Tag Archives: Joseph Park Babcock

20. Mah-Jongg cocktail

20 Aug

The Dolly Varden Type. Dolly Varden does not give a snap of her fingers for abstract elegance. To her it seems heavy with staidness and conservatism. She likes the novelties and the “cute things”. […] There is a lot of never-grow-up in her nature. She loves parties, bridge, Mah Jong, picnics, and young people.

— Mary Cary, Style and the Woman (New York: Dry Goods Economist, 1924), p. 23.

The press agent became a publicity man. […] He might be called the “mob-artist”. Man in bulk, the crowd, is the material he works with. Give him the tools of his trade, chiefly printer’s ink and paper, and he will turn you out any sort of crowd you desire. It will shout for war or peace, Bolshevism or Czarism, as he dictates. At his command it will adore Wagner, Russian violinists, mahjong, cross-word puzzles.

— Abram Lipsky, Man the Puppet: The Art of Controlling Minds (New York, Frank-Maurice, 1925), p. 99.

Look at the fads which follow one after another in crazy procession—bicycle riding, ping pong, golf, bridge, mah-jong, jazz, crossword puzzles, bobbed hair, antiques, prohibition cocktails.

— Stuart Chase, Men and Machines (New York: Macmillan, 1929), p.  271.

Nothing defines an era better than its fads and fashions. Just as the 1950s are instantly evoked by buzz cuts, plaid shirts and the hula hoop, and the 1970s by flares, feathered hair and the space hopper, so the the 1920s are indelibly associated with cloche hats, beaded dresses, the Charleston . . . and mahjong.

Chinese-American flappers dubbed "Miss Mah Jong" by the New York Times ("Flappers of Chinatown", New York Times, 27 May 1923)

Yep, the ancient Chinese game was a huge hit in the Roaring Twenties, in much the same way as Trivial Pursuit was in the 1980s or Sudoku at the turn of the millennium. In 1920 Joseph P. Babcock, who had worked for Standard Oil in China, published Rules of Mah-Jongg, introducing Americans to the game. Upmarket retailers Abercrombie & Fitch (well, they were upmarket then) began selling the first sets. With its exoticism, mysteriousness and beautiful ivory tiles, mahjong or “Mah-jongg”, the transliteration trademarked by Babcock, was soon more popular than bridge among the society ladies. Then suddenly everyone was playing it, with dime sets flying off the shelves in Woolworth’s and snobs anxious about the threatened prestige of the game. “Mah Jong is Epidemic Here” screamed a headline in the Baltimore Sun (15 April 1923),  while the New York Times, less sensitively, spoke of a “new yellow peril” (15 June 1924). Demand was so great that it left the ivory market depleted and there were fears the walrus could go the way of the prairie bison. Newspapers began publishing articles on rules and strategy. Eddie Cantor had a hit with “Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong”.  Mahjong patterns appeared on dresses, hats, even stockings. In short, mahjong swept through American and European culture in the 1920s. So it’s no surprise to find a cocktail inspired by the craze in the Savoy Cocktail Book.

1/6 Cointreau

1/6 Bacardi Rum

2/3 Dry Gin

As is often the case, Craddock doesn’t specify a garnish. A lemon twist seemed appropriate.

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