What happened 206 years ago this month?
As if I had to ask. Of course, it was the date of the first printed definition of the word ”cocktail.” And because so few days exist on the calendar in which one can celebrate by drinking extravagant cocktails and dancing and generally carrying on, World Cocktail Day was established in 2006. It honors that most American of American inventions, the cocktail. (Or the most British of American inventions, if you believe David Wondrich. But he’s a known liar.)
Many fraudulent holidays exist, of course, such as World Estuaries Day (September 3), National Biscuit Month (Sepetmber), National Melba Toast Day (March 23) and Canadian Toilet Flange Day (October 7). These exist only on press releases. No drink or gaeity is involved.
World Cocktail Day, I am pleased to report, is not an ersatz holiday. Indeed, this year’s milestone will be marked with a fabulous Swing Ball at the Museum of the American Cocktail on the Mississippi River. Live in New Orleans? Take the bus or streetcar. Don’t live in New Orleans? Fly and catch a cab.
The ball will feature the outstanding Meschiya Lake and her Little Big Quartet. She has a voice that can fill a city block, and it still has energy enough to wander down a side street or two. She plays traditional New Orleans jazz. This doesn’t mean smooth jazz, and it doesn’t mean Dixieland jazz. (The latter was a soul-less, stripped down version of the real thing, the Herman’s Hermits to the Beatles.) It means jazz you can serioiusly dance to.
Dancing will make you hungry, of course. Do not fear: there will be food. Noshing will be provided by Cure, Cafe Adelaide, and the Windsor Court Hotel.
Eating will make one thirsty. Do not fear. there will be drink. Some of the city’s best bartenders will be mixing up outstanding cocktails, including Chris McMillian, Rhiannon Enlil, Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Nick Deitrich, and the inscrutable Chris Hannah.
Good food and drink invariably makes one thoughtful and inquisitive. Do not fear: there will be education. You can browse the museum with food and drink in hand. When questions arise about early 20th century drink, you can ask, oh, say, DALE DEGROFF. Have a tiki question? Why not ask JEFF “BEACHBUM” BERRY. Oh, yes, they’ll be there, and ready to chat.
Also: be sure to welcome Jeff Berry to New Orleans. He and his wife, Annene, moved here last week. New Orleans is where tiki inventor Don the Beachcomber grew up, so Berry's move here is like the return of a salmon to the ancestral river. A salmon wearing an aloha shirt. Or whatever.
You might ask, what sort of second mortgage will be required to afford such a glorious event? A very small one, friends. The cost: a mere $30, including all food and drink and dance, for those who order in advance. (It’s $40 for procrastinators.)
Will I be there? As if you had to ask.
Friday May 18, 6pm to 9pm, Southern Food and Beverage Museum (Riverwalk Marketplace, at foot of Julia St.) For info, call 646.696.0862. To order tickets online, head to www.americancocktailmuseum.org.