Tag Archives: Martinis

The automated cocktail

29 May

The twentieth century brought us many technological marvels designed to spare us the exhausting manual labour involved in opening tin cans (the electric can opener, patented in 1931), slicing food (the electric knife, 1939),  brushing our teeth (the electric toothbrush, 1954) or pleasuring ourselves (the electric vibrator, first patented in 1902). To be honest, it’s surprising that it took as long as it did for the first automatic cocktail dispenser to hit the market.

In 1961 Auto-Bar Systems, a division of Ametek brought out the “Cocktailmatic”. The gizmo was designed, The LA Times reported, for large-scale commercial use, “where dispensing of drinks in a hurry is a problem” (Joe R. Nevarez, “New Dispenser Mixes Drinks Automatically”, Los Angeles Times, 12 June 1961, p. C8).

In an ad Ametek loudly and proudly trumpeted its achievement:

The martinets laughed when we sat down to our Cocktailmatic dispenser and demonstrated how a mere machine could produce scientifically-proportioned martinis, manhattans and other cocktails every time. But the hotel and tavern industry, to whom the problems of the hit-or-miss martini are no joke, is taking our Cocktailmatic to its bosom. Not only is it saving the industry millions a year, but the automatic martini mixers developed by the Auto-Bar Systems division of Ametek, Inc. have enabled any number of bars to step up the horsepower of their martinis without raising prices.

Business Week, issue 1740-1747, (1963), p. 107.

The folks at Industry Week were certainly impressed, particularly with the way the device “counts your drinks on a meter and can be preset to serve dry, very dry, or very, very dry martinis” (Industry Week, vol. 149 [1961], p. 5). Meanwhile, the Hartford Courant admitted that, while the Cocktailmatic might seem “sacrilege to the artist who insists on mixing his own after the fashion of the dedicated salad-tosser”, its inhuman precision made sense to the drinks industry:

Every martini quaffer has his own recipe for the perfect blend of gin and vermouth. But when he orders one away from home, he never knows quite what he’ll get. The new cocktail dispenser is aimed at curing such frustration. It can be dial-set for the flavor and zing the customer requires for lip-smacking. One may imagine the bartender asking: ‘Will that be 90 proof, Sir, with a four-to-one ratio?’ as he spins the knobs. Once the right setting has been discovered, the bibber has only to write the combination on his cuff in order to get the same satisfaction on the next round or the next day . . . It probably has an optional gadget for simply passing a vermouth cork over the rest of the liquor when the customer wants one real dry.

— “The Automated Martini”, Hartford Courant, 19 April 1963, p. 16.

Others sounded a note of caution. “Is this another case of machine taking over for man?” wondered H. R. Clauser in the pages of the always entertaining Materials Engineering. “If it is, the machine better watch out . . . Not only might they become inebriated and start being as obnoxious as many human drunks, but they could conceivably escape and go around getting other machines plastered. Considering some of the sensitive jobs being handled by computers today, a binge of this kind could give the whole world a hangover” (H. R. Clauser, “Last Word”, Materials Engineering, vol. 56: 1 [1962], p. 180).

That would give new meaning to the phrase “a well-oiled machine”.

Broadway Billy Rose

24 Sep

Billy Rose (1899-1966) was a lyricist and Broadway impresario, the co-writer of such hit songs as “Me and My Shadow”, “Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight” and “I Found a Million Dollar Baby”, and the producer of shows like the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934, Jumbo (1935) and Carmen Jones (1943). In 1946 he published an entertaining autobiography, illustrated by Salvador Dali, which contains this martini-related anecdote.

Time Magazine, 2 June 1947.

Why didn’t I join the crowd and have a few drinks? For two good reasons. First, hard liquor tastes to me like something you take for the grippe. Second, I’ve been selling it in my nightclubs for years, and taking on a cargo of lightning bugs has no glamour for me. It would be like a soda jerk going on a walnut sundae binge.

But before the Anti-Saloon League sends around that long, white ribbon, let me say I don ‘t object to other people drinking. There’s only one drink at which I draw the line. That’s the Martini.

Scotch and soda is a lullaby that puts you to sleep in easy stages. The Martini is a baseball bat to the base of the skull. Eight ounces, and dowagers do the bumps.

This yellow mixture had spoiled my first two summers at Mt. Kisco. Our week-end guests had been witty and civilized folk, and I had enjoyed their company very much—during the day. But around 7 P.M., these arthritic athletes would come off the tennis court and congregate in the game room for what they called “Happy Cocktail Hour”. Eleanor, always the good hostess, would have a big pitcher of Martinis waiting.

During the first couple of drinks, everybody would have a good time, including me. And then—whammo! Martini number three would take hold. From them on, everyone would have a good time, excluding me.

By the time we hit the dinner table at 9, our guests would be more bleary than bright. And for the rest of the evening, I’d be the sober little guy in the corner everybody felt sorry for.

“Once and for all, I’ve got to slug it out with Mr. Martini,” I said to myself. And the following summer I did.

I started by holding a stop-watch on my guests. Few of them consumed more than two Martinis the first hour. I realized that if I could throw some hot soup into them before they buddied up to the third Martini, everything would be all right. The problem was how to get my guests to the dinner table an hour earlier.

The plan I finally evolved darn near broke me. It was to build a small movie theatre and substitute Ginger Rogers for gin, Veronica Lake for vermouth and Olivier for the olive. This meant ripping the stalls out of the stable, bringing in half a mile of electric cable, building an asbestos booth, buying a couple of projectors, and bulldozing the film companies out of their new pictures. I finally finished it late in July, and George Jessel christened it “Loew’s Rose.”

If peace of mind is worth anything, the theatre paid for itself the first month. The day it opened, I casually remarked at lunch, “We’re showing the new Bing Crosby movie tonight. We’ll have to start dinner early because the operator lives in Mt. Vernon.”

Nobody squawked. And so, instead of sitting down at 9 with a bunch of howling hooligans, I picked up my soup spoon at 8 in the company of reasonably reasonable people. Marc Connelly was there that evening, and it was nice to hear him talk like Marc Connelly.

And it’s been that way for the past seven summers. After the movies, the guests usually come back to the game room. And if they feel like a Martini, it’s all right with me. My bedroom is on the other side of the house.

— Billy Rose, Wine, Women and Words (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948 [1946]), pp. 109-110.

Now you too can have a body like Don Draper!

16 Aug

In 1964 Gardner Jameson and Elliott Williams (both pseudonyms of Robert Cameron) published the appropriately slim pamphlet The Drinking Man’s Diet (“also recommended for ladies and teetotalers”). It sold 2.4 million copies in two years—and no wonder, because this was a plan that “would let you have two martinis before lunch, and a thick steak generously spread with Sauce Bearnaise” (The Drinking Man’s Diet [San Francisco: Cameron and Co, 1965], p. 1). A couple of years later, and no doubt trying to cash in on Cameron’s spectacular success, Sidney Petrie, founder of the quackish-sounding Institute of Hypnotherapy, brought out the significantly heftier Martinis and Whipped Cream: The New Carbo-Cal Way to Lose Weight and Stay Slim. Both Cameron’s and Petrie’s regimes are basically prototypes of what later became known as the low-carb Atkins Nutritional Approach, which led to an epidemic of halitosis in the early 2000s, but are defiantly children of the Sixties: more fun, less austere and displaying a lethal, if cheerful disregard for the artery-clogging dangers of cholesterol. Here’s how Petrie introduces his book:

Dieting to lose weight can now be a thing of the past. The gnawing hunger, the war with one’s self, the celery stalks, the broken promises—all may soon be forgotten. Gone, too, will be the slow but sure regaining of the pounds and the need to start the torture all over again!

Instead, we are entering a new era of eat well, drink well, and weigh less; an era when martinis, filet mignon and whipped cream replace the skimmer milk, carrot sticks and melba toast of that on-again, off-again diet age.

The carbohydrate calorie is more fattening than any other kind of calorie. This is the scientific fact that is now revolutionizing the eating habits of millions. By using this fact in their daily lives, people are now literally able to eat more and weigh less! Slender people can enjoy a hearty breakfast, a mid-morning coffee break, a “Madison Avenue lunch”, an afternoon cocktail hour, a gourmet dinner, and a midnight snack—and still remain slender.

No longer does one need to count every calorie consumed, or to measure portions ounce by ounce. Only the villain carbohydrates need to be watched. We do not have to watch our step on proteins, or even fats. Eliminate as much carbohydrate as we can and fat melts away. Enjoy the double-sized vodka martinis, bigger portions of roast beef, and “seconds” on strawberries and cream, and still lose weight.

— Sidney Petrie with Robert B. Stone, Martinis and Whipped Cream: The New Carbo-Cal Way to Lose Weight and Stay Slim (West Nyack, NY: Parker, 1966), p. ix.

So, after a light breakfast of bacon and eggs followed by a lunch of chopped steak and onions, what does a typical dinner look like for our prospective dieter? Well, like this:


Martini cocktail, one or two

Porterhouse steak

Mushroom caps, stuffed with cheese

Broccoli with butter sauce

Glass of dry wine

Cheese and wafers (3)

Coffee and cream

— (Ibid., p. 62.)

You’re probably thinking: That’s all well and good, but what if I’m invited to a swinging party? How can I drink too much and still stay in shape? Fear not, our author has thought of everything:

If you head for the bar at the end of the working day, then whisky, vodka, rum, gin, brandy or dry wines are your best bet. This applies to the cocktail party, of course, as well. […] Martinis are not made with sugar and contain no carbohydrate when dry, just a trace from extra dry Vermouth. Use French Vermouth as it is much lower in carbohydrate than Italian. Avoid beer, sweet wine, and cordials. Don’t reach for the peanuts or potato chips. […] Strawberries and cream are always welcome at an afternoon tea. […] You may want to substitute a champagne punch for the tea. […] A favorite recipe for champagne punch calls for one bottle of domestic sauterne for each bottle of dry champagne. Add a few jiggers of brandy and the juice from a lemon and an orange. At a cocktail party, martinis are your favorite mixed drink, champagne flows freely, and the tinkle of ice sings a ballad of scotch, bourbon or rye on the rocks. (Ibid., pp. 229-30.)

How about a countervailing, but contemporaneous view?

Alcohol is fearfully fattening for many of us. When a fat person is regularly losing weight at the rate of three pounds a week, on nothing but a big fat steak and a demitasse twenty-one times a week, it can be expected that one glass of beer will add one half pound to the body weight. A martini or highball will add about one pound and a bacardi cocktail one and a quarter pounds. There is not much future in that.

— Blake F. Donaldson, Strong Medicine (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962), pp. 209-10.

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