Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Eudora's Purple Hat": cocktails with literary pedigrees

At this point in the long holiday stretch into December, the only thing left to do with Thanksgiving turkey is throw it out the window. And since no one has dared concoct a turkey martini there will always be one, last, unbound culinary frontier. We hope.

In New Orleans, however, drinks named after literary figures and their works is a bartender's sport. The Houston Chronicle reports of a cocktail in search of a party -- not hard to do at the Monteleone, a venerable New Orleans hotel, and at times home to Tennessee Williams, Faulkner, Hemingway.  

Maggie Galehouse, of the Chronicle, and her pal were at the Monteleone on a rainy Friday afternoon. She reports they were "now, officially, wet and thirsty." It seems appropriate  to suggest a cocktail in a literary mood -- "Eudora's Purple Hat," one that even carries a reference to a short story written at the very bar of the Monteleone by Eudora Welty herself. Galehouse writes:

...we were really looking for drinks that somehow reflected writers or their works. He told us some other bars we could try — the Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt hotel, French 75 at Arnaud’s restaurant — and then, just as we were preparing to leave … the aha moment.

“You know, a few years ago, the hotel hosted a party for Eudora Welty’s 101st birthday,” Allen said. “I created a drink for it, based on her short story, ‘The Purple Hat.’ ”

(It was 2010, and the celebration included a screening of a short film based on the story.) “We’ll take one,” I said.

Welty, apparently, wrote the strange little story at the Hotel Monteleone bar. Indeed, the story is set in a bar, “… a quiet little hole in the wall. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Beyond the open door the rain fell, the heavy color of the sea, in air where the sunlight was still suspended. Its watery reflection lighted the room, as a room might have lighted a mousehole. It was in New Orleans.”

There’s a bartender and two patrons at either end of the bar; one of the patrons is a fat man, the other a nervous younger man with shaking hands. The fat man tells a story about a mysterious middle-aged woman who wears a “great and ancient and bedraggled purple hat” each day to the Palace of Pleasure, a gambling hall where he works. The woman keeps a syringe and a vial in her hat, which she secures with a long pin. She meets the same young man — or the same sort of young man — every afternoon. “I have watched her every day for thirty years and I think she is a ghost,” the fat man observes. “I have seen her murdered twice.”

Welty’s story raises more questions than it answers: What does the purple hat represent? Is the lady who wears it a ghost? Does the young man at the bar know more than he lets on?

As Allen mixed us a “Eudora’s Purple Hat,” he told us the ingredients: citrus vodka, black raspberry liqueur, crème de violette, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and an egg white.

“When we made it for her birthday party, we served it with edible violets,” he told us. ...

The full story is at the Houston Chronicle's Bookish blog. The photo of Eudora Welty, at top, is from the Southern Literary Trail.

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