August 22 is time for the Algonquin cocktail as it’s the birthday of the queen of wit herself, Dorothy Parker. She makes us proud, at one point saying “I’m not a writer with a drinking problem. I’m a drinker with a writing problem.” Known for her razor-sharp wit and wisecracks, she became famous for short, humorous poems, sarcasm, and love of a stiff drink.
Dorothy Rothschild was born in New Jersey during 1893 at her parent’s summer beach cottage. But as she later wrote in her essay My Home Town, they soon decamped back to their Manhattan apartment so she could be called a true New Yorker.
She sold her first poem to Vanity Fair magazine in 1914, was hired as an editorial assistant at Vogue. Two years later returned to Vanity Fair as a staff writer. Along the way she married Edwin Parker II, which is how she got that name.
Her career took off in 1918 when writing theater criticism for Vanity Fair. She also met the well-known writers Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood, and the trio started having lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. This created what became known as the Algonquin Round Table, a group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits. That, of course, is motivation for our choice of the Algonquin cocktail.
When members began publishing Parker’s lunchtime remarks she quickly developed a national reputation as a wit. When the group learned that taciturn President Calvin Coolidge had died, she remarked, “How could they tell?” Of a Katherine Hepburn performance, she quipped, “She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.” As she put it, “There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”
Parker was soon in Hollywood and remained there until getting on the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era. She passed away back in New York, from a heart attack in 1967, and bequeathed her entire estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. His family passed it on to the NAACP after he was assassinated. Her cremated remains were interred at their Baltimore headquarters with her requested epitaph, “Excuse my dust.”
Dorothy Parker and Drinking
Dorothy was no stranger to booze. Like several of the great male writers we’ve covered with appropriate drinks, like Jack Kerouac, Kingsley Amis and John Steinbeck, she was a functional alcoholic. At one point, when asked if she was going to Join Alcoholics Anonymous, she replied “Certainly not. They want me to stop now.”
Ms. Parker picked up drinking during the days of Prohibition and socialized in various speakeasies. There she picked up Scotch whiskey as her drink of choice, though she broadened those tastes in later years. Champagne, cocktails and gin all joined the party, at least so long as the drink was mixed in a martini.
We can’t cover all of Ms. Parker’s witticisms, so we’ll finish with the most famous drinking rhyme attributed to her.
I like to have a martini
Two at the very most
After three I’m under the table
After four I’m under my host
The Algonquin Cocktail
We’re going to pay tribute to her and the Algonquin Round Table with the Algonquin cocktail. Besides, it’s a lot tastier than drinking Scotch whiskey out of a coffee cup as did in the speakeasies. The hotel is still there, but unfortunately the original bar no longer is.
The Algonquin cocktail recipe is one of several 1930s classics that have been attributed to its namesake hotel, and has appeared in several versions. The recipe we describe was put in writing by Gustav Selmer Fougner, a New York based wine and restaurant critic of the time.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- Add all ingredients to your trusty cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Add garnish if desired.