You’ve stumbled upon Bar\Heart, a weekly newsletter exploring what it means to belong in America. You can read more about it here. This is the Friday afternoon Cocktail Hour, where we mix drinks, talk books, share advice and admire cute critters. If you enjoy these shenanigans, please consider subscribing. It’s free! Cheers. 🍸
Happy Friday, y’all! It’s Cocktail Hour.
It’s been a good week here in Detroit. My semester at Michigan State kicked off, and I’m teaching “creativity and entrepreneurship” and social media for small businesses.
I love the creativity course as it gives me a chance to convince young people that all of us are creative – not just artists – and can bring an entrepreneurial mindset to any part of our lives.
It’s always a blast, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about my experience in the coming weeks.
Ok. Let’s get to Cocktail Hour!
This might sound familiar to some of you. And you’d be right! I’m bringing back the Pisco Punch from Issue No. 13. Why? Because this amazing community has more than doubled in size since I initially published this essay from author Jasmin Darznik in October. And it’s just too good a story not to share again.
(I know, I know, I promised you martinis. And we’ll get to them. I just need some further, ahem, research.)
Jasmin wrote the historical novel, The Bohemians, about photographer Dorothea 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, starting with a quote from Rudyard Kipling.
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 Nicol 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) Peruvian 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
My brain has been feeling a little mushy lately with too much scrolling and too little absorbing. So I’ve recommitted to reading in 2022.
Each month, I’ll publish a list of forthcoming books I can’t wait to read. Yes, there are spreadsheets involved.
January’s titles take us from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and back to Queens, in a trio of novels that grapple with coming of age and changing, gentrifying cities. There is a dystopian novel that sends “bad” mothers to reform school. A book about how civil wars start and one featuring a journey through the South to explore the soul of our nation. Plus there’s a thriller set in strip clubs and historical fiction set in the opulence of Manhattan’s Gilded Age mansions.
My intent is not to create an exhaustive list of every book being published each month; rather, it’s a collection of titles I’m most interested in devouring. I hope you’ll find something you’ll enjoy, too. And please, do leave me a comment telling me which ones interest you – or what types of books you enjoy reading.
A writer from Buffalo, the birthplace of Buffalo wings, explains how to make better wing sauce. And it’s really simple – despite the sauce being shrouded in mystery and legend.
So how do you get that? Simmer butter, Frank’s RedHot sauce, half an onion and a bit of white vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and cayenne pepper for an hour.
I’m sorry I have to harsh your mellow.
This week peer-reviewed Journal of Natural Products published a study that showed some cannabinoid acids can be effective against Covid-19. The acids bind to the virus’ spike proteins, which then keeps the green blob from attaching to human cells. So you don’t get sick – or at least not as sick.
But the scientists who released this report studied cannabis sativa, or hemp, not THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot.
The scientists were seeking natural ways to fight the virus by preventing it from ever attaching. They thought compounds from plants might be viable and began researching black cohosh, and red clover, licorice and hemp.
Here’s a good interview with Dr. Richard van Breeman, the lead researcher on the project. He goes through the science and why smoking won’t work … but gummies just might. Here's one response:
And now it might become an Airbnb. It reminds me of the saga of the Sculptured House in Golden, Colorado. It, too, was designed by an artist who died and left it unfinished. It, too, sat empty for years but became a backdrop for photoshoots and films. (It was the Orgasmatron in Sleeper!) And then purchased and turned into a rental, but for events, not vacationers.
Yes, it’s a meditation on love, but also the power of the subjunctive.
3. miranda??? texting me?? The hilarious first person account of the time Cynthia Nixon texted Samantha Irby, one of the writers on And Just Like That…
Speaking of AJLT, there have been a number of think pieces about the show this week. Here’s an excerpt from Xochitl Gonzalez's rooklyn, Everywhere newsletter:
Have you been seeing this in your social media feeds?
Then you’ve been seeing people play Wordle, the online word game with a beautiful backstory. A software engineer designed this simple, but addictive, puzzle for his partner who loves word games. Read all about the love story! It’s a delight.
Each morning, the designer releases one new puzzle. The challenge is to identify the mystery five-letter word in six guesses or less. If the word you suggest includes a letter found in the mystery word, in the correct place, the box turns green. If your guess includes a correct letter but in the wrong place, the box turns yellow. And if the letter cannot be found in the mystery word, the box is black.
Say you type in FLASH as your first word. If FLASH was the day’s mystery word, all the boxes would turn green and you'd be a genius.
But if the day’s word was FLESH, the F L S and H boxes would turn green and the A box would turn black, informing you that an A is not in the mystery word. You'd have five more chances to get it right.
Once you complete the puzzle, you can “share” your Wordle – which is what your friends are all posting in their social feeds. The image above tells me that my friend found three correct letters but never solved the puzzle.
That’s because, despite its simple concept and interface, Wordle can be quite hard to solve.
Pro tip: Start with a word that uses as many common letters as possible. My friend Adam uses SOARE (a young hawk) because it tells him the status of three vowels, plus S and R, two of the most used letters in the English language.
And if that’s not enough there is an Adversarial Wordle, which actively plays against you! But there are unlimited puzzles per day.
In college I worked at Crabtree & Evelyn, the fancy bath products shop in the very fancy Cherry Creek Mall. I couldn’t afford to shop there, but when customers returned opened products (I would have never thought to do it, but it happened all the time!), the manager allowed staff to take the bottles home. And that’s how I became a fan of Avocado bubble bath before I’d ever had the good fortune of eating an avocado.
On winter nights, I liked to fill the bathtub in my tiny Denver studio until it was frothy, pour a glass of wine and then read and soak and smoke. I cannot think of a more luxurious pleasure.
Sadly, Crabtree no longer makes my Avocado bubble bath, and I no longer smoke. (Yes, I’m an ex-smoker who still yearns for the pleasure of a cigarette but chooses to honor Lovey’s wishes that I not die of lung cancer.)
I’ve been on the hunt for a new product so I can fill up the clawfoot tub in my Detroit garret and rediscover the pleasure of a Sunday night book and soak. I found this of the 25 best bath products over at The Cut, and it’s got everything from CBD bath salts to body positivity bath oils.
The Bamford Rose Bath Oil looks intriguing, but I don’t think I can stomach the $62 price tag. So maybe I’ll try the Kai Bathing Bubbles.
What are your faves? I'm looking for more luxe than Epsom salts, but not Bamford Rose luxe.
Hank was tired, so I had to call in some ringers for our weekly cute critter post. Can you blame me? These sea lions are living their best Galapagos life. #goals
That’s all for this week, friends. See you next Friday for Cocktail Hour.
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What is Bar\Heart? It is Amy Haimerl’s weekly newsletter about belonging in America. You can read more about it here. The midweek edition includes essays, interviews and reportage; the Friday Cocktail Hour is a round up drink suggestions, book recommendations and other detritus Amy picks up on the Internet and in life.
If you enjoy these shenanigans, please consider subscribing. And please tell a friend! I’d love to mainline my brain straight into their inbox, too.