Booze-Sopped City

by juli boggs

Midtown Cocktail Week has featured a weeklong bender of lectures and libations since 2008; this year it took on the theme “A Spirited Debate” in honor of the 2012 elections. As in past years, Midtown Business Association, organizing MCW alongside local bar keeps and restauranteurs, coordinated the event to include one class each day for the public and industry professionals to learn more about particular spirits or try their hand at mixing some favorite recipes, but it’s the nightly events hosted by Midtown watering holes that make Cocktail Week what it is. Eight days, eight parties, eight opportunities to learn something, try something, and immediately forget everything you learned.

The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar’s Genever Convention on Monday night taught me a few things I still manage to recall: 1. Genever is not gin, and 2. it doesn’t taste anything like it, and 3. if you lean down to sip from a shot of genever that’s sitting on the bar—no hands allowed—and chase it with bit of lager, you’ve done a kopstoot, Dutch for “headbutt,” and it’s totally acceptable behavior. The tradition hails from the Netherlands, where genever shots are poured from a bottle straight from the freezer into similarly frosted glasses, too cold to hold for the first few sips. Red Rabbit’s shot glasses were less than finger-numbing, but you should never pass up an opportunity to drink hands-free.

Sacramento has been a booze-sopped city since its inception, and Prohibition did little to stymie the flow, as the Grange Restaurant & Bar’s Friday night Repeal Prohibition Party aimed to remind besotted guests.

Instituted in 1919, Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol, though drinking itself was never made illegal. As a consequence, saloons turned down the lights and ditched beer and wine in favor of hooch and bathtub gin, which were more easily made and transported in secret. To cover up the rough, unpalatable taste of these liquors, sodas and fruit juices were added, and thus the great American cocktail age commenced. Of course, if one still longed for the good old days, he or she could also apply for a readily available medicinal alcohol permit for prescription-strength whiskeyto cure their any ail, a concept that seems oddly familiar in California today.

Meanwhile, back at the modern-day Grange, jazz mingled with the clinking of glasses and busy conversations punctuated by high-pitched laughter. American flags draped from the rafters as burlesque Sizzling Sirens dancers snaked through the crowd and flaunted onstage. By 9 p.m., the line was out the door, and the team of bartenders struggled to meet demands for the night’s signature drinks such as the Jitterbug, a pink and lemon sweet cocktail, and the Bank Roll, a rye whiskey concoction topped off uniquely with tobacco bitters.

In the end, Cocktail Week reminds us that any swiller worth her salt must persevere to be a practiced hand. Let us not abstain for 51 weeks a year, but remember that there’s cocktail hour for a reason, and that these fine establishments serving top-notch beverages operate year-round. That’s something we all can drink to.

*A version of this article ran in the August 30th 2012 issue of SN&R and can be viewed here.