I might add that enough of these will make you cast down the laurel, hang up the fiddle and do parlor tricks without being asked.
1 OR 2 LUMPS OF LOAF SUGAR,
Dissolved in a Little Hot Water
1 SQUIRT OF LEMON JUICE
1 WINE GLASS OF IRISH WHISKEY
Fill glass with hot water, stir well. Add slice of lemon. Grate nutmeg over top.
– From So Red the Nose
Wow. It is so far from being hot toddy season it’s not even funny. Here’s hoping you get a summer cold so you can enjoy this one.
Not that you really need to go out of your way for this drink. Esky — Esquire magazine’s creepy-ass mascot whose cover spot was usurped by partially nude women circa 1947 and has not been recovered since– was apparently not very creative with his cocktails. His Hot Spot is nothing more than the most basic of classic toddies, albeit with about 10 times the liquor.
But the classics are classics for a reason, and you really can’t go wrong with the pure flavors of sweet, sour, and whiskey. I used Redbreast’s old-fashioned, pot-stilled Irish whiskey on the recommendation of Imbibe to very pleasing results.
Esquire aims to become the common denominator of masculine interests — to be all things to all men.
– from Esquire Magazine, Autumn 1933, Issue 1
I probably should have saved this one for the end, partially because reading Esquire‘s first two years of production could be its own project, but also because the magazine’s early years where a Who’s Who of So Red the Nose authors. Our friends Rockwell Kent, Ernest Hemingway, Morley Callaghan, Erskine Caldwell, Roark Bradford, Oliver La Farge, Frank Scully, Louis Paul, and Theodore Dressier all made substantial contributions, alongside other midcentury heavyweights like Ezra Pound, DH Lawrence, Dashiell Hammet, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, WC Fields, Harpo Marx, Langston Hughes (in spite of some vicious letters to the editor), a bunch of athletes I’ve never heard of, and (as proof 1934 was a world away from 1954) Leon fucking Trotsky.
Obviously, So Red the Nose was tied pretty closely to this magazine, using one of its cartoonists for its illustrator and even repurposing some drinks from the rag directly. I’m pretty sure when SRTN editor Sterling North, a regular contributor, decided to produce a cocktail book, his main form of research was calling up all his buddies at Esquire.
But we’re not here to talk about him. We’re here to talk about that plagiarizing mixologist Arnold Gingrich, creator of Esky’s Hot Spot and founder and editor of Esquire: The Magazine for Men. This periodical was first published in September of 1933 and meant to be a quarterly, but was quickly changed to a monthly by the following January, much to some blogger’s tears (Seriously guys, every issue is like 200 pages.).
So what was Gingrich’s vision for what is — to this very day — a beacon of manliness in a sea of Vogues and Good Housekeepings? Well…it was to be a beacon of manliness in a sea of Vogues and Good Housekeepings. The first issue quite rightly asserts that the magazine racks are completely dominated by the feminine, and after all don’t men need a space for their fashion tips and relationship advice too? The first little introductory blurb is quick to assure us, though, that this publication will by no means be “a primer for fops” (translation: no homo) or allow women to get their hands on it like they did with the vote.
And what can you, the 21st Century reader, expect from an early issue of Esquire? Well each one has a nice balance of fashion (so many fabric pictures), sports (especially the aspirational ones the magazine’s name would suggest, like golf and horse racing), politics (war, war, and more war — a world war to recover from and another on the horizon), and often humorous advice for the modern man (everything from distinguishing dog breeds to controlling your woman).
As my ponderous name-dropping up top would suggest, baby Esquire was also much more heavily literary than its modern iteration. In fact, the most noticeable difference between any 1934 and 2016 magazine seems to be that at least half of the former is composed of fiction.
Writing aside, the art was completely fascinating as well, from the sumptuous ads to the full-page color cartoons, each of which were either racy, racist, or completely incomprehensible.
But what about our author? Well, Gingrich only contributed two pieces early on before fading into his behind-the-scenes role — mildly entertaining, slice-of-life stuff. His first piece was fascinating peek into the fringe counterculture of the dance marathon (called walkathons back then to spare old ladies’ fragile hearts). His second was a depiction of a church service which eerily matched every single one I have ever attended.
Forgotten Classic or Better Left in the Past?
Oh, vintage Esquire is totally worth your time. I mean, don’t you want to want to read a definitive list of “The Fifty Best Motion Pictures of All Time” written when the industry was less than 30 years old? Or think pieces about whether this new-fangled jazz music can ever be considered true art? Come on. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.
I mean, there are so many great things there I don’t even know where to start. Join me, and we’ll revel in the historical irony of the opinion pieces: about how happily the Russians are taking to the “Soviet experiment;” how college hazing culture is on its way out; how Germany will never, ever declare war on France. Closer to our purposes, indulge in the mountain of cocktail recipes, liquor ads, and even bartender memoirs pouring forth in the bacchanalian orgy that was the end of Prohibition. Then you can take a drink every time a writer mentions Mae West.
If I have any complaint about early Esquire, it’s that the writing can get kind of same-y after you read it for three months straight. All the fiction is subdued, ironic ,and slightly cynical, and the topics are a continuous cycle of sports – war – foreign adventure – politics – extramarital affairs. If anything has convinced me diverse voices are important, it was an extended period of reading pieces written by (mostly) upper class, (mostly) white (mostly) men. Oh wait, I think I just described public schooling.
Even so, the writing is top notch, and a high volume of the material was surprisingly readable 82 years later. Plus the advantage of the magazine format is the deadly offensive or truly dull are easily skipped over. I suggest staying far, far away from poetry, for example.
If you take no other 1930’s literary/alcoholic experience away from this blog, let me leave you with just this one: reading Langston Hughes’ “The Folks at Home” (May 1934 issue) while drinking an Esky’s and listening to Meditation de Thais. Tears optional.
All back issues of Esquire Magazine are available by subscription from their website. The formatting is the worst and I hate it.
Next time: Midsummer murders: a series in three parts