Friday, October 7, 2011
A Bibulous Bibliography: Playboy's Host & Bar Book/Bar Guide
A while ago I found myself the recipient of two books published by Playboy, the venerable purveyor of adult-oriented diversions (as I've mentioned before, when people find out you're into cocktails, they tend to give you stuff like this). Most people of a certain age are familiar with the Playboy brand, and as tempting as it is to do a historical walk-through of this iconic entertainment empire, I'll save you the sociological analysis of its place in the cultural landscape...we all pretty much know the deal.
So what about the books? To start, Playboy's Bar Guide and Playboy's Host & Bar Book are essentially the same book, save for a few key differences. They're both written by Thomas Mario, who, as Ted Haigh notes in his column from the September/October 2009 issue of Imbibe was a man who had considerable experience with eating and drinking:
"...Mario, whose real name was Sidney Aptekar, was the food and drink editor of Playboy for three decades or so, starting with its first issue in 1953. In 1971 he authored the wildly popular Playboy's Host & Bar Book...In fact, Aptekar (who died in 2003) was quite a guy. In 1944, he wrote the Kitchen Confidential of its day, The Faces in the Aspic. The United Nations pegged him to supervise all post-World War II refugee feeding operations in Europe. Later, he authored a nationally syndicated newspaper column 'What's Cooking?' which is when he first used his nom de plume, Thomas Mario."
The larger of the two, Playboy's Host & Bar Book contains numerous drink recipes as well as sections on spirits, wines, beer, bar tools, hors d'ouvres and party tips. In many ways it's similar to The Esquire Handbook for Hosts which predates it by a little over 20 years. (It's fun to compare both books side-to-side, as each one offers a snapshot of entertaining guidelines of the era. Some things remain constant, while others change pretty drastically...1971 was definitely a different year than 1949.)
If you can find it for a reasonable price, the Host & Bar Book is worth picking up. The edition I have is hardcover, printed on quality paper and has a handful of color photos. The drink recipes (which comprise the bulk of the book) range from established classics to "Who the hell would drink that??", but that's par for the course for a lot of bar guides....the same can be said about the Savoy Cocktail Book. (I heard one well-regarded bartender once remark about the Savoy Cocktail Book: "A lot of the drinks in there are crap. Just because a drink is old, doesn't mean it's good.")
For me, half the fun with books like these is foraging for the good stuff and sometimes discovering a hidden gem. The Host & Bar Book is a decent place to start hunting.
Playboy's Bar Guide, published the same year as the Host & Bar Book is basically a smaller, paperback version of the drink recipes section of its larger counterpart. It's clearly intended to be a pocket-sized Mr. Boston's-type handbook, and it definitely would fit under the bar without much trouble. As mentioned above, it lacks some of the info contained in the Host & Bar Book, but does give a nod to its namesake publication by including many illustrations of LeRoy Neiman's playful "femlins" that could be found in the pages of Playboy for many years. Little touches like this make you realize it wasn't that long ago when liberally sprinkling images of nude cartoon women throughout a book wouldn't have been considered an editorial misstep.
If you find it for a buck or two, grab it. It's a handy little guide on its own, and makes a nice companion piece to the Host & Bar Book. Used copies of both can be found at Amazon, Powell's, Alibris, etc.
Oh, here's a drink (which appears in both books) I took for test spin:
1 1/2 oz. Golden rum
1 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Lime juice
1/4 oz. Grenadine
1/4 oz. Apricot liqueur
1/3 cup crushed ice
Put rum, vodka, lime juice grenadine, apricot liqueur and ice into blender. Blend at low speed 10-15 seconds. Pour into prechilled deep-saucer champagne glass. Twist lime peel above drink and drop into glass. Powerful but pleasant rather than pugnacious.
This drink is actually a heck of a lot tastier than it might appear at first. It follows the Daiquiri blueprint, and provided you use decent quality ingredients it ends up being bright, tart, and excellent for warm-weather drinking. The only change I'd suggest is leaving the blender out of the equation. I liked it better shaken and then poured over crushed ice.