Don Draper Would Drink Here

My father had the hat, always had a cigarette going in an ashtray in every room and favored old-fashioneds.  His resemblance to Mad Men’s Don Draper ends there. 

When faced with the classic cocktail menu of Bohanan’s Bar, 219 East Houston Street, it would seem an old-fashioned would be a sentimental favorite.  But I must have sampled a few too many sips during one of my parents’ parties, because, even if “Dapper Don” himself were buying, I just cannot go there.

Mad Men is credited with igniting the classic mixologist craze; so it seemed fitting to order a drink invented by ad men with the swagger of Don “What-you-call-love-was-invented-by-guys-like-me-to-sell-nylons” Draper.  The Moscow Mule.  The refreshing drink with fresh lime and a strong ginger flavor seems more tropical than its name that reflects the Russian origins of the product the mule was supposed to push to gin-drinking Americans, Smirnoff’s vodka.

According to Cocktail Times, the Moscow Mule was invented in 1941 by Heublein executive, John G. Martin, and the owner of the Cock ‘N’ Bull Bar, who wanted to bolster his flailing ginger beer franchise:

They ordered specially engraved copper mugs and Martin set off to market it in the bars around the country. He bought one of the first Polaroid cameras and asked barmen to pose with a Moscow Mule copper mug and a bottle of Smirnoff vodka.  Then he would leave one copy of the photo at the bar and take a second copy to the bar next door to show them that their competitors were selling their concoction.  Between 1947 and 1950, thanks to their invention, Smirnoff vodka case columns more than tripled and nearly doubled in 1951.

Surely, Don Draper would approve.  Bohanan’s Bar seems to have the original drink down pat, even offering it in a copper mug General Manager Scott Becker says they had custom-made in New York.  My friend and I are hooked.  But wait, Lainey told us we had to try the food.

Mark Bohanan sheds some of the formality of the restaurant upstairs by offering a selection of traditional sounding sandwiches with upscale twists:  the BLT features Kurobuta – the Kobe beef of pork – bacon; the grilled cheese has aged gouda, heirloom tomatoes and basil; and the roasted lamb has caponata, goat cheese and arugula.  He even makes a nod to that traditional San Antonio snack, Frito pie.

We headed for other sections on the menu.  Raised on the Atlantic Ocean by the Chesapeake Bay, I tend to be more than a bit snooty about crabcakes.  The Bar at Bohanan’s makes a great Old Bay-seasoned one dominated, as it should be, by the flavorful lump crabmeat itself.  The Bar’s take on a Nicoise salad features several small rounds of perfectly seared sashimi-grade tuna, and the blackened snapper arrived blanketed with freshly prepared vegetables.  We bucked all wine-pairing rules and enjoyed a glass of a Chilean Carbenere blend from San Lorenzo Estates.

Jill Giles worked with Bohanan’s on the interior design, and the care she lends any project with which she is connected is clearly evident in the Bar.  The traditional dark wood used for the bar and trimmings is counterbalanced by the large storefront windows fronting on Houston Street and overlooking the courtyard.  Seating and tables vary in size and arrangement, creating comfortable spaces for couples or groups of friends. 

Attentive service, fresh presentation of food and cocktails Don would drink are all good qualities.  But what makes a body want to return to the Bar at Bohanan’s is that it is quite simply a great place to talk.

Note added on April 23:  Perhaps we had never heard of the Moscow mule because McCarthyism and the Cold War dampened enthusiasm for anything Russian.  Booze News offers a more extensive history of the impact of politics on the drink, including the following:

In particular, the drink caught on with the Hollywood crowd until 1950 when not unlike a few Hollywood screenwriters, Smirnoff and its flagship drink, the Moscow Mule, took heat for the Russian association.  Assuming that Smirnoff was a Russian import, unionized bartenders in New York announced a Moscow Mule boycott, refusing to “shove slave labor liquor across the wood in any American saloon.” 

Smirnoff rushed to testify that its vodka was not, and never had been a member of the Communist Party.  In support, Walter Winchell wrote in 1951, “The Moscow Mule is US made, so don’t be political when you’re thirsty.  Three are enough, however, to make you wanna fight pro-Communists.”

Barbara Kingsolver: Resolve To Never Recant

Student, student, keep mouth shut and brain spry
Your best friend Dick Merriwell’s employed by the F.B.I.

“Little Ballad for Americans – 1954″ by Edwin Rolfe, as quoted by Walter Kalaidjian

Who used to lie with his love

In the glade, far from the battlesector,

Now lies embraced by a lie-detector

And can not, dare not, move.

“Collected 259″ by Edwin Rolfe, as quoted by Walter Kalaidjian

In Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, the rather apolitical Harrison Shepherd finds himself summoned by the Dies Committee, the House on Un-American Activities Committee.  Before McCarthyism became the way of the land, Time described the committee’s actions:

But the Committee’s cumulative findings suggested that Chairman Dies’s perpetually scandalized method of listening to everybody, hauling in back-fence radical gossip, old shoes, scandals, guesses and wild charges, was perhaps the best method of building up the picture of the elusive world of U. S. Communism.

“National Affairs: No Dies,”  Time, October 23,1939

During the San Miguel Writers Conference, Kingsolver revealed how closely she related to the persecution of intellectuals during the McCarthy era.  She said the hatemail Shepherd received in the novel was based – sometimes word for word – on actual letters she received after attempting to write soothing words to help heal the nation after 9/11.

An example of her ”inflammatory” work follows:

And because my wise husband put a hand on my arm and said, “You can’t let hateful people steal the flag from us.”  He didn’t mean terrorists, he meant Americans. Like the man in a city near us who went on a rampage crying “I’m an American” as he shot at foreign-born neighbors, killing a gentle Sikh man in a turban and terrifying every brown-skinned person I know….

It’s a fact of our culture that the loudest mouths get the most airplay, and the loudmouths are saying now that in times of crisis it is treasonous to question our leaders…. 

It occurs to me that my patriotic duty is to recapture my flag from the men now waving it in the name of jingoism and censorship.

And Our Flag Was Still There,” Barbara Kingsolver, San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 2001

This column in the San Francisco Chronicle helped Kingsolver merit ranking No. 73 on Bernard Goldberg’s list of 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America – trailing the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Former President Jimmy Carter, Dan Rather and former Vice President Al Gore – and attracted the attention of venom-spewing “patriots” whose threats made her fear for the safety of her family.

Bill Moyers, who ranked above her at 34 on Goldberg’s list, interviewed Kingsolver in 2002.  Kingsolver said:

…a lot of us have found ourselves asking, how do we get through this without becoming embittered, without becoming intolerant and angry and hostile. In short, without becoming what we hate most. I think that if we become as intolerant and angry and violent as those who have attacked us we’ve lost everything.

Barbara Kingsolver, Interviewed by Bill Moyers, May 24, 2002

And, a preview of the role Harrison Shepherd would play in The Lacuna:

What a writer can do, what a fiction writer or a poet or an essay writer can do is re-engage people with their own humanity. Fiction and essays can create empathy for the theoretical stranger.  

When you—I think this is particularly true of fiction. When you pick up a novel from the bed side table, you put down your own life at the same time and you become another person for the duration.

And so you live that person’s life and you understand in a way that you don’t learn from reading a newspaper what it’s like to live a life that’s completely different from yours. And when you put that book down, you’re changed. You have…you have something more expansive in your heart than you began with.

Barbara Kingsolver, Interviewed by Bill Moyers, May 24, 2002