Years ago, I must have written an article about hangovers, because ever since then I’ve gotten steady invitations from the alcoholic-beverage industry to attend launches for new cocktails or books about them. Last week, it was a party at the Chateau Marmont for Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers. Written by Mark Bailey and illustrated by Ernest Hemingway’s grandson Edward, the slender volume alphabetically teams 43 American authors with lore about the writers’ boozy exploits and recipes for the cocktails they either drank or possibly drank. (Ramos fizz for Tennessee Williams, Gin Rickey for F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc.; the book has to fudge the recipe for Edgar Allan Poe’s Sazerac cocktail, which included banned absinthe.)
At the hotel, the manager directed me to the party: “It’s at the bar. Just make a left outside — it’s all downhill.” Bar Marmont wasn’t very crowded at that point, but I had no idea what the authors looked like. When a senior couple sat at the bar next to me, I asked the husband, “Are you one of the authors?”
“Oh, no,” laughed the man, who, with his mane of white hair, looked a little like an old picture of the country singer Roy Acuff. “We’re friends of Rory and Max.” Max Kennedy, one of the evening’s hosts, is the son of Robert Kennedy Jr., and Max’s younger sister Rory is Mark Bailey’s wife. I realized I was talking to Paul Schrade, the union organizer who, in 1968, had stood next to Robert at the Ambassador Hotel and been seriously wounded by Kennedy’s assassin. Paul was drinking scotch on the rocks, while his wife, Monica Weil, nursed a wine spritzer. As Monica talked about L.A. opera coverage and Paul discussed Cesar Chavez, the room quickly filled with what might be called Hollywood types. Schrade, it turned out, was a fan of the new film Bobby: “They’ve digitalized some of Bobby’s speeches into the film, and this allows a new generation to hear what he had to say.”
That new generation now chattered all about us — alluring women in plunging necklines and men wearing serious suits. I didn’t overhear anything about the plight of farm workers in their conversations.
Max Kennedy, a man with a round, jovial face, whose open sports coat revealed a tieless striped shirt, came over to Paul and Monica. “This isn’t my kind of place,” he told them, somewhat apologetically. Paul and Monica were trying to leave after their single drink apiece but kept meeting friends and strangers alike. As they chatted, I glanced up at the bar’s high ceiling, decorated with facsimiles of monarch butterflies. I remembered the last time I’d had a drink at the Marmont was while interviewing Hunter S. Thompson in his hotel room, never guessing he’d kill himself four months later. Hemingway and Bailey’s book focuses on American writers from the 1920s through 1940s — the golden age of drinking — but chronologically dead-ends with Thompson, listed here as a Greyhound enthusiast.
I tracked down a publicist, who assured me above the din that Bailey and Hemingway were “very approachable” and pointed them out. The 38-year-old authors both live in Brooklyn, but Bailey greeted me in a very Hollywood way: “You’re going to be nice to us, aren’t you?” he asked defensively. I had no reason to believe otherwise and wanted to know how Los Angeles figured into their book.
“Geographically, during most of the period we cover,” Bailey said, “drinking was happening in three places — New York, L.A. and Paris. Ninety percent of stories about heavy drinking are set in those three cities. In L.A., all those Algonquins moved out here and Chandler was here too.”
If so, where does he tipple when in town? “I’m a screenwriter and come out here a few times a year,” he said. “I don’t think L.A. is avery good place for drinking. I think it’s the driving.”
Five years ago, GQ had sent Hemingway to Havana to write a piece about the grandfather he never knew. He made the rounds to El Floridita, the overpriced daiquiri bar/tourist trap that features a life-size statue of Papa sitting at the end of its huge bar, and to La Bodeguita del Medio, the rougher-edged café that is known as the home of the mojito. Was there a Los Angeles sanctuary where Hemingway preferred to savor the rum drink he held in his hand?
“The Bar Marmont makes a good mojito,” he said diplomatically, “but I don’t know — I don’t spend a lot of time in L.A. I’m afraid I have no insight into that. I know people here spend a lot of time in their cars, so I hope they’re not — drinking.”
“I think,” said Bailey, “that it’s important to remember the closing lines of our book’s introduction: ‘A couple of cocktails doesn’t make you a drunk. And no amount of liquor will make you a writer.’ ”