The Crazy Years Cocktail
Paris, 1925: Kiki de Montparnasse was dancing on tabletops and flashing her tits at cafe patrons for a few sou per gawk. Gertrude Stein presided over her salon like a Roman emperor, giving literary advise to the likes of Earnest Hemingway. The half-blind James Joyce was hanging out with Sylvia Beach and Ezra Pound at Shakespeare and Company bookstore on the rue de l’Odéon. F. Scott and Zelda were drinking too much champagne and making a nuisance of themselves. In the early morning hours at the corner cafe, les boushers and les boulangers shared their café crémes with the prostitutes just getting off work. Soon the aspiring artists and writers will show up to discuss art and scratch out another poem. The new French president, Deschanel , went mad (having on separate occasions walked fully clothed into a lake, talked to trees, received the British ambassador naked but for his decorations of office, and fell off a train), and had to resign. He was elected to the senate the next year.
Les années folles. Crazy years, indeed.
After the horrors of the First World War, the economy as well as the landscape was in tatters: unemployment, after the demobilization of the largest French army ever raised, was rampant. The French franc had fallen to an all time low against the dollar. Bad for the French, but great for visiting Americans and expatriates interested in taking in a little of la vie Parisienne. American bars cropped up everywhere, slinging drinks to an anxious public ready to have a good time and forget their troubles for a while.
This cocktail is a straight ahead slugger combining American whiskey with French brandy and Benedictine, a sweet, herbal liqueur. It is also an equal parts recipe so it’s easy to remember.
The Crazy Years Cocktail
1 oz Rye or Bourbon Whiskey
1 oz Brandy
1 oz Benedictine
1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir ingredients with ice until cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel, squeezed to express the oils.
Le Dôme, La Rotonde, and La Coupole, favorite hangouts of Montparnasse artist’s, writers, and Russian émgrés have changed dramatically over the years (lord knows the prices have gone up!), and most of the American bars of the 1920s are long gone, but the nostalgic charm of Paris never fades. You can still “rent” a table at one of the cafes for the price of a cup of coffee and sketch the lady sitting two tables down, sipping her vermouth and ice, or scribble away at your next great novel. And if you close your eyes and listen to the barmen working behind the counter, the clink of glasses on the marble top tables, the idle chitchat in French and American, it could be 1925. Picasso or Man Ray could walk through the door at any moment.