I’m writing a podcast based on a bloggy thing I did a while back called Olden Days Bars That I Want To Get Drunk At. The title pretty much speaks for itself, and as it was a fun piece to write, I decided to do a podcast on the subject, basically looking at some famous Oregon bars of yore, and imagining which ones I would most want to get drunk at. That broadcast should appear, like a stumbling drunk in the night, around July 15th.
In preparing the podcast, we thought it would be fun to enlist our dear friends, and gracious sponsors, at Eastside Distilling to assist with this podcast. To that end, bartender extraordinaire,Cari Carter, mixed up some 1880s/1890s cocktails at the Eastside tasting room, and we recorded that shit!
But it brought up the question – did burly ass, big ol’ scratchy bearded, P-Town yesteryear chokermen and fallers really drink fanciful, gaudy cocktails? Like, in their cork boots and sweat stained plaid shirts?
Of course, in many of the accounts of Old Timey Bars in Oregon (and for those among us that are sticklers for “historical accuracy,” for the sake of THIS discussion alone, let us define “Old Timey” as 1860s – 1915-ish), there isn’t much said about what was drank, besides beer and straight liquors. In fact, looking at the sources, and the lack of haute cocktail scene, I began to wonder if the purveying of these mixed drinks occurred at all. This was a town full of laboring loggers and sailors and miners and sheep herders and canners. They were in town with a pocketful full of cash, just in off some seasonal, back breaking job. They wanted to blow that dough – eat a big ol’ plate of food, whore around a bit, and generally get all fuckered up. Did they really want some froo-froo drink with muddled mint when they dashed into town from some filthy backwoods, shitty hardtack outfit, and bellied up at Fred Fritz’s bar?
Supporting this assumption, Stuart Holbrook wrote about a famous logger bar from the era called the Humboldt (albeit in Washington). He describes how a patron was treated when he ordered a Manhattan. Holbrook illustrated the proprietor, Big Fred Hewlett as,
putting one of the Humboldt’s generous beer mugs on the bar, he poured a good shot of whiskey into it. To this he added a slug of gin, another of rum, a dash of real brandy, of bitters, of aqua vit’, and then filled the remainder of the mug with beer. Placing this dose in front of the dude, accommodating Fred stirred it slowly with a huge forefinger. “There, mister,” he said obligingly, “is your Manhattan cocktail.”
Hardly seems to be a culture that would embrace the fancy cocktail, no?
But as I dug into this history a bit, some small pieces emerged that seemed to support the concept that there was indeed a market for the cocktail in Portland, Oregon – even in some of the more working class environs.
Take for example the advertisement in The Oregonian for cocktail mixers, from September of 1868, featured above. Just the fact that these accoutrements were marketed at all suggests that the was a market for said accompaniments. In addition, as we all know by now, Portland was a port of global commerce – the sailors that ventured from this harborage traveled to cosmopolitan cities all over the world. They would be familiar with exciting new signature drinks from watering holes they frequented in New York, London, Paris, and yes, even Shanghai. It is a given that if they enjoyed a Manhattan in a NYC bar on Broadway in the 1860’s, that they would eventually come back to Portland, and ask a mixologist to create the same.This city may seem to our present selves to have been very geographically isolated, but in actuality, Portland was in many ways quite sage and wordly.
And of course, when this history shit rains – it often pours. Just as I was pulling together scraps to support my assertion – I hit the Big Daddy. I have a first hand account of the magical mixing of spiritous liquors that occurred in the rough and tumble, forever immortalized… Erickson’s Saloon… but you are just going to have to wait for the podcast to hear about that shit, Dear Ass Kicker…
Check this 1862 ad out-
Bowling and Beers,
A “One Bit” Drink,
and Pay Your Fucking Liquor License Fees Or We’ll Shut Your Ass Down!
Photos from Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon – where ain’t nobody got time for your fancy ass Multnomah County Cocktails…