I stayed at The Drake Hotel in Chicago last week. It’s a grand old hotel with spacious rooms, a great fitness center and wonderful views overlooking Lake Michigan.
My favourite part, though, was the bar. The Coq d’Or is red-themed old piano bar that opened one day after Prohibition was repealed. Some say it was actually serving alcohol in the days of Prohibition. My waiter told he wasn’t around back then and couldn’t confirm or deny.
Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio drank here, as did Winston Churchill, and scores of other famous types who have stayed in the hotel.Photo from Chicagonow.com
The food is good, the martinis fantastic. Having said that, it’s the cocktail menu that I really ate up. It’s a historical review of popular drinks in America over the last 80 years.
A few things I learned:
(*) The Bloody Mary got its start at the famed Harry’s New York Bar in Paris when a French bartender blended vodka with tomato juice and spices. After the repeal of Prohibition in the US, the bartender moved to New York and brought the Bloody Mary with him. Since vodka was hard to find in the US, he began to make the drink with gin and called it the Red Snapper.
(*) According to legend, bartender ‘Trader Vic’ Bergeron — yes, that Trader Vic — then of Hinky Dinks bar in Oakland, California, invented the Mai Tai. One afternoon, he was blending up cocktails for friends who were visiting from Tahiti. He blended rum with lime, almond syrup, curacao, “added a mint spring and handed the drink over.” When one of the friends tasted the drink, she exclaimed, “Maita’i roa ae!” — “Out of this World! The Best!” — and the Mai Tai was born.
(*) In the years following Prohibition, aged whiskey was hard to come by in the US. Makers and drinkers had to find ways to “stretch” the remaining supply. They blended aged whiskey with neutral spirits, creating American blended whiskey. To stretch it a bit further, they added club soda or ginger and poured it into a tall glass — which became known as a highball.
(*) The Pina Colada was invented in a hotel I’ve actually stayed at — the Hilton Caribe in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which has one of my favourite restaurants of all time, the Lemongrass (Ah, lobster roll topped with foie gras). The drink was invented in the 1950s but didn’t become popular in the US until the 1980s.
(*) The tale of the “Harvey Wallbanger” is my favourite. Legend has it that the original Harvey was a surfer in Newport Beach who lost a big surfing competition. Naturally, he hit the bar post-competition and drank himself silly, banging into walls and people as he left the bar.
A note: This is all based on the menu at the Coq d’Or. I can’t confirm the historical accuracy but it’s good conversational fodder for parties.
Now, go out and start your May long weekend a bit early!