Note: Between now and January 1, we’re going to write about ten of our favorite things (in no particular order), from 2009. First up, The Gentleman’s Companion.
He was the original flâneur, an unheralded writer who came out of the Jazz Age and Prohibition who always seemed to end his stories with a drink recipe. Charles H. Baker, Jr., born on Christmas Day, 1895, in a hamlet of Orlando, Florida, attended Trinity College in Connecticut where he met his first wife, Ruth Parker (who died a year later of Spanish influenza), before, as he wrote, publishing his own magazine, taking a trip around the world, selling his magazine, and starting an interior decorating business. All financed by “a happy legacy from a thoughtful grandparent of the old Pittsburgh school who believed in making steel from iron.”
The trip around the world was aboard the SS Resolute, “a grand, three-stack steamer, complete with a ballroom, a French chef, an orchestra, and an itinerary that included forty-five foreign ports,” according to St. John Frizell, a restaurateur and former writer for Bon Appetit who has written the most extensive history of Baker to date.
Frizell writes that at “every port of call, Baker copied recipes for exotic dishes and cocktails into his notebook.” More than a decade later, these notes formed the backbone of his inimitable bible of exotic drinking, The Gentleman’s Companion.”
A classic that is hotly sought after and collected by studious bartenders and cocktail aficionados (I recently saw the two-volume set being auctioned on eBay for $400), Baker’s work is, as Frizell notes, “part travelogue, part memoir, and part instruction manual for budding bon vivants.” The only way to really give you a feel for what I’m talking about is to quote Baker directly. From the introduction to the second volume of The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Glass:
“By Suez, we were groggy…By Singapore we were cellars-dry, and bought again. We literally drank our way across Siam and Cambodia….By the time we quite Honolulu, the bald-faced conclusions were plain as the nose on our face—much of the welter of mixed things with fancy names were the egotistically-titled, ill-advised conceptions of low-browed mixers who either had no access to sound spirits, or if they did have, had so annealed their taste buds with past noxious cups that they were forevermore incapable of judicious authority.”
So raise a toast: To Charles H. Baker, the original flâneur, and author of the brilliantly-entertaining but long-forgotten Gentleman’s Companion—one of my most favorite things.
Tags: Favorite Things
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