About three years ago, I learned something new about myself: I cannot hold my liquor at all anymore. The story isn’t a pretty one, but it was a moment in my personal history that I will never forget, and one which leaves me an odd choice to review the book at hand: Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide. And yet: I cannot resist. Compiled by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick (who’s The Man to Talk To if you need an expert on Parker these days), with some help from Allen Katz, this book is a charmingly assembled, lovely little package that many people will find an essential addition to their shelves. Now, I own more than a few bartender’s guides. I have logged serious quality time with The Savoy Cocktail Book and in my younger days I often assembled drinks while checking a Mr. Boston guide -- is that still the standard beginner’s guide to booze? Under the Table is not the kind of encyclopedic book that belongs in every household with a bottle of gin. It’s a specialty item. But it’s both informative and useful: it gives nice little histories of each drink, and is well organized, and very handsomely designed. Even so, it will leave many people shrugging. If you’re not enchanted by the world of the Algonquin Round Table, or by early 20th century American history more broadly, then you’d best leave this one on the shelf of the bookstore. It’s not for you. If your idea of a drink is, say, a Long Island Iced Tea, a wine spritzer, or shooters with names like Cement Mixer, this is not for you. In researching current trends in bartending, for the purpose of writing this review in an informed manner, I discovered that there is something called a Chocolate Martini. If you are someone who gets that, either conceptually or in actual life, when out in a bar: this book is not for you.
But if you’re someone who takes your booze at all seriously -- not in the sense of being a snob, necessarily, but in the sense of, When you want a drink, you want it to be a good, solid, season-appropriate drink; if you are someone who believes (as I do) that a gin and tonic cannot be respectably consumed in the wintertime, and that bourbon is a year-round item, as long as the accessories are seasonal -- then this is a book you will enjoy tremendously. This is a book for people who don’t need their booze hidden under frills or umbrellas or tricks to make it so you don’t know you’re drinking alcohol. And if you’re a sucker for John Held drawings, so much the better. Yes: the book contains the requisite Yale reference (Yale Cocktail, p. 121), but even if it didn’t, I would be fond of this book, and happy with Kevin Fitzpatrick’s work. Here is the highest praise I can offer to Under the Table: from it, I learned of a drink called the Jean Harlow, and now I want one very, very badly. How had I never been aware of this before? I intend to acquire a bottle of white rum immediately (I’ve already got the Cinzano) to make this at home; and when I am next out at night, a renegade matron on the loose -- 116 Crown, are you ready for me? -- I expect to order a Jean Harlow and enjoy it all the more, because I will not have mixed it myself.
Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide will be published in November by Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot.