Have a Gimlet Tonight to Honor Raymond Chandler

The Gimlet
  •  2 oz London Dry Gin
  • 1 oz Rose’s Lime Juice

 Shake well with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Note: vary the amount of Rose’s to make it sweeter or drier

March 26, 2012.  It was on this day in 1959 that novelist Raymond Chandler passed away.  He was the author of The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, The Long Goodbye, and many other iconic detective novels.  He created not only the character of Philip Marlowe, the hard boiled Los Angeles private detective, but had a lot to do with the creation of the gritty genre of film noir.  If you enjoyed L.A. Confidential, you owe Chandler more than a bit of thanks.

Like Hemingway, Chandler was fond of placing a drink into his character’s hand, which is why I’m thinking of having a Gimlet this evening.  You’ll find it in a number of Hemingway’s works, notably Green Hills of Africa, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Under Kilimanjaro, and True At First Light.  Note that all of these stories take place on safari in Africa – the Gimlet appears to be one of his go-to cocktails while big game hunting, perhaps due to the fact that Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial wasn’t as likely to spoil under the hot African sun as fresh lime juice.

Hem looks like he's earned himself that Gimlet, eh?

As for Chandler, the Gimlet practically steals the show in the Chandler’s 1953 classic The Long Goodbye.  The drink plays an integral role in the relationship between Marlowe and his tragic friend, Terry Lennox:

“We sat in a corner of the bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets.  “They don’t know how to make them here,” he said.  “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice with a dash of sugar and bitters.  A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else.  It beats martinis hollow.”

Lennox was as particular about his bars as his drinks.

“I like bars just after they open for the evening.  When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth.  I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation.  I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it.  I like to taste it slowly.  The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar – that’s wonderful.”

Later in the book, Marlowe returns to Victor’s bar as an homage to Lennox, who is believed to have been killed in Mexico.

I sat down two stools away and the barkeep nodded to me, but didn’t smile.

            “A gimlet,” I said.  “No bitters.”

He put the little napkin in front of me and kept looking at me.  “You know something,” he said in a pleased voice, “I heard you and your friend talking one night and I got me a bottle of that Rose’s Lime Juice.  Then you didn’t come back any more and I only opened it tonight.”

“My friend left town,” I said.  “A double if it’s all right with you.  And thanks for taking the trouble.”

He went away.  The woman in black gave me a quick glance, then looked down into her glass.  “So few people drink them around here,” she said so quietly that I didn’t realize at first that she was speaking to me.  Then she looked my way again.  She had very large dark eyes.  She had the reddest fingernails I have ever seen.  But she didn’t look like a pickup and there was no trace of come-on in her voice.  “Gimlets I mean.”

            “A fellow taught me to like them,” I said.

            “He must be English.”

            “Why?”

“The lime juice.  It’s as English as boiled fish with that awful anchovy sauce that looks as if the cook had bled into it.  That’s how they got called limeys.  The English – not the fish.”

“I thought it was more a tropical drink, hot weather stuff.  Malaya or some place like that.”

“You may be right.”  She turned away again.

The bartender set the drink in front of me.  With the lime juice it has sort of a pale greenish yellowish misty look.  I tasted it.  It was both sweet and sharp at the same time.  The woman in black watched me.  Then she lifted her own glass towards me.  We both drank.  Then I knew hers was the same drink.”

Hemingway was an ardent admirer of Raymond Chandler.  In a 1940 letter to his editor, Max Perkins, Hemingway asked for a copy of Farewell My Lovely.  Further, in a 1950 piece he wrote for the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, Hemingway noted that “[i]n the old days, I could read anything.  But now I cannot read detective stories any more unless they are written by Raymond Chandler.”  Perhaps the feelings weren’t mutual.  In the aforementioned thriller Farewell My Lovely, Philip Marlowe is confronted by a cop who, like most cops in Chandler’s books, gets on his nerves.  “Listen, Hemingway, don’t repeat everything I say,” Marlowe retorts, and continues to call him Hemingway throughout the scene.  When the quite oblivious cop eventually asks Marlowe who this Hemingway person is, Marlowe snidely replies, “A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good.”  Hmmm.  I did mention that Hemingway liked Chandler, didn’t I?

In True At First Light, based on Ernest and Mary’s safari to Kenya in 1953-54, Mary is ill, and asks “Would it be terrible to have a gimlet for my morale?”  Hemingway obliges, of course, noting, “You’re not supposed to drink but I always did and I’m still here.”  In Green Hills of Africa, a semi-autobiographical account of Ernest and Pauline’s 1933 safari, the Gimlet makes a few appearances.  In one instance, it is used as a means of rescuing Hemingway from a conversation about writing which has grown tedious.  Hemingway explains:

“First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be the conception of what it can be and an absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking. Then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive. Try to get all these in one person and have him come through all the influences that press on a writer. The hardest thing, because time is so short, is for him to survive and get his work done. But I would like us to have such a writer and to read what he would write. What do you say? Should we talk about something else?”

“It is interesting what you say. Naturally I do not agree with everything.”

“Naturally.”

“What about a gimlet?” Pop asked. “Don’t you think a gimlet might help?”

“Tell me first what are the things, the actual, concrete things that harm a writer?”

I was tired of the conversation which was becoming an interview. So I would make it an interview and finish it. The necessity to put a thousand intangibles into a sentence, now, before lunch, was too bloody.

“Politics, women, drink, money, ambition. And the lack of politics, women, drink, money and ambition,” I said profoundly.

“He’s getting much too easy now,” Pop said.

“But drink. I do not understand about that. That has always seemed silly to me. I understand it as a weakness.”

“It is a way of ending a day. It has great benefits. Don’t you ever want to change your ideas?”

“Let’s have one,” Pop said. “M’Wendi!”

Pop never drank before lunch except as a mistake and I knew he was trying to help me out.

“Let’s all have a gimlet,” I said.

The Gimlet is central to the opening scene in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, a short story published in 1936 in Cosmopolitan magazine.  The story concerns an American couple, Francis and Margot Macomber, on safari with their professional hunting guide, Robert Wilson.  Macomber is described as:

very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.”

Indeed, while hunting a “damned fine” lion, Macomber panicked and ran away, leaving Wilson to kill the charging lion.  If that weren’t enough, on top of needling Macomber for having “bolted like a rabbit,” Margot adds to his misery by having a fling with Wilson.  So, the story begins in the aftermath of the scene with the lion:

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of
the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

“Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?” Macomber asked.

“I’ll have a gimlet,” Robert Wilson told him.

“I’ll have a gimlet too. I need something,” Macomber’s wife said.

“I suppose it’s the thing to do,” Macomber agreed. “Tell him to
make three gimlets.”

The mess boy had started them already, lifting the bottles out of the canvas cooling bags that sweated wet in the wind that blew through the trees that shaded the tents.  . . . 

So they sat there in the shade where the camp was pitched under some wide-topped acacia trees with a boulder-strewn cliff behind them, and a stretch of grass that ran to the bank of a boulder-filled stream in front with forest beyond it, and drank their just-cool lime drinks and avoided one another’s eyes while the boys set the table for lunch.

Wilson knew that his cordial relationship with the Macombers could not survive the day, what with “that lion business,” his dalliance with Margot, and her “bitchery” toward her cuckolded husband.

He had decided now that to break would be much easier.  He would eat, then, by himself and could read a book with his meals.  They would eat by themselves.  He would see them through the safari on a very formal basis.  What was it the French called it?  Distinguished consideration – and it would be a damn sight easier than having to go through this emotional trash.  He’d insult him and make a good clean break.  Then he could read a book with his meals and he’d still be drinking their whisky.  That was the phrase for it when a safari went bad.  You ran into another white hunter and you asked, “How is everything going? And he answered, “Oh, I’m still drinking their whisky,” and you knew everything had gone to pot.

It should be noted that Macomber recovered his courage later in the story, standing tall while a fearsome buffalo charged, reeling off shot after shot.  It was but a momentary redemption, though (not wanting to spoil the plot).  Hollywood saw fit to cinematize the story in 1947, renaming it The Macomber Affair, in which Gregory Peck “makes that Hemingway kind of love” to Joan Bennett,” whatever the hell that means.  What’s ironic is that Hemingway’s depictions of lovemaking were often lampooned in the media.  Critics howled at the notion of two people making love in a sleeping bag (For Whom the Bell Tolls), and on a gondola in Venice (Across The River and Into The Trees).  But who am I to question the Hollywood PR machine?

As a final note on the Gimlet, I encourage you to try both the traditional version (using Rose’s), and the natural version (using freshly squeezed lime juice, plus a dash of simple syrup).  You might find that the natural version tastes better, but if you’re into authenticity, you’ve got to use the Rose’s (although Dale DeGroff notes that using fresh lime juice makes the drink a sweet Gin Rickey, and not a Gimlet, so there you are).  While I don’t share Terry Lennox’s view that “it beats martinis hollow,” the Gimlet is still a pretty good drink.  Cheers.


About philgreene61

writer
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One Response to Have a Gimlet Tonight to Honor Raymond Chandler

  1. Pingback: Slurred Lines: Great Cocktail Moments in Famous Literature | Food & Think

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