I came across an unusual article in the purpose of researching Shrubs. It ended up having no bearing whatsoever on the final manuscript, but I was fascinated enough by the piece that I OCR’d it, and cleaned up the inevitable typos.
Here, from the December 26, 1893, issue of the New York Sun, is an article about the various drinking establishments of Lower Manhattan, from the Battery up to about 28th Street. Be aware, some of the ethnic attitudes expressed in this piece are very much of their time. You’ll also note peculiarities of style and spelling; those are all in the original.
ODD DRINKS TO BE HAD.
The Sun. Tuesday, December 26, 1893.
You Can Get a Tipple of Almost Any
Nationality at New York Bars.
Many visitors in commenting upon the cosmopolitan character of New York have declared themselves most impressed with the wonderful variety of its restaurants. It does not seem to have ever occurred to any of them, if even to our own citizens, that there was far greater variety to be found in the drinks with which our polyglot population undermines its constitution and pocketbook. Every civilized nation has one or more characteristic drinks; even the poor Jews in the southwest of Russia have invented one or two, which are as peculiar to that part of the Muscovite empire as peach brandy is to the little commonwealth of Delaware.
It would take a person just about one month to start at the Battery and drink a moderate amount of various kinds of tipples which are dispensed from there to the shores of the beautiful Bronx River. In Whitehall street and also in the Tenderloin district may be procured pulque and mescal. These are Mexican drinks so-called, but in reality are purely Aztec. They were used by the Incas long before the times of Pizarro and Cortez. Pulque is a sourish beer made from the agave. It looks like milk and water, has a not unpleasant taste, and is about a strong as ordinary table beer. Mescal is obtained by distilling pulque, and is a fiery fluid of yellow color and a very corrosive aroma. It produces what the cowboy calls a crazy drunk, and is said to contain more inebriety to the cubic inch than any other drink known.
In the little Spanish restaurants in the tobacco district, near Maiden lane and Pearl street, are sold the common and coarse wines of Spain and Portugal, as well as the liqueurs which were invented by forgotten monks. The wines are generally red, full-bodied, rather sweet, and quite harsh. They contain a great deal of tannin and are said by their friends to cure dyspepsia, and by foes to create the worst forms of that dread disorder. The liqueurs which are made from chocolate, tea, and cinnamon, with cloves, are extremely palatable. and would add to our own bill of fare.
In the business district, between Maiden lane and Beekman street are many restaurants and pothouses where the Canadian can obtain his ale and rye whiskey, the Irishman his potheen, the Scotchman his Highland dew, and the Cockney his rum shrub, dog’s nose, and bitter.
Half a mile up town brings the visitor into the Chinese quarter. Here our almond-eyed cousins drink but never get drunk upon samsui, Ung-ka-peh, and No-mai-jow. The first is a wine or beer made from rice. It is the color of sherry, and has a pleasant vinous flavor.
Different kinds have different tastes ranging from a subacid to a moderate sweetness. The Ung-ka-peh belongs to the liqueur class, and suggests Chartreuse in character and appearance. No-mai-jow is another distillate made from rice wine and flavored with lemon and other fruits. Nearly all of the Chinese drinks possess the curious feature of cloying the appetite with a small quantity. They are served in tiny porcelain cups, which hold a tablespoonful. Five of these cups is about all a person drinks, or cares to drink, at a meal.
On the other side of Chatham square is a small Japanese settlement. Both here and in the other Japanese quarter up-town you can sample the many kinds of saki, the national intoxicant of the land of the Mikado. It is made in the same war as the sam-sui of China, and in many instances cannot be distinguished from it.
In Mulberry bend the Italian storekeepers earn an honest penny, and often a dishonest one, by retailing what purports to be the favored beverages of the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Among these are Armagnac, which is a fiery spirit manufactured from coarse grains, potatoes and other vegetables; mastic, a harsh caraway gin, which is said, despite its burning quality, to be beneficial for the stomach; rose liqueur, that seems to be made of sweetened alcohol flavored with geranium, and any number of Chiantias, baroles, and other ordinary wines.
On the west side down town the Scandinavian seeks solace in Swedish punch, Kornbrantvin, and Christiania beer. The Swedish punch is very delicious. It is made from arrack, lemon, sugar, and other ingredients, and is probably the most fascinating strong drink that is known. The Kornbrantvin hails from Denmark, and is a rough whiskey which, to an American palate, seems half fusel oil and half oil of vitriol. The Christiania beer is a light, sparkling, tasteful malt liquor, and may be classed among the best productions of King Gambrlnus.
Over on the east side is the Jewish district, known to the irreverent as the New Jerusalem. Nearly all of the population are Russian Hebrews, and habitually use the singular hybrid patois known as jargon. Their drinks are curious and many. One is slivovitsch. This is a plum brandy made in various parts of Hungary, Russia, and Roumania. It is yellowish or yellowish green in color, and with a strong, penetrating taste and smell. When fresh, it is said by Bowery toughs “to burn holes in de stomach.” As it ages it loses its acrid character and becomes oily, rich-flavored, and pleasantly odorous.
A second drink is a passover wine which is imported from the Holy Land and other parts of Syria. It is used I by the very orthodox of the Rabbi Joseph persuasion. If you taste it you understand why the Jewish race left their native country. In addition to these are drinks such as vodka, which is nothing more nor less than impure alcohol; rose kummel, a kummel adulterated with geranium and tinted with aniline; honey wine, a distant cousin of the sack upon which good Sir John Falstaff was wont to revel; prune brandy, and manna wine.
it should be said to the credit of our lsraelite friends that although they drink they do so in moderation. It is hard to determine, however, whether this is due to virtue or to the character of their beverages.
In a French establishment in the neighborhood of Bleecker street can be seen some wines which are grown upon the north coast of Africa. They are of very good quality, and for an experiment compare well with the older vintages of Europe. In the past twenty-five years the French Government and French capitalists have introduced viticulture into Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Egypt. In one or two instances it was found that the new vineyards were upon the sites of those that supplied the tables of Roman epicures 2,000 years ago. Oddest of all is one vineyard near Alexandria. It supplied red wine to the Pharoahs, the Ptolemies, to the Vandals and the Goths. The vines were destroyed, and the grapes ploughed under by the Moslems, but again today after the lapse of years they are vigorous and prolific. The greatest vineyards are in Algiers and Tunis, and the best wine so far comes from the land of Abd-el-Kaber.*
In Twenty-eighth street, near Sixth avenue, can be found occasionally small quantities of the wines produced In Peru and Chili [sic]. They are of superb quality and promise a great future. The climate in which they grow appears to possess the advantages of both Spain and middle California. The grapes, originally of Spanish growth, were cultivated by the monks of the missions ever since the data of the Conquest, and have been developed to their highest perfection. They make noble fruits, fine raisins, and the best wines grown thus far upon either the North or South American continents.
In the business house which have commercial relations with Australia, and in the sailors’ resorts down town, may now and then be secured small quantities of wine from Australia and New Zealand. The latter is of very poor quality. The former, both red and white, is excellent, and about on a par with the best vintages of the Golden Gate. The output is increasing largely from that island continent, and promises ere long to enter into competition with the product. of France and Germany.
Hungarian wine no longer require any special reference. They are to be found everywhere and in every variety Their popularity and the profit derived by their makers abroad have had the effect of bringing other wines from that part of Europe. Many of the importers who deal in these wines are now beginning to handle beverages from the Odessa and Sebastopol districts, Bessarabia, Roumania, Servia, and Bohemia.
* This should be Abd el-Kader, or Abdelkader El Djezairi, an Algerian religious and military leader who rebelled against the French colonial empire in the mid-1800s, though Algeria remained a French colony until 1962.