Author Jasmin Darznik raises the cocktail glass this week. Jasmin wrote the historical novel, The Bohemians, about photographer Dorthea Lange and her foundational time in San Francisco. While researching, Jasmin discovered that San Francisco’s signature drink, Pisco Punch, was popularized, if not invented, on Montgomery Block, the famed hangout for her bohemians. I’ll let her tell you the story:
“One part pineapple, one part pisco, and some unspecified part of crushed cherub’s wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset, and fragments of lost epics by dead masters.” — Rudyard Kipling’s recipe for the Pisco Punch.
Kipling, who visited the city in 1889, wasn’t the first or only writer to fall under the cocktail’s potent spell. A young red-headed Mark Twain was also a fan. He and a friend named Tom Sawyer were known to frequent the Bank Exchange Billiard Saloon in Montgomery Block, a massive four-story structure that went up in 1853. The building, which stood where the Transamerica Building now stands, was built on a raft of redwood logs, earning it the title of the “Floating Fortress.”
While Pisco Punch may have been first concocted on board one of the shipping vessels bound for San Francisco from Peru or Mexico, it was perfected at the Bank Exchange. With the then-exotic pineapple as one of its main ingredients, and a sprinkle of cocaine as a possible addition, Pisco Punch was the ultimate status drink, a golden nectar born of the Gold Rush. In today’s money, one cocktail would set you back about $30.
It wasn’t just men knocking back Pisco Punch. Duncan Nichol, the Scottish immigrant who ran the Bank Exchange for 36 years, fashioned a separate drinking lounge for women, making his the first Western establishment to cater to “non-working women.”
The Bank Exchange closed its doors in 1920, but Pisco Punch, and drinking culture overall, flourished in 1920s San Francisco. Prohibition had been spearheaded by White Anglo Protestants in the Midwest. In the first decades of the 20th century, two-thirds of San Francisco’s residents were immigrants or had at least one immigrant parent. Alcohol was simply a part of everyday life for Italians, Germans, Jews, and Irish in the city. They wouldn't — and didn't — give it up.
The Legion Club, The Spotlight, The Colony Club — these and myriad others made San Francisco the "wettest city in the west." Here bootleggers were regarded as public servants. The thick coastal fog for which the city is so well known provided a perfect cover for rum runners, but to make sure the drinks kept flowing, in 1926 San Francisco actually passed its own law against Prohibition.
In San Francisco, as in the rest of the country, Prohibition actually led more women to partake of alcohol. For the ladies, the allure of speakeasy culture proved far more tempting than the musty old all-male saloons where drinking used to take place. Pisco Punch and the newer cocktails created in the 1920s to mask the taste of less than perfect concoctions were quite popular with women.
Duncan Nichol purportedly took the recipe for Pisco Punch to the grave with him in 1926, but enterprising San Franciscans have been mixing up versions of it ever since. The likeliest authentic recipe appeared in a 1973 article titled “Secrets of Pisco Punch Revealed.” Here’s that version, for the historical record:
1 pint distilled water
¾ pint lemon juice
24 oz (one bottle) Peruivan Pisco Brandy
Cut pineapple in squares about ½ by 1½ inches and put in a large bowl of gum syrup.
Let soak overnight. That serves the double purpose of flavoring the gum syrup with the pineapple and soaking the pineapple, both of which are used afterward in the Pisco Punch
In the morning, mix together a half pint of the pineapple flavored gum syrup with the distilled water, lemon and brandy.
Serve very cold, but be careful not to keep ice in too long because of dilution. Use 3 or 4 oz. punch glasses. Put one of the above squares of pineapple in each glass. Lemon juice or gum syrup may be added to taste.
2 shots Pisco
1 shot pineapple juice
½ shot orange juice
½ shot lemon juice
1 shot simple syrup
Muddle cloves in cocktail shaker or mason jar
Add juices and syrup
Add ice and shake until cold
Strain into ice-filled class
Top with champagne
Garnish with pineapple and mint
I am unreasonably excited about the fact that Captain Kirk finally made it to the final frontier. Solemn nod. At age 90, Star Trek star William Shatner took a ride on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin cock rocket and made history as the oldest person in space.
Can we please send Uhura next? There have been just six Black women astronauts in the history of NASA, only four of whom have been to space. Let’s say their names (left to right):
Sian Proctor, 2021 on the Inspiration4 mission
Stephanie Wilson, 2006 - 2010; will be on 2024’s return to the moon
Joan Higginbotham, flew in 2006 on Space Shuttle Discovery
Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, in 1992.
Nichelle Nichols broke so many cultural frontiers when she helmed comms on the USS Enterprise from 1966-1991. As the first Black woman on a major television series, she showed other young Black women what was possible. Seeing her hailing Khan and the others was so critical to equality that no less than Dr. Martin Luther King convinced her to stay on the show when she considered leaving.
Uhura has lived long and prospered. Now she deserves her shot at the stars.
You’ve probably seen this photo, right? It’s a classic image from the Depression shot by photographer Dorothea Lange. But before Dorothea got famous for her pictures for the Farm Security Administration, she was a young woman alone and penniless in San Francisco. Writer and historian Jasmin Darznik takes us to those early days of Dorothea’s career and introduces us to her mostly fictional bestie, a half-Chinese dressmaker, who gives Dorothea her passport to the city’s bohemian side.
You may feel a sense of a deja vu when reading The Bohemians because Dorothea’s world is so similar to our own: In 1918, the country was stricken by a strange flu, rife with anti-Asian hate, and staring across a chasm that separated the haves and have nots.
I typically haven’t gone for historical fiction, but the pandemic has sent me looking to the past, particularly for women's stories. The Bohemians fits that bill, along with Jasmin’s previous book, Song of a Captive Bird, about the Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad.
After a lifetime of not having a skin care routine other than having skin and occasionally applying moisturizer with SPF to it, I decided perhaps I should get one. I’ve been blessed with my great grandmother’s skin, so perhaps I should do something to keep it. But what? My mom only ever slathered on some Olay and called it a day. The question sent me down the Internet rabbit hole of K-Beauty, primers, serums, and more. It was enough to make me turn the light out and decide my skin could wait another...decade. But then this Glamor article gave me a good primer on what’s what and what order to use it in.
Spot treatment (?)
Face oil (?)
I don’t think I’ll be adding all 8 steps for day, plus retinol for night, but it’s a start. What products to buy, well, that’s for another night.
— Hunting Season: Women, Wolves and the Fight for Our Lives from Lyz Lenz’ “Men Yell at Me” newsletter
— How Parking Destroys Cities. This week my neighborhood has been rife with fights over parking requirements for new buildings. So I went looking for some answers.
— Roller Skating at the End. I loved this beautiful essay. It is ostensibly about roller skating but is really about life and aging and expectations.
Welcome to an occasional feature from Bar\Heart contributor Shana, she of the amazing “oh sh*t kit.” It’s for when someone in the popular culture annoys us enough that Shana just can’t keep quiet. The person isn't necessarily “canceled” — mostly because we’re really tired of that debate — but they DO need to shut their piehole.
But before we got there, I should offer full transparency:
I am not a Beatles fan. They made some incredible music —and a cultural impact for the ages — and I respect that. But, no thanks. Not for me.
I am a HUGE Rolling Stones fan. One month from today I'll be seeing them live here in Detroit and I could not be more excited.
I think we can all agree Paul McCartney is a global cultural icon and has been for...a long damn time. He's the nice one, the cute Beatle. It's hard to get anybody to say a bad word about him. The most questionable behavior I can find in his nearly 64 years as a public person (as a rock star, no less!) is some 70s era trouble over weed. He's been a Boy Scout.
First he said that John initiated the Beatles break up. Seems likely. But, also that was five decades ago. John has been dead for 40 years. How many chances has Paul had to clarify that point over that tremendous time span? Why now? I didn't care, so I rolled my eyes and moved on.
Except he wasn't done.
He then decides to call the Rolling Stones a “blues cover band.” Now I'm mad. They're the ROLLING FUCKING STONES. They've been a band for 59 years. They are currently on tour; the Beatles last played live in 1969. To quote my father (a Beatles fan, btws!), “He was in a band that broke up 51 years ago. And, has he never heard the Stones play reggae, disco or country? So stupidly outrageous.'
What in the actual fuck, Paul? Why on earth would you say either of those things? Speculation in my texts ranged from he's off his meds (Amy), jealousy over the media attention for the Stones tour (my dad), jealousy over still having to share adulation with John after all these years (me) and finally, having something to promote (also me). BINGO. In the next month or so he's got a book and a limited TV series on their way.
Ok, fine. I get it. You have to do press to promote your projects. But do you really not have anything more interesting to talk about? You're playing he said/he said with a bandmate that's been dead longer than he was alive. You sling some rather lazy mud at the Rolling Stones?
Sir Paul, you have a reputation for being nothing but charming. Why ruin it now for some low-grade media attention? Tell us something else. Or, preferably, shut your pie hole.
After five seasons I still love Axe. And Wendy. And Taylor. But mostly Axe. The whole show just thrums when Damian Lewis is on screen.
Lovey and The Bestie™ were team Rhodes in the beginning, back when there was still, ostensibly The Good Guys (Rhodes and the government, in their eyes) and The Cowboy. They rooted for the fall of the Cowboy. But Axe is quick and smart and will be not be brought down, and yet Rhodes tries and tries again. It's like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
But here's the thing that I also love about Billions: Over five seasons the lines have blurred. As season five closes, it's not entirely clear anymore who is who anymore. And we're left wondering if, maybe?, Wile E. Coyote finally got his bird. Or if Axe really engineered the final perfect getaway. We'll have to see in season six.
I thought we were done with #FatBearWeek. But I was wrong. The National Park Service has templates for making fat-bear pumpkin carvings. You're welcome.
Hank says to go and find your happy place. He likes a good bookstore, like Brilliant Books in Traverse City, because everyone stops to pet him and children sit next to him while they read.
That’s all for this week, friends. See you next Friday for Cocktail Hour.
🕵🏻♀️ Can’t remember how to make orange bitters or the name of a TV show I mentioned? Check the archive.