Welcome to “Recorded Conversations,” an occasional feature where all the Addison Recorder editors contribute their thoughts about a question, idea, or prompt. Everyone will chime in, and then we see where the conversation wanders. For today’s conversation, J. Michael Bestul looks forward to a few drinks over the Labor Day weekend, and wonders aloud what might be drinking.
Prompt: You’re at a bar, restaurant, or pub that you’ve never been to before. The place has a pretty good drinks list, and on it, you notice ____________. And because this is one thing you always have to try when you’re at a new place, you order it.
Question: What is ____________, and why is it the libation you order?
(I just want it to be very clear that my drink of choice is not Maus by Art Spiegelman. In no universe is it a statement that I will walk into a bar to see if they have a Kristillnacht Martini and whether or not it meets my given standards. That’s just (a) morally incomprehensible, and (b) silly. Also, I’m not a fan of Krystal Vodka. But we’ll get there.)
I’m honestly a big fan of just going into a bar and ordering a beer. My preferred brews of choice are Smithwicks, Newcastle, whatever Oktoberfest brew is on tap, or a good ale that pours nicely and goes well with a burger and bar fries. Smithwicks in particular is a favorite. It’s a beer to me that speaks to having just finished a hard day’s work.
(It was also a gift after I helped my friend Beth move. This was the time where I discovered that one of my mutant powers is the ability to load a moving truck in the most efficient, durable, and easily accessible way, a talent that has come in useful several times since. Many friends will vouch for me not only for that move, but for others moves since (including some of our Recorder staff!) I transformed what looked to be at least four trips between apartments into a trip and a half, and was rewarded by Beth with a six pack of Smithwicks and pizza. This is also the best moving payment ever. But we’ve gotten off topic.)
If I had to describe my favorite libation, however, my favorite concoction of choice, we’ll have to follow Andrew’s path and explain one of the most influential people/writer’s/artists in my life.
Yes, friends, I’m talking about the good Doctor.
Hunter Thompson, to me, is one of the best writers of the 20th century, and one of the most perplexing figures to ever traverse the American literary landscape. His lifelong pursuit of the American Dream in an effort to fully understand its rise and fall makes for some of the greatest cultural writing that I’ve ever discovered. His essays on the Kentucky Derby, the Pulitzer divorce trials, and the Super Bowl are simultaneously deliciously insightful and a profound experience. Thompson’s writing is visceral and real, and reading it is less of reading over his words in private than it is driving down a desert road in an open top convertible at 120 mph while high on acid and a dozen other assorted drugs while a raging Mexican lawyer threatens to unload a .44 Magnum into the face of a hitchhiker whilst bats assault your car from all sides.
In short, its a complete mind trip, best performed while drinking the Good Doctor’s favorite concoction.
Thompson was overly fond of his alcohol, and it should be noted that he was an excessive alcoholic in every sense of the words. It’s no laughing matter, and I feel it would be improper to not include that his disease directly contributed to much of his own personal dysfunction, including contributing to his divorce and much of the pain that wracked him his entire life. However, his drinking does lead to one of the stories that I feel best sums up his life.
Hunter was out to lunch with one of his editors/assistants/associates/etc. (The exact nature of their relationships escapes me at the moment, but doesn’t really affect the story.) When the waiter took their drink order, the friend went first. The waiter then asked Hunter what he would like to drink.
“Three Bloody Mary’s.”
“Is that for everyone at the table, sir? You know they’ve already ordered.”
“Don’t you think I know that, you fool? They’re all for me! Now make it quick!”
In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, one of many of his masterpieces, he describes drinking Bloody Mary’s in a hotel lobby for the nutritional content. He downed them throughout his life like others might drink coffee.
Consequently, I’ve slightly fallen in love with their taste.
At first glance, the Bloody Mary seems to be a disgusting blend of several things that don’t quite make sense together. Ideally, tomato juice and pepper vodka are blended together with a mixture of tabasco, Worchestershire sauce, and more pepper of varying natures, before anything including olives, lemon slices, celery, and pickles are jammed into the glass. Served over ice, the drink is a staple of yuppie brunches everywhere, and a brunch establishment without Bloody Mary’s to me just seems to fall short.
It is true that you can drink the beverage for its nutritional content (especially if it’s made with V8), and that you can accordingly adjust the amount of pepper and spice within the drink. All of these facts directly contribute to the conception of the Bloody Mary as one of the greatest cocktails ever created. It is also true that drinking for breakfast might be one of the worst decisions a working man can make. When considering all of these factors, the Bloody Mary must be viewed as a dangerous weapon, but when used properly, it is the most effective cocktail that one can conceive. Not only will it please your taste buds and relax your libido, it also provides you with a full serving of fruits and vegetables.
And besides, who doesn’t want to drink something that makes you feel for a moment, if only for a precious inner moment, that you can live, breathe, and function on the same level as a man wandering through the dark recesses of Nixonland and Bat Country?
**ADDENDUM: Since I started this piece, I’ve discovered that the Salt and Pepper Diner on Clark Street, just a half block from Wrigley Field, serves $3 Bloody Mary’s all day long. True, they’re not the strongest of cocktails (given the dollar amount being spent), but they do spice up a brunch order, and can serve as an effective pre-gaming event before attending a Cubs game, heading downtown for an afternoon out, or just working on a libations piece for your online magazine.