British barmaids and American bars

31 Aug

Under the head of European disillusionments I would rate, along with the vin ordinaire of the French vineyard and inkworks, the barmaid of Britain. From what you have heard on this subject you confidently expect the British barmaid to be buxom, blond, blooming, billowy, buoyant—but especially blond. On the contrary she is generally brunette, frequently middle-aged, in appearance often fair-to-middling- homely, and in manner nearly always abounding with a stiffness and hauteur that would do credit to a belted earl, if the belting had just taken place and the earl was still groggy from the effects of it. Also, she has the notion of personal adornment that is common in more than one social stratum in England. If she has a large, firm, solid mound of false hair overhanging her brow like an impending landslide, and at least three jingly bracelets on each wrist, she considers herself well dressed, no matter what else she may or may not be wearing.

Often this lady is found presiding over an American bar, which is an institution now commonly met with in all parts of London. The American bar of London differs from the ordinary English bar of London in two respects, namely—there is an American flag draped over the mirror, and it is a place where they sell all the English drinks and are just out of all the American ones. If you ask for a Bronx the barmaid tells you they do not carry seafood in stock and advises you to apply at the fishmongers’—second turning to the right, sir, and then over the way, sir—just before you come to the bottom of the road, sir. If you ask for a Mamie Taylor she gets it confused in her mind with a Sally Lunn and sends out for yeastcake and a cookbook; and while you are waiting she will give you a genuine Yankee drink, such as a brandy and soda—or she will suggest that you smoke something and take a look at the evening paper. […]

Likewise beware of the alleged American cocktail occasionally dispensed, with an air of pride and accomplished triumph, by the British barmaid of an American bar. If for purposes of experiment and research you feel that you must take one, order with it, instead of the customary olive or cherry, a nice boiled vegetable marrow. The advantage to be derived from this is that the vegetable marrow takes away the taste of anything else and does not have any taste of its own.

— Irvin S. Cobb, Europe Revised (New York: Doran, 1914), pp. 161-63.

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