Elvis may have left the building but that won’t stop us from mixing the Velvet Elvis cocktail for his birthday on January 8. As the King of Rock and Roll we need to raise a toast in his honor even if he preferred a peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich over a martini.
He may have died in 1977 but today you can get married by Elvis or find him on a street corner in Las Vegas. You can buy TCB (Taking Care of Business) rings, tour his old home Graceland and stream his movies to your TV.
His life was both triumph and tragedy, but Elvis never really left us.
Elvis and Triumph
Elvis Aaron Presley only needs one name: Elvis. That’s enough, everyone knows who you’re talking about. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, he and his family moved to Memphis when he was 13 years old. His music career started in 1954. He was spotted by Colonel Tom Parker, a former carnival worker who became his manager. Parker won him a recording contract with RCA Victor and by 1956 Elvis released his first single, Heartbreak Hotel. That first single quickly became the number one hit in the U.S. and RCA sold 10 million within a year.
With chart topping records and record-busting television appearances, Presley was the leading figure of the new sound of rock and roll. There were hurdles. Ed Sullivan didn’t consider him suitable until his own show got outranked by Elvis’ appearance on the Steve Allen Show. Sullivan ended up booking Elvis for three appearances for the unprecedented sum of $50,000.
Critics liked to insult him. Gen Gross of the New York Daily News wrote that popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley.” He called the show “…suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.” But the crowds loved him.
Elvis kept knocking out hit singles and albums. Billboard declared that he placed more songs in the top 100 than any other artist since records were charted. He accounted for more than 50% of RCA Victor’s music sales.
The world was his oyster, and then he got a draft notice. He entered the US Army in late 1958 and was stationed in Germany where another soldier introduced him to amphetamines. That part of the Elvis story doesn’t end well, so we’ll focus on the amusing side.
Elvis and the Jungle Room
As one would expect, Elvis’ commercial success had its rewards. Between film shoots and recording sessions he purchased the Graceland mansion a few miles from downtown Memphis for $102,500. The house originally had an open patio at the rear, just behind the kitchen. But following his return from Army duty in 1960 he set out on some improvement projects.
By 1965 he had created a 14 x 40 foot fully enclosed room where the patio had been. We’d call it a man cave now. Elvis called it “the den.” It hardly matters – anyone would call it a breathtakingly kitschy ode to tropical environs and poor taste. It eventually earned the moniker Jungle Room after his death.
The room was hard to beat. Green shag carpet. Thick drapes making it eternally dark. With furniture from Sears, he had a waterfall built inside and furnished it with plastic plants, rainbow lights and multiple TVs. It was a place where Elvis could, well, be Elvis. It was his hangout where he ate breakfast and recorded some of his last works.
It’s also where he hung out with a group of friends, known as the “Memphis Mafia,” and was able to behave as he chose. Elvis had a dislike for the singing idol Robert Goulet, but one day Goulet appeared on the TV. Remote controls were not so well developed at the time, so Elvis simply picked up his pistol and shot the screen.
This wasn’t the only TV Elvis shot, but it’s the only one now on display at Graceland. And it was hardly a problem for him, as the money he made for RCA made them happy to provide an endless stream of new TVs.
The Velvet Elvis Cocktail
Sure, there are various Elvis cocktails out there using peanut butter flavored whiskey and banana liqueur in an effort reenact his favorite sandwich. But we have standards to uphold and look askance at that sort of whiskey. So today we’ll pay homage to both Elvis and the various painted-on-velvet images of him you can buy with the Velvet Elvis cocktail.
The Velvet Elvis cocktail is not attributed to anyone. It’s a flat our mystery where it came from, but it does at least use Tennessee whiskey. That’s quite Graceland-ish, and it further leans Southern with lemonade or lemon-lime soda as an ingredient.
It also contains Chambord (the best known) or other black raspberry liqueur. This is worth having in your bar. Somewhat akin to Cherry Heering or St. Germain elderflower liqueur, it’s one of those things used as an accent in a lot of drinks and is available in 375ml sizes to minimize shelf intrusion. While there are many producers of Tennessee whiskey, Jack Daniel’s is by far the best known and most likely the one on your shelf. After all, you need it to mix the Frank’s Way for Sinatra’s birthday each year.
Velvet Elvis Cocktail
- 1.5 oz Tennessee Whiskey More often than not this means Jack Daniel's.
- 1 oz Black raspberry liqueur Chambord is the best known and widely available brand.
- ½ oz Fresh lime juice
- Lemonade or lemon-lime soda Take your choice here; Sprite, 7-Up, whatever
- Garnish: lime wedge
- Add whiskey, raspberry liqueur and lime juice to your trusty shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into ice filled glass.
- Top with lemonade or lemon-lime soda, stir gently.
- Garnish with lime wedge.
- Cue up your Elvis playlist.