Monday, January 19, 2009


My bandmates in Escape By Ostrich and I typically go out to eat after rehearsing and not infrequently end up at Duke's on East 19th Street in Manhattan. The restaurant is one of a pair, and it is one of the unfairnesses of life that a moderately successful restaurateur will open a second instance of his or her successful venture, only to have it immediately labeled a "chain" and lose credibility with the likes of me. Duke's retains some of its claim to down-home Southern cooking authenticity by contrast with the velvet-rope horrorshows that are its neighbors around the corner on Park Avenue South. We could perhaps have a similar dining experience further downtown at Acme Bar and Grill or the Great Jones Café, but this is a custom that predates my involvement in the band, it saves Willie Klein from having to take a cab home with his violin, and so we stick to it.

One evening at Duke's, Chris Nelson (bon vivant and multi-instrumentalist, who I once tried to label "the nearest thing to a genius you can run into on East 12th street at 9 am when you are both late for work" in a Time Out NY piece about The Scene Is Now, only to have it cut as superfluous [I will double-parenthetically embed the fact that I was not yet in any band with him at that point]) decided to order some out-of-the-ordinary, yet classic cocktail. We settled (the matter being a group decision) on the Singapore Sling, known to me at least, and I presumed everyone else, as a reference in Joni Mitchell's song "BarandGrill" from 1972's wonderful For The Roses. In the song, she romanticizes working class American life, evocatively if not necessarily accurately; in retrospect, the couplet "none of the crazy you get/from too much choice" is intriguing - the American working class now seems most driven to distraction of anyone by excess choice.

In any event, the waitress had not heard of the Singapore Sling nor had the bartender any idea how to make one. Chris probably settled on the more familiar Manhattan, leaving me to wonder "is our children learning" and why aren't their 9th grade English teachers introducing them to Joni Mitchell (as mine did). I also went home to consult my copy of Charles Schumann's 1997 American Bar. This book is amusing, in part because it was written by a German of the sort (not to miss an opportunity for sweeping cultural generalization) who guards classic American culture more rigorously than we do. As such, he makes clear his book is "not…the usual thousand-and-one cocktail recipes" (he limits himself to 500 or so classics), is not afraid to decry as a "bungler" any barkeep who would allow his guests to combine cocktails willy-nilly, and so on. Glancing at the prefatory material, it is never quite clear why his title includes the word "American" unless it goes without saying that cocktail culture is quintessentially American. The Singapore Sling itself, though, is more the product of Anglo-Asian colonial culture, said to have been invented at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore - hence it was probably known to Joni Mitchell's waitresses as a remnant or cousin of 1950s Tiki Culture exoticism.

There is, you won't be surprised to hear, some debate about the exact components of the Singapore Sling but I like Schumann's asceticism and will give you his formulation.

¾ - 1 oz lemon juice
¼ oz sugar syrup
1 barspoon powdered sugar
1 ½ oz gin
¼ - ¾ oz cherry brandy

You shake up the first four ingredients, pour them in a Collins glass which is then filled with soda, leaving room for the brandy to be added last.

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