A Holiday Tradition!

Prepare your ears for the wildest holiday-themed novelty records and the sounds of on-air gift giving with a cast of celebrity merry-makers. This Saturday everyone's fave holiday tradition, the Radio Bartender, returns to the "Fool's Paradise" featuring Rex on the mighty WFMU! As always, Grade "A" Fancy's head mixist Karen will unveil a new cocktail for the occasion, live in the studio, amid much radio hi-jinx.

Tune in this Saturday, December 23, from 1 to 3pm on the Fun 91! In the New York City area it's WFMU 91.1 fm Jersey City, and 90.1 in the Hudson Valley. Children of any land can listen in real time via the miracle of the internet.

Here it is! Your official Fool's Paradise cocktail for 2017:

The Three Wiseacres

1 oz. Irish whiskey (we used Powers)
1 oz. Pimm's No.1
1 oz. agua de jamaica*
1/2 oz. Becherovka

optional dash oxymel (1:1 honey and apple cider vinegar)
optional dash walnut bitters (we used Boy Drinks World) or walnut liqueur

garnish with twist of lemon peel

*Agua de jamaica is the Mexican name for hibiscus tea. It is called sorel in Jamaica. The dried flowers are available in Hispanic markets and better fruit stands. We used 1 cup flowers to 2 quarts water and 3/4 cup sugar, as recommended here, although you may want to halve the recipe. Go easy on the spices, since the Pimm's and the Becherovka are both spiced.


Code Name: Cocktail

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For the low, low price of $10
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Grade “A” Fancy in  collaboration with Liquorsnapper.com presents ~ 


The Exciting, Undercover, Top-Secret,
Daggers Danger ‘n’ Daiquiris
Supersloshy Side of Mid-Century Spy Fiction

By Vicky Sweat & Karen McBurnie
with Art and Design by Jon Hammer

What do you want?  Information.

What have we got?  40 sumptuous pages of cocktails, punches and poisons potions as imbibed by secret agents of mid-century fiction, including 13 original recipes concocted in our secret labs. Plus tips and tradecraft to weaponize your home bar.

Secret agents and strong beverages go together like Hitchcock and icy blondes, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and fluffy white cats, and without doubt, gin and vermouth. (Also clichés and spy fiction!)

Vicky and Karen presented a symposium, directed by Chris Karwowski, entitled The Spy Who Came In From The Pool based on this book at the 2017 Tiki Oasis weekender in San Diego.  Two tipples from the book, The Cloak and Stagger Punch and The Ejector Seat, were demonstrated.  All attendees survived, or so we are told.

What’s James Bond’s freakiest drink?  Where did Harry Palmer learn to mix properly?  Which cocktails are best with egg salad? What’s Alec Leamas’ favorite color?  (Just kidding – that’s classified.)
All is revealed in the pages of Code Name: Cocktail.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Code Name: Cocktail at the low, low price of $10.00, Please email us and we will send a PayPal invoice. The price includes USPS first class postage within the US.


A Quick One, In Ragtime

The cemetery is a fine spot for the curious to wander, and you will often be rewarded with a genuine curiosity. Odds are you didn’t know that a superstar of the turn of the last century, the “King of Ragtime,” who made his name in St. Louis, wound up in an unmarked pauper’s grave in western Queens.

Beginning with the smash hit success of “Maple Leaf Rag,” in 1899, Scott Joplin went on to be a popular and prolific composer of ragtime, the syncopated synthesis of African American dance music and European classical and marches. His music was an important foundation for jazz, and by extension, every other pop form of the Twentieth century, but he’s mainly known nowadays due to a brief ragtime revival sparked by the movie soundtrack album for 1973’s The Sting, that featured several Joplin tunes (including “The Entertainer,” which peaked at number 3 in the Top 40 singles chart). His reign was short lived. The ragtime fad didn’t last long and Joplin’s fame wouldn’t either. Institutionalized for dementia caused by syphilis, he died in 1917 at the age of 49 in the Manhattan State Hospital on Ward’s Island and was buried anonymously in St. Michael’s Cemetery, East Elmhurst, Queens.

Each year St. Michael’s puts on a free concert to honor Joplin, and we have attended many times. The cemetery is a little tricky to get to on public transportation, so it is usually a small affair, a few dozen locals and fans, a band, free hamburgers and hot dogs. This year marks the centennial of Joplin’s death, and the turnout was much bigger than usual, probably because of better publicity. The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra was the perfect choice for this one hundredth anniversary of Joplin’s death. The Paragons were eleven pieces strong and the program was mostly Joplin rags with a few other timely selections to provide some context.

Joplin’s grave bore no marker until 1974 when ASCAP donated a simple bronze plaque. This year a memorial bench was dedicated as a somewhat grander tribute. Your Grade “A” Fanciers, of course, had other ideas about paying homage to the great musician. We were joined in a toast to Scott Joplin by our friends Gabrielle and Scott.

We devised an honorary drink for the occasion and named it The Maple Leaf Rag. Shooting for something that might have been downed at the turn of the century, this was composed with an Old Fashioned in mind, and it wasn’t too far a fetch that we'd add some maple syrup to salute Joplin’s first big hit. The Amaro Sfumato adds a little smoke for a barroom of the period, and a garnish of toasted walnut lends a trace of woodsy-ness and some tannins to counteract the sweet maple. Gab reminded us that walnut wood is used on pianos, which suited us swell.

The Maple Leaf Rag Cocktail

Advance prep:
• Toast as many walnut meats as drinks you will be serving
• Dissolve maple syrup 1:1 with hot water and let cool

Drink ingredients:
2 1/2 ounces rye, or a combination of Canadian whiskey and rye
1/4 ounce Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro
2 teaspoons maple syrup dilution, or to taste
Dash Angostura Bitters
Dash Fee’s Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters
Shake lightly with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry and a toasted walnut. (Alternatively, this could be built as an Old Fashioned, in the namesake glass over ice.)

*      *      *

After the concert we took a moment to visit another ought-to-be-famous resident of St. Michael’s. Just down the lane from Joplin is the modest grave of another African American legend, the man they called “the Black Edison,” Granville T. Woods.

Born a freeman in 1859 in Columbus, Ohio, Woods was an electrician and inventor with 60-odd patents to his name. One invention, a multiplex telegraph, spurred a lawsuit from Thomas Edison challenging its patent. When Edison lost he offered to make Woods his partner, but was turned down. His work was also crucial to the development of electric trolleys and third rail transit systems. His remarkable life is way too crammed with accomplishment to recount here. We should pause a moment to remember him and consider how paltry this simple marker is as a testament to his legacy.


The Borough of Showbiz

New York City is a boîte boneyard, a nite-spot necropolis, a potter’s field of cabarets, oyster palaces and hotel lounges.

 Some names of past hotspots live on in popular lore — your Stork Club, your El Morocco. But there were so many others, maybe smaller in size and fame, that were at one time just as legendary with a certain clientele. Today they are nearly unknown. The heyday of these storied joints can never be recreated.  Well, if we can’t step inside, let’s loiter outside and toast, in salute to good times past. We may be a little late, but we have time for a quick one.

In this installment of a Quick One we go a-visiting with the inspiration for a popular cartoon personality and ponder the link between Broadway and Queens.

Queens has been called “the borough of jazz” for the many musicians who settled along the IRT Flushing line, now the No. 7, which provides a direct connection to Times Square and Broadway. It might be more accurate to say the borough of showbiz, because actors, musicians, and vaudevillians of all varieties, not just jazzbos, made that commute to their theater jobs. Beginning in the late ‘Twenties new neighborhoods sprang up in the “cornfields of Queens” thanks to the recent elevated line: Jackson Heights, Woodside, Corona all attracted their share of show folk who mixed in with other straighter refugees of the crowded clamor of Manhattan. It was a step up from the apartment hotels of the city.

One celestial couple of the Great White Way who made their home in Jackson Heights was hoofer Dan Healy and Helen Kane, the bubbly singer who was the model, both vocally and physically, for Betty Boop. We thought we’d like to lift a glass to them.

Helen (née Schroeder) came up in singing contests and chorus lines and went on to a full career as a Broadway star. Singing "That's My Weakness Now" in a show at the Paramount Theatre, the song's "boop-boop-a-doop" catchphrase quickly catapulted her to household name fame. She wasn’t the only one to interpolate baby talk in popular song, it was a gimmick many pop and blues singers used. An early example was in 1921's all-black Broadway smash Shuffle Along when Gertrude Saunders stopped that show cold with her number “Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home,” which ends with an entire scat chorus in baby talk. Helen wasn't the first, but she became one of the most successful, recording for Victor and headlining the Palace Theatre in 1928. Her fun-loving flapper persona became so popular that there were Helen Kane impersonation contests for aspiring Broadway babies looking to bust into show business. One winner of a contest held in Atlantic City was Mae Questel, soon to become the voice of Betty Boop.

Helen was a Bronx gal, fully evident in her movie roles like Pointed Heels (with William Powell and Fay Wray), Sweetie (with Nancy Carroll and Jack Oakie) and as the title character in Dangerous Nan McGrew. “Broadway’s Boy” Dan Healy was an established performer, showman and wheeler-dealer. You can see him in action as the oily Miller in the alternately fascinating and dull as a doorknob Glorifying the American Girl, (shot in Astoria, with heart-stopping location work at Grand Central Station and along 42nd Street). He was a master of ceremonies in night spots including the Cotton Club. Helen and Dan were portrayed in the 1950 movie Three Little Words. Debbie Reynolds played Helen, but it was Helen’s voice singing on the soundtrack.

Helen and Dan had skyscraper highs and serious lows; both finished their days together here at The Berkeley, a characteristically splendid Jackson Heights apartment building.

The Berkeley (fka Berkeley Hall), a neo-Georgian building with nine foot ceilings in its 84 units at 77-12 35th Avenue, was erected in 1937. It had a roof garden, children’s playground and gymnasium. It is now a co-op.

Our cocktail hour with Mr. and Mrs. Healy features the Charleston, from The Savoy Cocktail Book.  It’s an aromatic and potent sipper made with equal parts gin, maraschino, kirsch, Curaçao, Italian and French vermouths, and garnished with a lemon peel. A half ounce of each will build you a 3 ounce drink, and upon giving it serious thought, we have two suggestions: first, choose a bracing gin, and to top it all off, add a cocktail cherry after you’ve expressed your lemon peel.

To The Heights!


A Bar Is a Bar Is a Bar

Because we at Grade “A” Fancy never duck a controversy, let’s put a new topic on the table and see if we can’t start a small war.

We’re the #1 fans of food with drinking. It’s the civilized thing to do, it keeps you from ruining your stomach, and it’s a great strategy for remaining upright on your seat. BUT.

The fad of eating a full meal at the bar has begun suck the soul out of some of our favorite haunts.

We're always on the look-out for places with snacks on the bar—Sardi’s renowned cheese spread with Ritz crackers, for example, and the posher hotel bars are often generous with nuts and crunchy bits. There are even a few humbler neighborhood joints that still spring for free hot dogs or popcorn. That’s all as it should be. And we aren’t complaining about tapas, either. The danger begins when a bar is colonized by soup-to-nuts diners.

Predictably, the hot scene-y places even feed this fad by selling stools at the bar as regular reservations. Two offenders in this vein are also among the worst gentrifying war criminals in the restaurant biz: the ruinovated Minetta Tavern and the annihilated Fedora. Both of these atrocities treat a barstool exactly like a seat at a table. If that’s their game, fine. You won’t catch me dead in either of these clip joints. The precedent they set inevitably bleeds into regular places that once maintained a customary separation between bar and restaurant.

Picture this: a weekday evening at one of our most beloved Greenwich Village restaurants, an old-fashioned stalwart with a good sized bar and separate dining room. Two thirsty fans step out of the cold, happily note our favorite bartender is presiding—but oh, damn, all the stools are filled. That is a drag but then we notice that most of the folks are eating a whole goddam dinner, big plates, forks, side dishes, the whole friggin’ works. Plenty of tables sit empty in the dining room, so this is the choice of customers, not the necessary result of overcrowding.

If you are on your own and feel like a bite at the bar rather than a table, have at it. If you are the cherished regular who eats there every night, solo, more power to you. You are already part of that bar’s culture. You interact with the other patrons, regular and irregular, and you only take up one stool. There is a gentleman who eats every dinner at the bar we are discussing, and good for him. But when the entire length of the mahogany is taken up with parties of two plus, packing it in like they were at the counter at Chock Full o’ Nuts? Well, if they could bring themselves to eat at a table then a few other people (us) might have a crack at enjoying a restorative in civilized surroundings before sitting down to dinner.

When a fad like this one, born and bred in the trendy places, and probably, ironically, fed by the fashionableness of cocktail bars, starts to infect creaky old-timers, something must be done. A simple way to lessen the disruption of a feed at the bar, and one that used to be common, is to have a separate bar menu. The Heidelberg serves sandwiches, fishy appetizers, and wurst plates. Similarly, the McSorley’s menu is sandwiches or a sleeve of saltines and a stack of cheese. Keep it simple, finger food or nibbles (tapas americanas), and we will have no objections.

But we want that seat at the bar. There’s drinking to be done.