San Francisco, now and then. As the fog rolls in, now becomes then, gives birth to dreamy when. Oh, let us begin to begin to begin. Begin with some sin, as the end is still far away. Bakersfield. Fresno. Beijing. San Francisco. All wrapped in the mist that blows in through the bay.
The Hungry i stared at the corner of the Coppola building on the Corner of Columbus and Kearny, but it soon moved over to the location on Jackson and Kearny for more space.
"Big Daddy" Eric Nord, a beat generation entrepreneurial madman promoter, was the original owner of the Hungry i but Enrico bought him out for $800—and unwittingly got stuck with $11,000 of Nord's debts. This was in 1950. He started off with jazz singer Stella Brooks and folk singer Stan Wilson.
"In about six months," says Enrico, "it took off, but there was another person who made it take off even better—Mort Sahl."
Mort Sahl was unknown at the time but Enrico took a chance on him, as he took a chance on Streisand, Bruce, Alan, Cosby and others. Striesand he hired without even hearing her. She had so much confidence he felt she had to be good. She also told him that he had the opportunity to hire her before she was famous and her price went sky-high.
He started Sahl off on a two-week trail basis at $75 per week. When Enrico hired him he told Sahl, "Do one thing for me. You're now in a tie and shirt and you have that Stan Kenton collar." I'd like you to get into a sweater, sandals." Says Enricso, "He came with a red sweater and he's had it on every since."
One night Herb Caen came down with wife and friends, and Enrico had the smarts to give them front row seats. Sahl did a political joke about jackets with multiple zipper compartments. Sahl said, "You know how the Eisenhower jackets are coming out with multi zippers that go up like this for maps that open up on the chest; over on the shoulder here they have it for pencils; over here they got it for cigarettes ... But—ah ha!—now they got a new jacket called the McCarthy jacket. It zips up the side and over your mouth."
Caen nearly died laughing, says Enrico. He wrote a quarter of a page about Sahl, and the Hungry i then really took off. But with big crowds now showing up, the fire department was ready to shut the Hungry i down because it did not have the required exits. Enrico talked them out of it, saying he was in the process of building more exits. In the mean time, however, he rented more space over on Kearny and Jackson—where the hole is, and has been for the last decade—and moved the Hungry i moved over there.
There is still a Hungry i in
North Beach (above, left), but it in name only. It is a strip club up
on Broadway owned by Deja Vu. As to the old Hungry i, there is construction
going on in the hole now, and soon Enrico will not have to see the brick
wall when he walks by Jackson and Kearny. Memories can be painful.
"That stuff" is Colyte PEG-3350—about a gallon of it. It's a liquid laxative. You drink one half of it the night before—8 ounces every fifteen minutes—the other half at 7:00 in the morning—again, 8 ounces every fifteen minutes. In the morning, right after you finish it, you take four laxatives pills all at once. Why the pills I don't know. There seems to be nothing inside you at that point.
About an hour after you start drinking "the stuff," you start hearing voices—voices in your bowels—and you feel rumblings. Things begin to churn, to move. There is an internal upheaval going on. A little gastronomic rebellion. Then you start having bowel movements. One pretty much after the other. You are being cleaned out by the pharmaceutical companies, who do not believe in wasting time. This witches brew costs you thirty two dollars, the pill another two or three. They have cleaned out your wallet too.
You get your choice of flavors: citrus, peach, pear, or grape. I chose citrus. It was just barely detectable and did nothing to overcome the medicinal flavor of the beverage. Now the first eight ounces are tolerable; you can grin and bare it in the name of preventive medicine. But with each additional mouthful, the taste grows more abhorrent. Finally you are reduced to sitting on the toilet drinking it out of a measuring cup and wondering if preventive medicine is all that great a concept.
Why not just face the facts: If you don't get run over by a car, someday a doctor is going to come walking into the examination room with a grim look on his face and say, "That's it; you'll be gone in two weeks." Fine, I can deal with that. I will still have dignity. With Colyte PEG-3350 there is none.
So what is all this about? A screening colonoscopy—an examination of the colon with a flexible fiber optic tube—the "colonoscope." Before the colonoscope starts its journey up your you-know-what, an IV is delivering forgetful liquid into a vein in your arm. In my case, it did its job. I remember rolling over on my side, as ordered by the doctor, things growing dim, the lights going out; then a nurse standing over me as I come to. Total amnesia. I highly recommend it. Some things are best forgotten.
My colon was fine, the doctor told me—no polyps, nothing—and I did not have to drink anymore citrus-flavored liquid laxatives. Had I been the president getting this procedure, there would have been nothing for the press to report other than a perfect presidential colon. With presidents, however, there always seems to be a polyp or two and reporters have something to go back to the office and write about. For me the only trick was escaping the hospital. I was supposed to have someone there to pick me up. That was hospital procedure. When no one was watching, I snuck out and flagged down a taxi. "Free at last, free at last," I said to myself, profaning Dr. Kings noble words.
I'm sure if Mort Sahl had a colonoscopy he could do a brilliant monologue about it. And if Lennie Bruce had one, his monologue would surely land him in jail; "colonoscopy" is a ten-plus-one-letter word. There's politics in there too, I'm sure. Big pharmaceutical industry angle just waiting to be tapped. Like whose bottom is this really serving? My bottom, yours, the great pharmaceutical cash register bottom, what? Is the Bush bottom getting a share when you drink that bitter cup? Are friends of Bush in on the action when those fiber optics wend their way upwards? I will have to leave that to the likes of Sahl or other comedians.
At the place on Kearny, Sahl got bumped up to $125 per week. He staid there for four years. Back then Sahl had a writer. Enrico said he did not realize that until one night after the show they all went over to a Chinese restaurant for wonton soup. The young Larry Tucker, who would go on to become a screen writer and producer, was there and he said to Sahl, "Hey, Mort, I got a great one for you. You know, it's coming Christmas now and downtown the crowds are crushing ..." It's a dated joke with a punch line that is a play on a line from an old Western with Gary Cooper. I'll spare you the details. Anyway, Sahl delivered the joke line per line the next evening. At the time, Larry Tucker was working in the announcers booth at the Hungry i, and he and Sahl were best friends.
Then one evening Sahl came to Enrico looking disturbed. Enrico asked him if he wanted something to eat. Enrico always asks people if they want something to eat. When I asked Enrico about Jack Kerouac he said, "I was always trying to get Jack to eat something." Kerouac was a notorious binge drinker. Any wonder that Enrico's next venture was a restaurant? But that's off the subject. Sahl wanted to talk. They went into the office of the Hungry i. Sahl asked Enrico to fire Tucker. He was angry because Tucker was working with another young comedian, and, according to Sahl, turning him into another Mort Sahl. Enrico refused.
"He just sat there silently," says Enrico. "I said, 'you still there, Mort?' He got up and left and I didn't see him for a year and a half."
Later Sahl started writing his own material. "He was brilliant," says Enrico. "He has complete recall. He reads a book and he can remember all the pages."
Sahl's mature humor has an almost timeless edge to it. Consider this line: "Two hundred years ago, we had Jefferson, Washington, Ben Franklin and Tom Paine; and there were four million people. Today we have 220 million, and look at our leaders .... Darwin was wrong."
Sound like the current guys in office? Give 'em all a laxative. At least they would have to stay home.
Yes, I'm talking about Beau Coup. Now I've heard mixed things about the food there. That is still out for judgment. But the bar ... well, that is another matter. Beau Coup has two of the finest bartenders in the city: Marco Dionysos and Maximillian Francois. Who needs to eat when these guys are mixing? Max comes via Bix, Black Cat, Absinthe, Harry Denton's Starlite Room. Marco comes via Vesuvio's, Enrico's and other notable establishments.
Now you can tell a lot about a bar by its specialty list. The specialty list means someone cares. At Beau Coup there are some ten specialty drinks on the list, and I went right to it last Thursday—I was on a deadline; I asked Max, "What is your favorite." He hesitated only slightly. Had he been a cop and I had a gun, I might have nailed him. Which is to say, Max is a big manly guy with a gravely voice who ponders matters a bit before speaking. You would probably like Max, even if you don't like cops. But back to the topic at hand.
"Pimm's Rose," he said.
"Okay, let's do one."
As Max mixed, he explained the drink to me.
"This cocktail is the marriage of a couple of ideas. Pimm's is used in a traditional drink called a Pimm's Cup. It's a nice brunch or breakfast drink."
Pimm's was created by James Pimm in 1820; he served it at his oyster bar in London. The base of the drink is an aperitif that includes herbs and quinine. Like bitters, such as Campari, its original purpose was digestive. Pimm's No. 1 is gin-based.
The recipe for a Pimm's Cup include these ingredients: a shot of Pimm's No. 1, 7-Up, a slice of cucumber and a twist of lemon peel.
An additional ingredient to Beau Coup's Pimm's Rose is Hendrick's gin. Hendrick's includes rose petal, cucumber, coriander, among other "botanicals." According Alan Cohen, who sells Hendrick's for Young's Market Company and who just happened to be on hand at Beau Coup, "One of the head distillers from William Grant Company, which makes Glenfiddich in Scotland, is an Englishman, and he wanted to make a gin. He was trying to decide what would be an interesting approach to a new gin. He wanted something ultimately British, and what is more British than cucumber sandwiches in a rose garden?" Hence Hendrick's fits perfectly with the idea of Pimm's Cup, or a new take on that drink, which is what Pimm's Rose is. The flavor of Hendrick's, according to Cohen, is more delicate and refreshing than most other gins, and that quality comes from the cucumbers and rose petals.
Since we have already digressed a little, let's do it some more. Gin drinkers do so. Why can't we? Now here's the thing, love: Gin is an interesting drink when you know a little about it, and it can be a real turn-off if you don't. The primary flavor comes from infusing juniper berries and other botanicals into a neutral grain spirit. Distinctiveness of individually manufactured products is due to the choice of the other botanicals by a manufacturer. Thus it involves a kind of herbal witchcraft, just as does Vermouth and Campari. One other tidbit: They used to claim that gin caused amnesia. Don't know whether this is true or not, but if there is something that you would really really like to forget, gin might be just the thing for you. Recipes are of course highly guarded secrets. Now back to the main topic:
Max also likes the drink because it is a "long drink." Says Max, "You don't see that very much these days. Most people are drinking anything that will go into a Martini glass." The flavors are unique, he says, but not overpowering. A long drink, in case you don't know, is any drink that does not go into a Martini glass. The Primm's Rose goes into a Collins glass, which is tall, not long. What is long about the drink is the time that you might take to drink it. It is a leisurely drink.
Says Max after some additional thought, "It gets this really nice, well balanced botanicals from the gin and the herbal essence of the Pimm's." According to Cocktails by Harrington and Morehead, the Pimm's Cup "gets as close to health food as anything we'd care to recommend." And I think you can say the same for Pimm's Rose.
The ingredients for Pimm's Rose are as follows: half an once of Pimm's, an once of Hendrick's, an ounce of cranberry juice, half an once of lemon juice, a dash of simple syrup. Topped it off with ginger ale. The garnish is a lemon twist and a wheel of cucumber.
The drink was concocted by Marco Dionysos, who was traveling in Spain at the time of my visit to Beau Coup.
I don't know if Jack Kerouac or other heavy drinks would go for this drink. But like Primms' Cup, it is a drink that is designed for all day drinking. Jack would surely appreciate that.