One of the scarce advantages of these bloody heatwaves is the excuse they bloody well provide to construct the perfect Bloody Mary for bloody breakfast.
This vital arterialiser should always come before the egg; certainly before the leftover chicken.
The Bloody Mary is a tricky and controversial affair, but exquisite in its capacity to bridge the wide gaps between medicine, intoxication and sustenance.
This writer spent 15 long years studying its myriad possibilities and artful ingestion before finally nudging the rubbing strakes of the New York Bar at ‘Sank Rue Da Noe’, Paris, where Fernand Petiot invented it in 1921 – two years before his fellow barman, Harry MacElhone, bought the joint and renamed it after himself.
Harry’s New York Bar is significant in being the first pre-packaged, transported Irish kit bar. It’s still the best of them. Ever. In the sense that it fled from oppressive America, across the Atlantic Ocean in boat, it was in fact a refugee pub.
Pissed off with prohibition, a Manhattan tap jockey called Clancy went into business with a star hayburner jockey called Tod Sloane, dismantled the timber-panelled interior of his bar in New York, with all the frathouse pennants its jock clientele had brought in for hanging over the years – even its red-and-white enamel hot dog warmer – and put it back together in that little room in L’Opera. It fits nicely. Among all the twitchy American spooks and wide-eyed touristes, you can meet tweedy Irish lawyers who since their graduation from the Sorbonne have never managed to get back across the sea to Ireland.
Downstairs, in the tiny jazz cellar, stands the tattered piano on which George Gershwin spent a boozy winter working on “An American In Paris”. I’ve written of this before: the clientele included Janet Flanner, Sartre and de Beauvoir, the Gertrude Steins, Waverley Root, Joe Liebling, Sylvia Beach and the James Joyces.
F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were regulars whose drunken antics the others frowned upon. They were infamous for putting vodka and orange in their baby’s bottle to stop the poor mite’s bellowing.
Harry himself took time off to be ringside towel-flapper for a silly young pugilist who was trying to learn to write. Name of Ernest Hemingway.
In his book The Paris Edition, Waverley Root, who went on to be a revered food writer after his stint as Paris stringer for the Chicago Tribune, wickedly named his second chapter “I never met Hemingway”, while Flanner wrote for New Yorker that Ernest was “of outsized masculinity, even in small matters”.
My most memorable day – one of them, at least – in that hallowed thirst emporium coincided with the farewell of the joint’s exquisitely-mannered shoe-shine girl. Appreciating that the coy but necessarily firm lass had numerical skills more polished than required for counting brogues, one of the regulars, a merchant banker, had given her an important job in his money factory. His colleagues at the bar both hated and admired him for this noblesse obligement. Weakened men and beautiful women too sensible to polish the shoes of spouses too proud, fat or lazy to do it themselves, together shed tears that blended with very strong drink and dribbled out the door by the end of that sodden, smoky night.
Our merchant banking shoeshiner astonished me by recognising and naming the style of my RM Williams Craftsmans, which were a rarity those days in Paris. She rued the advent of synthetic polishes and delivered a curt lecture on her hatred of the acetone she needed to remove this moderne evil from her clients’ clobber. And then pretty well sang an aria to RM’s boot dressings, which, short of Lancome face cream, she considered the best on Earth.
At which I wept, too.
Recollections of my internments in Harry’s moist hall are always a tad smudged, and it’s not the sort of place in which one takes notes, but I’m pretty sure it was that visit which landed me in the company of a Texan fighter pilot who’d somehow been stranded there after the Paris Air Show. I offered my condolences at the death of Texas Governor John Bowden Connally, the man who survived the passage of the infamous bendy bullet which took out Jack Kennedy years earlier in Dallas, at which said jock sobbed and poured me a shipment of malt whisky. It was the first he’d of heard of that news.
In return, he shocked me by advising me of the passing of his greatest hero, the Australian Colonel Sir Ernest Edward “Weary” Dunlop AC, CMG, OBE, whom I was lucky to have met. But I’ve never met another American who’s even heard of Weary.
Final free shoeshines aside, that alone was reason for further impassioned imbibition.
But the Bloody Mary: While Harry’s lab-coated staff still concoct it pretty much according to Ferdie’s original prescription, I’ll admit to having played with it in view of Australia’s New Heat. My theories reform with each summer, even from day-to-day, but they basically orbit the following framework.
A few of the ingredients are tricky to acquire in this austral City of Light, but while they’re essential to my 2016 vintage, I’m sure the thinking shaker will work around their absence.
Hardest to procure are C&B’s Old Fashioned Quinine Original Tonic Syrup, a San Francisco blend of agave nectar, citrus, lemongrass, cinchona bark and spices, and Charles & Charlie’s Sweetened Kalamansi Puree, which my geologist friend Mark Gifford brings home from his prospective visits to the Philippines. This is made from Fortunella japonica, a hybrid of mandarin and cumquat.
We could argue till hellfire’s lick about which Worcestershire or chilli sauces are best for this application, but Tabasco and Lea & Perrins do the trick.
Capsaicin addicts are best perusing the shelves at Chile Mojo on Magill Road, and I’m sure many will prefer more exotic types to the mellow “bird’s eye” recommended here. The chopped flesh of the nuclear bhut, or bih jolokia, with its remarkable vanilloids is my personal favourite in this application, but I’ll be sued for such recommendation, so unless you regularly do, just don’t.
In Assam, its home, bih means poison; jolokia is capsicum.
I always use iodised salt, having attempted to grow up in Kanmantoo, whose most prolific breeder was Kate Neil, an illiterate old lady whose goitre was as big as her head. This swelling of the thyroid glands is caused by iodine deficiency. Uh-huh.
My tablespoon is about 15ml. This recipe makes two or three big tumblers, depending on the size of your ice and your tumbler. I prefer stem balloon glasses and big ice blocks, which do the killer chill without dilution of all that good effort.
In a cup, thoroughly mix teaspoons of Tabasco, C&B’s Quinine Tonic, Angostura and salt with a tablespoon of Worcestershire and two tablespoons each of Kalamansi and Bickfords Honey Ginger and Lemon Cordial with your finely-chopped chilli and the juice of one or two lemons.
Tip this in a chilled jug with two tablespoons (or more) of beef stock, a cup of passata, half a cup of pomegranate juice, half a cup of blood orange juice and two cups of freezing Absolut Vodka. All these ingredients should be cold. You may prefer more passata: for this purpose it’s better than any commercial tomato juice. Stir well.
If you don’t like your tincture so gluggy, add a sploosh of soda later on.
Pour this over big ice in your preferred glass. Float a leaf of fresh basil on its back on the top and grind fresh black pepper over it.
Those who eat celery can have it afterwards if they remember. And a bloody egg or toast or bloody porridge or whatever. None of these things belong in or near such an easily-devoured all-round nourishment.
If you can find a bar called Moderation, drink it there.
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