What to read: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
What to drink: “Hooch” if you’re daring, a Jack Rose if you’re not
There’s this bar in Northern California that I find to be quite the haven for literary nerds. The walls are lined with books and drawn on with quotes from famous literature. There’s even flights of birds made out of the books dangling from the ceiling.
To top it off, the bar is called the Jack Rose, which, as they’ll proudly tell you, was a favorite drink by famed Northern Californian, John Steinbeck.
Now, I’m not a Steinbeck expert – I’ve not read Of Mice and Men, nor The Grapes of Wrath. Travesty, I know.
But Cannery Row is one of my favorite books of all time.
“Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”
Cannery Row is an excellent drinking book. Why? Because among the sarcasm and wit, in between the characters described so richly that you feel as though you could find them at your local haunts, and next to the prostitutes and grocers – there’s a lot of drinking. The book is about two house parties – one gone wrong, one gone perfectly boozy and right. It’s more a study of a place and people, than having a rich plot. You know, like sitting on a stool at your favorite dive and lovingly watching the crowd. It’s wonderfully simple and funny, and yet profoundly descriptive in its prose. What could be better for drinking that that?
The book is also rife with inspiration for drinking:
“’You love beer so much. I’ll bet some day you’ll go in and order a beer milk shake.’ It was a simple piece of foolery but it had bothered Doc ever since. He wondered what a beer milk shake would taste like. The idea gagged him but he couldn’t let it alone. It cropped up every time he had a glass of beer. Would it curdle the milk? Would you add sugar? It was like a shrimp ice cream. Once the thing got into your head you couldn’t forget it…If a man ordered a beer milk shake, he thought, he’d better do it in a town where he wasn’t known. But then, a man with a beard, ordering a beer milk shake in a town where he wasn’t known–they might call the police.”
I feel like I need to do a future LHH where I attempt a beer milkshake, but for now, my taste buds (and my stomach) would prefer something sans dairy.
And then there’s “hooch.”
“He kept a gallon jug under the bar and in the mouth of the jar was a funnel. Anything left in the glasses Eddie poured into the funnel before he washed the glasses… The resulting punch he took back to the Palace was always interesting and sometimes surprising.”
Sounds like a hangover, if you ask me.
So back to the Jack Rose. It’s made with applejack, grenadine and lemon juice, served straight up and tastes divine. Steinbeck was on to something – and so is the bar, if you care to pay a visit.