Periodista Tales

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Periodista Tales: Lauren Clark—The Critic

It wasn’t with the rum drinks. No, that would have been too easy. It was in a catchall section called “Mezclas Multiples.” The recipes were in alphabetical order. I flipped pages, past the As with their Antilles and their Astoria, the Ds with their Delmonico and Douglas Fairbanks. But it wasn’t in the Ps between Pelayo and Perry. No, that would have been too easy. I flipped to the end. There it was, in the bottom right-hand corner of page 399, after the curiously-spelled Zazerac cocktail.  All by itself.  Like it didn’t want to be found.

Periodista.

Come. On. What?”

I was sitting in the Franklin Cafe with Lauren Clark on a Tuesday. Joy Richard was behind the bar. Joy works Tuesdays. That’s why we were there instead of the library.

“So, what does it say? Bacardi blanca, okay. Apricot, okay. Límon is actually lime, right?”

We were looking at the copy of El Arte Del Cantinero that I’d brought along for show-and-tell. I was seeing a girl who was tight with the Harvard librarians, and she’d found the book on WorldCat and put in an interlibrary loan request. Easy as that. The copy we’d gotten was from Yale. What Yale was doing with it I couldn’t figure. Probably not mixing Zazeracs.

“That’s amazing.  That is so—wow.  So at least 1948, then?”

Uh huh. El Arte proved it. The Periodista was Cuban, and it was at least as old as 1948, when the Club de Cantineros de la República de Cuba put out their bartender’s manual. The book is credited to Hilario Alonso Sanchez, apparently the Club’s secretary, and the full title is El Arte Del Cantinero, Los Vinos Y Los Licores.

The thing is an inch thick. 450 pages cover to cover, with 100 pages devoted to recipes. (I’d strapped myself to Google Translate and was holding on tight—not the first time I regretted taking French in school.) The first 350 pages cover everything a good barman should know: grape varietals, the therapeutic qualities of beer, “the truth about alcoholism,” five different theories on the origin of the word “cocktail,” how to stock a bar, how to dress, how to treat a good customer, how to deal with a bad one. It also includes the origin stories of a number of classic cocktails. Not the Periodista. My copy was bound in brown leatherette and had the word CINZANO stamped on the fore edge. No respect, those Yalies.

I took a sip of the drink Joy had made me. It was something she was working on for the cocktail menu of the Franklin family’s new joint, the Citizen. It was pink and tasted vaguely of dark chocolate. I liked it. Clark ordered the Cape Bjare Daiquiri. I’d beaten her there by a good half hour and was already on my second. Model of restraint.

Lauren Clark is the editor of—and sole contributor to—the blog Drinkboston.com. In some ways, Clark’s work has defined the Boston bar scene. Sometimes a movement doesn’t realize it’s a movement until it has a critic to talk about it. Lauren Clark: Clement Greenberg of Boston cocktaildom. I’d met her a couple months back at Green Street and told her about the Periodista project. She’d said something vaguely encouraging. I’d started working on it the next day.

“Now,” said Clark, flipping the brown, crispy pages of El Arte, “are there a lot of recipes in here that call specifically for Bacardi?”

Clark didn’t have anything new for me on the Periodista, but sitting there with her and a 1948 recipe for the Periodista, I felt like I’d come full circle. I ignored her rum question and brought things back around to the Club de Cantineros de la República de Cuba. According to the irrepressible Havana Club website, the Club is still active today.

I observed to Clark that she also belongs to a cocktailing club of sorts. (A cheap segue is like a cheap drink: you may not like it, but it gets you there.)

“You mean LUPEC,” she said. “LUPEC Boston, I should say. The first chapter was founded in Pittsburgh in 2000. Ladies United for the Preservation of the Endangered Cocktail. That’s us.”

I asked how LUPEC Boston came together.

Misty was the one who got the whole ball rolling,” she said. “She had been working in town for a while and already had a reputation just as a hoofer, you know? Like she’d been on Broadway for a long time and had done a lot of shows, but she was finally starting to really get on stage and be in the spotlight. I think she wanted to figure out how the cocktail thing was going to move forward.”

Ladies United for the Preservation of the Endangered Cocktail. The name had the sooty air of the 19th century all over it. I thought about the Jack Rose Society. What was it about the cocktail renaissance that had people roleplaying the Victorian era? Too much time nose-deep in Jerry Thomas? I asked Clark her opinion.

“I think that’s probably a little more true of the Jack Rose Society,” she said. “I think in a lot of ways they were more practical. They always had an agenda, like, let’s figure out the best recipe for the Ward Eight. And you know Jackson and John—they would all bring their books and there would be a kind of nerdfest going on. LUPEC was less about that. For us it was more about just finding this thing to be enthusiastic about, and finding kindred spirits, and then spreading the love through this group of enthusiastic people.”

Down the bar, Joy eyed the ice cubes that were spinning in her mixing glass. As the crushed ice at the bottom of the glass blended with the spirits, the larger cubes on top began to sink. Like Clark, Joy Richard was a founding member of LUPEC Boston.

“It was also about bringing drink-making women out of the shadows,” said Clark. “Bartending is a very male-dominated passion, and there are certain preconceived notions when it comes to cocktails and women. We wanted to say loud and clear, like, ‘Hey, we’re making Rob Roys too. We’re not just drinking Cosmos. We’re the real deal.’ So that was a big part of it. But, you know, I haven’t really been actively involved with LUPEC in over a year.”

Typical of my investigative techniques.  Find someone who hasn’t touched your lead in twelve months and grill them. Swell. I asked her about something I knew she was still up on, her own blog.

“I started Drinkboston in 2005,” Clark said. “I’d just completed a major freelance assignment, this beer piece I wrote for the Times. And I was like, ‘Oh, wow. I got an article published in the New York Times and it was not fun for one second.’ So I started looking for a way to do my own thing with my writing. At the same time I was becoming more aware of the bar scene. Back then, like early 2000s, dirty martinis were still the big thing, and people were just discovering Cosmopolitans.”

She pointed to my cocktail glass. V-shaped with a stem. You know the one.

“People started drinking stuff out of this glass,” she said, “like they never had before. So bartenders started making more drinks for that glass.”

Joy brought over Clark’s daiquiri. It was in that glass.

“It all gelled while I was doing a brief freelance stint for the Herald,” Clark continued, “writing for their Sunday food section and alternating each week between beer columns and wine and spirit columns. Every time I sat down to start writing a column I would Google ‘best Boston bars,’ ‘best Boston bartenders,’ ‘Boston cocktails,’ things like that, trying to find background information. There was, like, nothing. After the tenth time doing that I kind of said, ‘Hey, this looks like something I might be able to do myself.’”

Of course, now when you Google any of those search terms, Clark’s blog comes up. First result. I thought about a time not too long ago when I’d been desperately Googling “periodista recipe” and coming up short. Try that search today. Not the only way I’d followed in Clark’s footsteps.

“I started interviewing bartenders,” she continued, “writing profiles, doing reviews. I wanted it to be a platform for my writing, but I also wanted it to be, you know, a loose narrative of what was happening in the Boston bar scene.”

Clark’s narrative covers the past five years. I arrived on the scene in 2007, started trailing the Periodista in 2010. But my questions went back at least to 1995, and not a single person I’ve wanted to get access to has left town. Clark had profiled almost all of them years before I showed up.

“The top people in Boston are definitely the ones who have been slogging it out for a long time,” Clark said. “Jackson, Misty, John—but there’s this funny thing happening now where a twenty-three-year-old will start working at a bar, and be kicking ass and doing great, but have the expectation that they’re going to be, like, brand ambassador and a celebrity bartender within five years.  Now, that has definitely happened in New York, and probably San Francisco. Not really here. But I think if there’s anyone in Boston working now who’s on that trajectory, it’s Misty.”

Of course. Kalkofen again. I felt as if she’d been the shadow protagonist of the Periodista story from day one. That was one reason I had for talking to her. But there was a better one. She knew David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff personally. DeGroff owed me a Cuban bartending school textbook, and Wondrich—well, I’d take what I could get. If anyone was going to be able to get me on their dance cards, it was Misty Kalkofen.

El Club de Cantineros de la República de Cuba Periodista (1948)

1 copa Bacardi Carta Blanca
¼ apricot brandy
¼ Curazao
½ limón pequeño
¼ cucharadita de azucar

Hielo.  Bátase, cuélese y sirvase con una guinda y una cáscara de limón.

Tasting notes: This is as close as we’ve gotten yet to what might be the original recipe for the Cuban Periodista. It’s made with white Cuban rum, in this case calling specifically for Bacardi’s signature rum. As many rum experts will tell you, the stuff currently under the Bacardi label is a pale mockery of the once great Cuban spirit, but I’m not sure what an appropriate substitution would be. El Arte Del Cantinero has a fairly lengthy sermon on the merits of Marie Brizard Apry, so I think we can assume that would be the apricot brandy of choice for los cantineros. Add curaçao, juice of half a lime, shake with ice and serve with, in this case, a cherry and a lime twist.

6 comments to Periodista Tales: Lauren Clark—The Critic

  • I had the chance last weekend to make a round of Periodistas with white Cuban rum (Havana Club 3 Yr). A delicious drink, but I still think the rum quality has gone up in the last 60 years that distorts how the cocktail should taste. One of my books suggests even using a rhum agricole to simulate Bacardi from the 1930s.

  • The Clement Greenberg of Boston cocktaildom! Now that’s new territory. As was your find in El Arte. Fascinating. I’m kinda glad the Periodista pre-dated the Sandinistas — that theory just sounded odd (sorry, Jackson). Thanks for making me a part of this terrific narrative.

  • Br. Cleve

    Rum collector Steve Remsberg of New Orleans has vintage Bacardi in his collection (around 700 bottles and counting). Beach Bum Berry told me he sampled some Bacardi from the 1930′s, and said it was not only sensational, it was completely different from what it tastes like now. What happened to Bacardi starts shortly before Castro took over Cuba, before Bacardi moved to Puerto Rico. It begins with the popularization of vodka in the US during the 1950′s, and the trend toward drier and more mixable spirits. Check out Bacardi’s ad campaigns in vintage 50′s magazines and you’ll see the whole story : “dry” and flavorless, similar to Smirnoff’s “leaves you breathless” campaign (which meant you could have a 3 vodka martini lunch and go back to work and no one would smell it on your breath. Yeah, right.) This was also a time when the trend was moving away from straight liquor and cocktails and into the realm of highballs and fruitier drinks. The Daiquiri’s popularity was boosted during this time, especially after JFK called it his favorite drink.

    Bacardi has been trying to be “the new vodka” for years now. A decade ago they hired me to play a party in Moscow, where they were introducing rum to the Russian market as “the new vodka”. Cocktail lounges now line the stylish streets of the former Soviet capital, so in certain ways it’s worked for them there.

    My advice is to drive up to Canada and buy some Havana Club, preferably the 3 yr old variety, and make the drink like Frederic has. Or try it with the excellent Cruzan white or the superb Flor de Caña.

  • Conversely you could also check out Ron Matusalem as an example of a rum made consciously (or so they say) in the old Cuban style. Darn good rum.

  • Loved the blog post. Great subject, great stories, great writing! Cheers to Dev and to Lauren -

  • Jon

    The work you’re doing here is truly phenomenal. Thanks for sharing it.

    The Merchant Hotel in Belfast have – or at least had – a bottle of Bacardi Superior dating back to 1920 and there was a huge discussion on Barbore about whether the difference in taste between that bottle and a modern bottle are due to differences in production, or to the fact that one of the bottles is 90 years old.

    That thread can be found here: http://barbore.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1945 and features contributions from some of the big names of the cocktail scene over here in the UK.

    Bacardi did release a limited edition bottling last year, at 44.5%ABV that they said was an exact replica of the production in 1909 (with the obvious exception of being made in a different country in different stills) – I don’t know what the availability in the US is like, but it could be worth a try.