Tag Archives: Big Sur

A Manhattan in Big Sur: Cocktail Recipe for Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur Manhattan

16 Oct

Big Sur tells the story of Jack Kerouac’s alter ego escaping the pressures of fame brought on after the publishing success of On the Road by hiding out at the desolate cabin owned by his friend, City Lights Bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti (called Lorenzo Monsanto in the novel).  Kerouac had a notorious sweet tooth, perhaps most noticeably evident by all that delicious apple pie a la mode he writes of eating in On the Road.  In Big Sur, his friends point out his taste for a sweet of a different sort—sweet drinks!

Kerouac’s drink of choice in Big Sur is the classic cocktail the Manhattan, which gets its sweetness from vermouth, orange bitters, and a maraschino cherry.  The Manhattan has been called “the drinking man’s drink,” though, probably because of all the whiskey in it.

Here’s the history of the Manhattan, as told by That’s the Spirit!:

Samuel J. Tilden was elected Governor of New York in 1874, and to celebrate, socialite Jenny Jerome threw a party at the Manhattan Club in New York City.  Jerome asked the bartender to create a drink for the occasion. The bartender mixed 1 1/2 ounces bourbon, 1 1/4 ounces each of sweet and dry vermouth, and a dash of bitters. It met with Jerome’s approval and she named the drink the “Manhattan,” after the club.  Jenny Jerome later earned her place in history as she later became Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Sir Winston Churchill, one of England’s most famous Prime Ministers.  The Manhattan became a classic cocktail that has survived a number of changes over the years and is presently enjoying a comeback alongside its cousin, the Martini.

That’s the most popular version of the story, but of course, like most cocktail history, there are other versions of the story as well.

That said, there are also variations of Manhattans.  It can be made with rye whiskey or bourbon.  Although Big Sur doesn’t specify, Kerouac would probably have preferred the bourbon variety, since rye whiskey is more on the bitter side.  Likewise, there are different types of vermouth: sweet and dry.  The bitters can either be traditional Angostura bitters or Angostura Orange.  Some people add a lemon peel for garnish.

On almost any given page of Big Sur there is a reference to alcohol, as the book documents Kerouac gripped by the disease of alcoholism.  While many culture critics have accused Kerouac of promoting a nefarious lifestyle, Kerouac makes the dangers of alcohol quite plain in Big Sur as he portrays himself in deplorable states of breakdown.  In addition to the maraschino cherry, some bartenders will even add a bit of the cherry juice to the drink.  Yum!

Big Sur also describes Kerouac drinking a lot of port wine.  A Manhattan made with port instead of vermouth is called a Ruby Manhattan.  Since he frequented the famous Nepenthe in Big Sur, though, I’m going to go with their recipe.  It’s quite possible the restaurant has changed its cocktail recipe since Kerouac’s autobiographical novel was published in 1962, but their current Manhattan ingredients includes Makers Mark, sweet vermouth, and blood orange bitters.

Nepenthe doesn’t include the ingredient breakout, but based on other general Manhattan recipes, this is my take on Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur Manhattan:

  • 3 oz. Makers Mark
  • 2 oz. sweet vermouth
  • dash of blood orange bitters
  • a Maraschino cherry as garnish, but while you’re at it add a splash of cherry juice to sweeten

Stir the ingredients over ice, then strain into a cocktail glass (the Martini glass) to serve straight up. Garnish with the cherry.

Big Sur and the Best Laid Plans….

15 Oct

I just got back from a trip where everything seemed to go awry.

On my recent trip to San Francisco for a friend’s wedding, I had big plans to visit John Steinbeck’s Monterey, where Cannery Row is set, and Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur, where he spent time in his friend poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin and the title of one of his books.  This idea, mind you, came after plans had already gone awry when I discovered none of my other friends were able to make it to the wedding or were flying in just in time for the wedding, leaving me with a few days to myself.  I’d been to San Francisco a few times and already done the big touristy things and the Beat literary things in the city (minus the Beat Museum, which wasn’t around the last time I was there–and which will have its own post coming up soon!), so I figured I’d take my literary wanderings a bit further south.

Steinbeck’s Cannery Row came out in 1945, two years before Kerouac made that first big trip out West.  Post-World War II, both Steinbeck and Kerouac spent time in the same area of California—Monterey, Big Sur, Salinas—and wrote about migrant workers, the working class, the down and out, absurd heroes.  Steinbeck writes of Cannery Row:

Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Steinbeck’s message is very much Kerouac’s as well.  Kerouac writes about “the holy con-man with the shining mind” and other Beat characters whom society might consider derelicts but whom he considers saint-like.

I planned to do a close study of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and to reread Kerouac’s Big Sur to compare and contrast the places, characters, themes, and language.  Visiting a place can sometimes be the best form of research.  You see and hear things that aren’t in books, get a sense of proportion and distance, and see how the landscape has changed.  I wanted to see the land, to feel the sand between my toes, to have the salty ocean breeze whip through my hair, to smell the sardines.  I wanted to experience the rough terrain that so embodied Kerouac’s mind frame in Big Sur.

Unfortunately, a trip to Big Sur would not happen for me.  My plans went awry when I discovered that after Labor Day public transportation to Big Sur stopped running during the week and that the only tour that stops at Big Sur was sold out before I got to book it.  Discovering this two days before I was supposed to leave—okay, so they weren’t exactly “the best-laid plans…”—put a wrench in my itinerary.

Well, here’s my Pinterest inspiration board for Big Sur.

Here’s an article called “Steinbeck vs. Kerouac: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” from Big Think.

And here’s an article from Monterey County Weekly on the film adaptation of Kerouac’s Big Sur.

I was, however, able to book a different tour that at least went to Monterey.  I had to get up super early–did I mention there were several conferences going on in San Francisco so the only hotel I could find within my budget was an hour away?–to get to the 9am bus.  I got there right on time, getting one of the few remaining seats in the very back of the bus, on the side that wouldn’t have a good view.  …Two hours later, we were still in San Francisco.  The bus was blowing hot air through the vents and overheating–not great for all the senior citizens on the trip (oh, did I not mention the demographic was ever-so-slightly older?).  They brought in mechanics, and when they failed to fix it, we eventually got a new bus.  About half the people on the tour were so mad that their precious vacation time was wasted that they refused to get on and left the tour completely.  The good news: I got a better seat.

Here are a few pictures from Salinas and Monterey.

John Steinbeck references the aphorism “the best-laid plans of mice and men often goes awry” in the title of one of his other books, Of Mice and Men.  The phrase can be traced back to Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

Don’t you love that eighteenth-century Scottish English?  (One day I will have to describe my misadventures in Scotland too….)

One of the things I love best about On the Road is Jack Kerouac’s candor that trips often do go awry.  When Sal Paradise, the narrator based on Kerouac, starts his first big road trip from the East Coast to the West, he has grand plans of traveling one great highway all the way there.  That doesn’t work out—nor does he even get out of state before having to turn back and come home again.  He’d been trying to hitchhike his way out of New York City and ended up stranded in a torrential downpour in Bear Mountain, one of the places my own family frequented when I was growing up.  Not one to let problems rain on his parade, Paradise/Kerouac heads back to New York City and buys fare for public transportation that will take him to the first leg of his destination.

Sometimes you just gotta keep on truckin’!  It’s a good lesson for traveling and for life.

What’s the worst that has ever happened to you on your vacation?

* * *

I’m reading tonight at 7pm at  The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy) here in New York City! This is a Storytellers event, hosted by C3.  I’ll be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Roadcoauthored with Paul Maher Jr.

Your Home Can Smell Like Big Sur

9 Jul

Busy poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is still active at ninety-three years old, moved out to San Francisco and founded City Lights in 1953.  More than just the independent bookstore of Beat pilgrimages, City Lights is a book publisher, and in 1956, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges because he had published and sold Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  He was later found not guilty of a crime.

The year after Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti made the papers, Jack Kerouac finally found fame with On the Road.  The fame was overwhelming, though.  Talk-show hosts invited the naturally shy author on their show.  Wanderlust kids, winos, and dogged readers showed up unannounced at his home.  Fame took a toll on his mind, body, soul.

Ferlinghetti had a cabin, a refuge, out in the wilderness of Big Sur.  He could escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco for respite along the coast of central California.  After the fame wore him down, Kerouac escaped there too, living for a brief time in Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the woods.  The result of this experience is the 1962 novel Big Sur.

Juniper Ridge now has a room spray called Big Sur.  According to their website, it smells of “wild ginger, burnt honey, salt, damp ground.”  The ingredients are plucked from the deserts and mountains of the West, and 10% of the $20 spray bottle goes back to protecting western wilderness.  They also have a Big Sur soap, essential oil, and sachet.  For $50 you can give the gift of Big Sur, which includes the items already mentioned, plus wild huckleberry jam (perhaps reminiscent of Neal Cassady, whom some have said is Huckleberry Finn incarnate).  The gift comes gift wrapped with real pine cones!  And, like the others, 10% of the profit goes to protecting wilderness.