and women to whom we owe so much on a day to remember veterans.

To take one more sidebar: The wearing of the symbolic poppy on Remembrance Day in Britain was deemed so crucial, that Prince William, President of the British Football Association,  apparently got real with FIFA on the topic of poppies and footballers. English football/soccer players wanted to wear embroidered poppies on their uniforms for games held this weekend. FIFA’s determination to be apolitical resulted in a resounding ban on the poppies, so the Duke sent a harsh missive their way, using such terms as “dismay” at FIFA’s decision, declaring that “the poppy is a universal symbol of remembrance, which has no political, religious or commercial connotations.”

Ashley Cole's boot, Daily Mail

FIFA has given in, and players are permitted to wear arm bands emblazoned with poppies for the games this Remembrance Day weekend.


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Happy Guy Fawkes Day!


Guy Fawkes Day has a certain cachet in my family.

Not because any of us grew up with the English tradition or are particularly interested in gunpowder, treason, or pyrotechnics (although, I do love a good bonfire, if I am to be honest), but because “Remember, remember the fifth of November” is a very useful ditty for remembering my parents’ anniversary.

Seriously. Without that rhyme, I would probably have to Google “Guy Fawkes Day” every year in order to determine whether my parents’ anniversary is the 4th, 5th, or 6th of November. I know it is in there somewhere, but you know, I wasn’t there when the party went down, so I really cannot be expected to keep track of the date with 100% accuracy. Without Guy Fawkes Day, I would utterly lost.

Long history story short: On November 5, 1605 a band of English Catholics attempted to blow up parliament in an effort to depose protestant King James I, hoping to replace him with a Catholic sovereign. Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding a cache of explosives beneath the House of Lords—hence, The Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes later confessed the details of the plot under torture and was sentenced to a gruesome death, which he avoid by jumping from the hanging scaffold and breaking his neck neatly. The foiling of the plot and the survival of James I was celebrated with bonfires. An official act was passed the following year, establishing the anniversary of the event as a holiday.

Museum of London

You may be familiar with the idea of a Guy Fawkes effigy being burned as part of the night’s revelry. Children’s used to build their own scarecrow-like Guy in advance, and beg money to go towards a fireworks fund for the night of the fifth.

So… even though apparently a massive bonfires and faux-burning are now generally frowned upon, as are non-municipal fireworks and begging for pennies to fund them… well, maybe you can light some sparklers or something. Dig out a creepy V is for Vendetta Fawkes mask and get festive tonight. Just don’t put out anyone’s eye.


Guy Fawkes!


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New York Times On This Day, 1920: Votes for Women!

My first introduction to the history of suffrage may or may not (definitely was) Mrs. Banks’ “Sister Suffragette!” in Disney’s Mary Poppins—which isn’t even the right country for this anniversary, but such is life.

Today marks the  91st anniversary of the 19th amendment securing female suffrage in the United States, so kindly brought to my attention by The New York Times daily morning email. For our educational enrichment, the newspaper has posted the original article entitled “Colby Proclaims Woman Suffrage,” along with an image of the front page on which it appeared.

Secretary of State Colby signed the proclamation at his residence without fanfare or suffragette witnesses, much to the dismay of the National Woman’s Party:


“It was quite tragic,” declared Mrs. Abby Scott Baker of the National Woman’s Party. “This was the final culmination of the women’s fight, and, women, irrespective of factions, should have been allowed to be present when the proclamation was signed. However the women of America have fought a big fight and nothing can take from them their triumph.”

Remarks from Colby included:

“I confidently believe,” said the Secretary, “that every salutary, forward and upward force in our public life will receive fresh vigor and reinforcement from the enfranchisement of the women of America. To the leaders of this great movement I tender my sincere congratulations. To every one, from the president, who uttered the call to duty, whenever the cause seemed to falter, to the humblest worker in this great reform, the praise not only of this generation but of posterity will be freely given.”

So, if you are an American lady and you do not take advantage of your right to vote,  you should really reconsider why on earth you would do such a disservice to yourself and to the United States. Go vote the next time you have a chance—every election is important!


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Savoy Cocktail of the Week: The Hakam & Harry’s Cocktail


Last week I assigned myself the Hakam cocktail, a mixture of orange bitters, Curaçao, gin and Italian vermouth. As you can see from my recent selections, I am making use of a new bottle of Curaçao, although I regret the color it lends to most of the Savoy creations.

The Hakam was OK. Ingredients on the sweeter side, appropriate for summer imbibing, but over all I did not find it terribly striking. In fact, having neglected to make a note or two at the time of tasting, I am somewhat at a loss for something unique to say on the subject. While I recall enjoying the Hakam, I would probably sooner serve up the Grape Vine, Green Room or Froupe of recent weeks for my next evening on the deck, given they left a stronger impression.

Having got through the Hakam early in the week, I also tackled Harry’s Cocktail from page 81.

Harry Craddock, Life.com

1/3 Gancia Italian Vermouth
1 Dash Absinthe
2/3 Gin
2 Sprigs of Fresh Mint.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Serve with a stuffed olive.

I believe we can safely assume that Harry’s Cocktail is so named after Harry Craddock, the American ex-pat bartender at the Savoy’s American Bar during prohibition, who also happens to be the author of the illustrious Savoy Cocktail Book. Craddock left the States in 1920, by 1925 he was Head Bartender at the American Bar. In 1930, he published our favored tome, “a compendium of the Cocktails, Rickeys, Daisies, Slings, Shrubs, Smashes, Fizzes, Juleps, Cobblers, Fixes and other Drinks.”

Craddock—and The American Bar in general—became known for the tradition of creating cocktails for special occasions such as coronations, royal weddings, the moon landing, celebrities being celebritous, etc. The tradition continues to this day with such cocktails as The Restoration, celebrating the refurbishment of the Savoy.

I chose this cocktail for three reasons: I had the ingredients, I adore a beverage that comes with a snack (mmm, olives), and I wanted to provide a touch of background on the man behind The Savoy Cocktail Book. Just a touch.

While the liquid ingredients imply a somewhat heavy libation, the mint (which I like to tear up for flavor) lent it a pleasingly fresh note. As is the case with any absinthe cocktail (no matter how slight the Dash), it packed a full-flavored punch that you either get a kick out of, or would rather pass up, depending on your taste bud situation.

Up next in the historical guide to everything bar?

The Hawaiian Cocktail

4 Parts Gin
2 Parts Orange Juice
1 Part Curaçao )or any other of the Orange Liqueurs)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

And just for fun, a doubling up on the orange flavor, and because I love pioneers…

The Homestead Cocktail

1 Slice Orange
2/3 Dry Gin
1/3 Italian Vermouth

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

“Although this delightful drink is nowadays known as a Cocktail, it was known in the old homesteads of the Southern States long before the name Cocktail was coined.”


Filed under Savoy Cocktail Book Project