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In Old Port Sea Grill bartender John Myers’s world, there are things a good drinkslinger simply does not do. He does not loudly call attention to the level of inebriation of any of his customers ("Buddy, really tying one on tonight, aren’t you?"). He does not fudge ingredients, even on penalty of death ("The FDA, the USDA, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms people, the IRS, the Treasury Department, and all the rest in between should ban sweet-and-sour mix"), and, most importantly and without exception, he, at all times and in all scenarios, does his utmost to revere the craft and pageantry which is cocktail mixing ("The evolution of the American cocktail is part and parcel of the history of American innovation").
In Myers’s domain, grown men fall head over heels for gin fizzes, the amber glow of unfinished whiskey in the belly of a rocks glass recalls the rancor of hundreds of early American insurrectionists, and ordering a vodka martini is at best evidence of a complete lack of originality and at worst symptomatic of several deep-seated deficits of character.
If you catch Myers after one too many Sazeracs, he might confess to you the story of his cocktail obsession. He might tell you that he had his first drink when he was seven, when he and his younger brother guzzled themselves into a stupor after breaking into their mother’s cooking sherry. He would then go on to tell you that he met his first bartender at nine years old, a man nicknamed "Woodstock" employed at his uncle’s Woodstock tavern, who one day slipped a handful of ice down Myers’s shirt convincing Myers that the job of bartender might just be fun enough to be worth doing.
And if you order a Sazerac yourself and rave about the puckery anise flavor of the cherry-red liquid, or, better yet, confess to Myers that you consider it a personal affront that the state’s liquor provider, Maine Beverage, doesn’t see fit to carry the Maraschino liqueur needed to make a proper Brandy Crusta, Myers might warm to you enough to let you in on what really hooked him on cocktails in the first place. It was a book, faded and well-worn, which he stumbled upon nearly 20 years ago.
"I was a freshman in college and a couple of us went down to a used bookstore in town," he says. "I just really wanted to be at the Daiquiri Factory instead. I was just patiently biding my time and [my friends] were going on and on about getting some Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine in the original French and all this crazy stupid shit and I said, ‘Oh, yeah? Well, I’m going to get this.’ And I just grabbed the first book off the shelf and it turned out to be Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide."
Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide was first published in 1947. Stuffed full of old-time cocktail recipes and advice for the elegant bartender, the guide was popular during the 1950s.
The pageantry of the prose in the Bartender’s Guide appealed to Myers and, even years later, the book remains the prized element of his personal collection of cocktail memorabilia — which includes some 30 vintage bottle openers, around 200 books on alcohol and its history, a handful of toys paying homage to bars and drinking, several original receipts for medicinal spirits prescribed during Prohibition, and, curiously, a leather-bound copy of the autobiography of Portland’s (in)famous "Father of Prohibition" Neal Dow (who Myers grumbles was "intransigent at best, and stubborn, willful, self-righteous . . ."). Over the decade or so that Myers has plied his craft, he’s managed to rub shoulders with some of the country’s best-known cocktail historians — men like "King Cocktail" Dale DeGroff (author of The Craft of the Cocktail) and "Dr. Cocktail" Ted Haigh (author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, see sidebar, this page) — whom Myers calls "The Liquorati." In January 2005, Myers joined his fellow Liquorati in New Orleans to toast to the opening of the country’s first museum dedicated to the craft — the Museum of the American Cocktail.
It is an otherwise dreary Thursday afternoon when the Liquorato appears behind the bar at the Sea Grill to introduce this writer to the pomp and circumstance of liquor mixed to perfection. He tells three stories, each about one of history’s greatest mixed drinks. Three cocktales, if you will:
The Ramos Gin Fizz — 1880 ("The Paramour")
"The Ramos Fizz has long been synonymous with the finest in New Orleans art. Thinking that the formula, like any history dealing with the dead arts, should be engraved on the tablets of history, it was given to the world after the now rejuvenated Ramos bar closed for the ‘dry’ era."
— From The Gentleman’s Companion, by Charles H. Baker Jr. (1939)page 1 page 2 page 2
Issue Date: May 6 - 12, 2005
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