Time and again the finest female poets led a life that was echoed in what they put down on paper. The enigmatic Emily Dickinson. The scandalous Edna St. Vincent Millay. The tragic Sylvia Plath and Sara Teasdale. In their league is Dorothy Parker, crafter of devilish light verse and ballads about love, loss, and Champagne. Something I've learned about Parker in the dozen years I've run the Dorothy Parker Society is that many don't discover her work in literature classes, they come to her first by her reputation. First they learn the quotes and bon mots, which leads to finding her books. What many discover is a woman easy to identify with: she loved her gin, boyfriends, and dogs, and that's what she wrote about. Scores of quotes associated with Parker zoom around websites about missing deadlines and drinking too much. One of the most popular:
I love a martini--
But two at the most.
Three, I'm under the table;
Four, I'm under the host.
Whether Parker actually ever said it is a matter of debate, but most agree with Carleton Young: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. When I was writing a guidebook to Dorothy Parker cocktail recipes, it was not a stretch to fill a book with tasty drinks that have a tie to Parker and the Prohibition era. The recipes quickly piled up that called for bourbon, brandy, gin, and rum. The stories about figures from Parker's circle are a who's who of great drinkers of the past: Robert Benchley, Irvin S. Cobb, Ernest Hemingway, and Florenz Ziegfeld. Parker put references to alcohol in many of her stories and poems; when she moved to Hollywood her 1930s screenplays often featured cocktails and protagonists clinking glasses.
"Under The Table" showcases classic cocktails, but I also include ten modern recipes from top mixologists from New York to Los Angeles. Here are three samples from the book's 75 recipes.
The Acerbic Mrs. Parker
No shortage of bartenders wants to honor Dorothy Parker with a namesake cocktail. Countless recipes have been created and named for her around the globe, from the Algonquin Hotel to a popular discothèque named Club Dorothy Parker in São Paulo. This one came to life in Brooklyn, created by Allen Katz, general manager of the New York Distilling Company. "The Portable Dorothy Parker," which he picked up in college, instantly had him hooked. At their wedding, he and his wife exchanged vows and read "Here We Are" to each other. Katz pressed his business partners to launch Dorothy Parker American Gin as one of the company's first brands. He created the Acerbic Mrs. Parker in the Shanty, the little bar next to their Brooklyn distilling operation.
2 ounces Dorothy Parker American Gin
¼ ounce Combier orange liqueur
½ ounce hibiscus syrup
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
Shake all liquid ingredients except the seltzer over ice; strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with chilled seltzer and garnish with a lemon twist. Serve with a straw.
Blood and Sand
"I hate Husbands; They narrow my scope," Dorothy Parker wrote in one of her notorious "Hymns of Hate," adding:
There are the Home Bodies;
They are seldom mistaken for Rudolph Valentino;
The militia has not yet been called out to keep the women back.
One of the first drinks to come out of Hollywood was the Blood and Sand, named for the 1922 Rudolph Valentino film of the same title. The biggest film celebrity of the decade, Valentino died in 1927 in New York, aged just 31. Two female fans tried to commit suicide in front of his hospital, and more than 100,000 people thronged the streets around Frank Campbell's Funeral Chapel during his wake.
¾ ounce Scotch
¾ ounce cherry brandy
¾ ounce sweet vermouth
¾ ounce orange juice
Shake all ingredients over cracked ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Did anyone about money more than Dorothy Parker? "I hate almost all rich people but I think I'd be darling at it," she allegedly uttered. "If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at who he gave it to," is another gem often attributed to her. She didn't grow up with it; she was born Dorothy Rothschild but famously said, "We didn't know those Rothschilds." Her father was in the rag trade, making suits and cloaks in what is now SoHo. She didn't marry for money, either. In both of her unions, she earned more than her spouse did. When she had money, she spent it extravagantly on hats, fur coats, and expensive perfume. Mrs. Parker sailed to Europe in style, once booking passage on the grandest steamship of all, the French Line's "Normandie." She might have enjoyed drinking a Millionaire--even if she never became one. Harry Craddock captured two different recipes for the Millionaire in his 1930 collection, The Savoy Cocktail Book. Be a multimillionaire and try both variations.
Old-fashioned or cocktail glass
1 ounce sloe gin
1 ounce apricot brandy
1 ounce Jamaica rum
Juice of 1 lime
1 dash grenadine
For the first version, shake all ingredients over ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
1½ ounces gin
1½ ounces absinthe
1 teaspoon triple sec
¼ teaspoon grenadine
1 egg white
For the second version, vigorously shake all ingredients over cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or an old-fashioned glass filled with ice cubes. Note: The original recipe for the second version called for absinthe, which can be difficult to find. You can substitute with Pernod or another anise-flavored liqueur. Another variation substitutes bourbon for the gin.
Kevin C. Fitzpatrick is the author of "Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide" [Lyons Press, $16.95]. He is the president of the Dorothy Parker Society and resides in New York City.