By Eddie Muller
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Eddie Muller's Noir Bar pairs carefully curated classic cocktails and modern noir-inspired libations with behind-the-scenes anecdotes and insights on 50 film noir favorites. Some of the cocktails are drawn directly from the films: If you've seen In a Lonely Place and wondered what’s in a “Horse’s Neck”—now you’ll know. If you’re watching Pickup on South Street you’ll find out what its director, Sam Fuller, actually drank off-screen. Didn’t know that Nightmare Alley’s Joan Blondell inspired a cocktail? It may become a new favorite. Meanwhile, Rita Hayworth is toasted with a "Sailor Beware," an original concoction which, like the film that inspired it (The Lady From Shanghai), is unique, complex, and packs a wallop.
Featuring dozens of movie stills, poster art, behind-the-scenes imagery, and stunning cocktail photography, Noir Bar is both a stylish and exciting excursion through classic cinema’s most popular genre.
Claude Rains pours nightcaps for Audrey Totter and Hurd Hatfield in The Unsuspected (1947).
Joan Crawford radiates glamorous elegance and imbibes more than her fair share of cocktails, in Humoresque (1946).
During more than twenty years of presenting film noir to the public—in books, in theaters, on television, now streaming—I’ve always joked that my shows should be sponsored by the government. Specifically, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. All three figure prominently in classic film noir. Of course, while noir films are today enjoying their greatest popularity ever, modern mores frown on a couple of these vital elements.
Thank goodness cocktail culture is bigger than ever. Nobody needs to pack heat or chain-smoke to savor the darkly seductive allure of noir. But mingling with Robert Mitchum and Lana Turner, cocktail in hand, makes even a rotgut movie a top-shelf experience.
This book is designed to be a drinking companion for anyone taking a deep dive into the glamorous and gritty world of noir. It combines carefully curated classic cocktails with modern noir-inspired libations, plus a host of concoctions created by yours truly expressly for this book. I may be known these days as “The Czar of Noir,” but I began my working life as a bartender. Since hitching on as one of the hosts of Turner Classic Movies, I’ve served up most of my introductions from the evocative Noir Alley set—which I insisted have a functioning bar. During the pandemic, when I was forced to record in quarantine, I hosted a number of shows from my own at-home cocktail lounge. TCM even created a promo for Noir Alley in which I describe my approach to discussing films as “Barroom, Not Classroom.”
Noir Bar offers a booze-based excursion through America’s most popular film genre, pairing easy-to-master recipes with the kind of behind-the-scenes anecdotes I like to include in my film intros and books. Some of these cocktails are drawn directly from the films—if you’re watching The Big Clock and wonder what’s in those Stingers that Ray Milland keeps ordering—now you’ll know. If you’re enjoying Sweet Smell of Success and suddenly have a hankering for one of those Martinis on J. J. Hunsecker’s private table, I’ve got the perfect recipe—learned from one of the world’s greatest film directors. Did you know that the vivacious and voluptuous 1930s star Joan Blondell inspired a cocktail (created in Havana) long before she starred in the classic 1947 noir Nightmare Alley? I predict the slightly revised version offered here will become a new favorite. Love Joan Crawford? Wait until you taste a Mildred Pierce, made from orange and grapefruit liqueurs, lime juice, and mezcal. Joan would have given up her beloved vodka for a steady diet of these.
I also include several original recipes to celebrate personal favorites, including the Belita, a frozen concoction of gin, Blue Curaçao, and Menthe-Pastille that honors the figure skater I call “The Ice Queen of Noir.” Sam Fuller’s 1959 multicultural noir The Crimson Kimono gets a namesake cocktail comprising Japanese, Italian, French, and American ingredients. And Rita Hayworth is toasted with Sailor Beware, my original cocktail for The Lady from Shanghai, which, like the film that inspired it, is unique, complex, and packs a hell of a wallop.
I learned to be a professional bartender in the late 1970s, in an old barroom on Larkin Street in San Francisco. It had been converted into the Golden Gate Bartending School. My teacher was a retired barkeep named Al “Mac” McLaughlin. Our textbook was a fat binder of cocktail recipes he’d amassed over the years. The expansive array of booze in the backbar was just bottles filled with colored water or tea, because Mac had no intention of going broke. Tuition didn’t cover real booze. A few students griped about this fact, as we never actually tasted what we were making. Mac said if we wanted to know what a drink tasted like, “Do the homework on your own time.” Remember, this was an era when pot-smoking was the illicit rage and cocktails were largely passé. The few drinkers my age consumed things like Harvey Wallbangers, not artisan libations made with rare spirits and tinctures.
Burt Lancaster gets mistaken for a liquor board “checker” by bartender Percy Helton when he returns to his old watering hole, The Round-Up, in Criss Cross (1949). Barfly Joan Miller admires Lancaster’s “swell build.”
But Mac’s teaching strategy was based on more than just stinginess. He believed 90 percent of being a bartender was about how you handled yourself behind the stick. Memorizing hundreds of recipes mattered less to Mac than our mastering ACE—attitude, conviviality, and efficiency. That’s because the vast majority of the people drinking in bars are after a good time, not an artisanal imbibing experience. Our final exam consisted of Mac, his wife, and some of his pals sitting at the bar, barking out a stream of cocktail orders while peppering us with questions about local politics, the Giants’ chances that year, the relative sexiness of American and French actresses, whatever. One classmate, a guy who’d been acting like a booze expert since day one, finally snapped, “Okay, Mac, enough. I’m trying to work.”
Immediate fail. Complete lack of ACE. I’m surprised Mac didn’t throw him out on the sidewalk.
Mac’s lesson still stands, even as over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the “spirit world” as a professional drinker and not just a guy who can make Rusty Nails, Ward Eights, Grasshoppers, and Corpse Revivers No. 1… and No. 2. What’s a professional drinker? Somebody who imbibes every day but never gets drunk. Well, almost never. As my tolerance for alcohol increased, so did my intolerance for amateurs. (I do have to credit all those drunken young amateurs for spurring my early career change, though.)
This is a cocktail book both for seasoned drinkers who love film noir and hard-core movie fans just beginning their foray into mixology. For the latter, the book includes some brief primers on how to economically assemble a battery of spirits, liqueurs, mixers, bitters, and garnishes, as well as professional tips on creating and maintaining an at-home bar.
When it comes to drinking, my approach is as inclusive and inviting as it is when I’m presenting movies; I avoid anything too highbrow, academic, pretentious, or, in this case, needlessly expensive, and focus on being economical, efficient, and entertaining. In addition to “Barroom, Not Classroom,” another credo of mine has always been “It’s better to be accessible than definitive.” Instead of offering a recipe for every situation, my goal is to give you the knowledge, inspiration, and enthusiasm to start creating your own cocktail recipes.
I do not have much use for the new breed of hipster mixologists who build drinks from only the most obscure ingredients and prepare them like medicinal formulas. The point of drinking a cocktail or two is to enhance life’s blessed interludes of relaxation and/or boost our enjoyment of time shared with friends. For the purpose of this book, I extend that list of friends to include John Garfield, Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, and many other memorable denizens of the film noir demimonde.
That’s not to say making cocktails isn’t an art and a science. It truly is. But, like everything else worth doing, it should be fun—especially if you’re not getting paid for it.
THE WELL-STOCKED BAR
HOW TO ASSEMBLE AN AT-HOME BAR
You don’t have to be as crazy as I am.
I have a full assortment of essential spirits, liqueurs, and barware in the kitchen, taking up about a third of the butcher block where we also prepare meals. I’ve also got a gorgeous Art Deco liquor cabinet in the dining room that holds an array of less frequently used specialty boozes and vintage barware. It’s next to the built-in cabinet containing several shelves of assorted glassware. Upstairs, in the movie room, is a liquor cart with a simpler selection of spirits, some glasses, and an ice bucket—for when I’m too lazy to go downstairs.
And then there’s the full-scale cocktail lounge, built in the detached 1912 garage out back. It’s got a fully stocked bar, hanging rack for glassware, refrigerator/freezer, sink, six barstools and a sofa. It accommodates more than a dozen people comfortably, plus the occasional squirrel or raccoon that’s more interested in the mixed nuts than a Manhattan.
Like I said, you don’t have to go that far. Some counter space and a cabinet will suffice. But if you’re like me, you’ll find the booze gradually consuming more space—not because you’re drinking more, but because you want to be prepared to make anything a guest asks for.
In most recipes, I refrain from specifying particular brands of liquor because everyone’s tastes are different. Call me a philistine, but I don’t really taste the difference between a decent $25 bottle of gin and some boutique bottle costing $85. I may buy the superexpensive stuff as a gift for someone, but it’ll never be a staple in my bar. When it comes to base spirits, try several, see what agrees with you, and stick with it as your go-to brand.
Here’s a guide for assembling a rudimentary at-home bar. This list does not contain every ingredient called for in this book; I’m not listing here things that are used in only one or two recipes. The following, however, recur often in Noir Bar and should be considered essentials for any well-stocked at-home bar.
• Bourbon whiskey
• Rye whiskey
• Scotch whisky
• Rum (light)
• Rum (dark)
• Dry vermouth (French)
• Sweet vermouth (Italian)
LIQUEURS & APERITIFS
• Absinthe (or Pastis/Pernod)
• Averna Amaro Siciliano
• Bénédictine DOM
• Cocchi Americano
• Chartreuse (green)
• Crème de cassis
• Crème de menthe
• Curaçao (dry and orange)
• Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
• Grand Marnier
• Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
• Pamplemousse liqueur
BITTERS & SWEETENERS
• Orange bitters
• Simple syrup
• Club soda
• Ginger ale
• Tonic water
FRUITS (FOR JUICES AND GARNISHES)
• Pineapple (fresh or canned chunks and juice)
• Luxardo Maraschino cherries
• Cocktail onions
Jack La Rue, as the sinister valet Diego, shows exquisite élan serving up a tray of cocktails to hotel guests in Cornered (1945).
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
SELECTING YOUR BARWARE & GLASSWARE
An ice maker is the single most important piece of equipment for the serious at-home bartender. You do not want to be refilling ice trays all the time. If your refrigerator doesn’t have a built-in ice maker, seriously consider getting one that does—or at least a reasonably priced, stand-alone ice maker. Until then, if you use ice trays, use ones made of food-grade rubber with cubes no bigger than 1½ inches in diameter. You’ll also want at least one tray that makes 2-inch cubes for “rocks” drinks.
This glass is used for cocktails that are stirred. You may want to get two; a regular-sized one (17–19 ounces) for making one or two drinks at a time and a large one (28 ounces) with a capacity for four to six cocktails. You can find beautiful ones with etched designs, but the essential aspects are a weighted bottom to keep the glass secure while stirring and a spout for providing a steady, even pour. Look for ones that are identified as “seamless.”
My preference is a two-piece Boston shaker, half glass and half tin. I like to see the liquor in the glass as I’m adding ingredients. The all-metal variety is also called a shaking tin, and it gets the job done just fine. Make sure you’re getting one weighted in the bottom. There are also Cobbler tins that have built-in strainers in the lid and a cap. I’m not a fan of the way these pour.
I mostly use this strainer for cocktails made in a regular mixing glass. I use mine convex side up, although many bartenders use it the opposite way. The julep strainer is convenient because it can sit in the mixing glass as you prepare your garnish.
This strainer is invaluable for cocktails made in a larger mixing glass, because the coil makes for a snug fit.
Used for double-straining cocktails containing muddled fruit and/or herbs.
A more essential implement than an amateur might realize. Get one with a spoon that’s about a half-teaspoon in size. The other end should be a narrow paddle. The stem should not be flat; you want to comfortably and gently swirl ice in the mixing glass, not jumble it around. As Mac used to say, “Don’t bruise the booze.”
A two-ended jigger is vital. The smaller end holds one ounce and has engraved lines on the inside for ½-ounce and ¾-ounce measures. The other end holds 2 ounces, with markings for 1½ and 1¾ ounces. Get several.
Used for muddling fruits and herbs in a shaker or mixing glass. It’s wood, with a rounded end for gentle muddling of herbs and a flat end for crushing berries and such.
You want a handheld aluminum “beehive” juicer, large enough to hold half an orange. They make them in multiple sizes but getting the biggest one is the smart move; you don’t need three juicers taking up drawer space.
Keep it sharp! Cutting lemons, limes, and oranges with a dull blade is hopeless.
I use one that’s a bit wider than the average vegetable peeler, but any basic peeler will do.
Bamboo skewers with a loose knot in one end are the only picks I use, because they are so versatile. They work great for fruit garnishes and for making the Gildas found here.
Once you start making cocktails regularly, you’ll amass a collection of glassware. Trust me on this. To start, here are the essential vessels you’ll need. Quantities, of course, vary depending on whether you’re intending to make drinks for you, you and yours, or you and lots of guests.
This is the essential cocktail glass, especially for the drinks in this book. At the very least you’ll need at least four 3½-ounce coupe glasses. In a 5-ounce version, this is also my preference for Champagne.
Narrow 12-ounce glass for making tall coolers. Also referred to as a chimney glass.
Not essential, but many people won’t accept a Martini in anything else. Avoid the oversized versions.
NICK AND NORA GLASS
An elegant alternative to a coupe, when you want to switch things up. And, of course, it’s named for Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles, crime fiction’s greatest cocktail connoisseurs.
The staple for drinks on the rocks—or the rock, as the case may now be. Better to use one large 2-inch cube which doesn’t melt as fast, diluting the drink. Smaller glasses (4 ounces) are used most often, but 6-ounce ones come in handy.
HOW TO MAKE A COCKTAIL
A BASIC GUIDE TO MAKING A DRINK
Susan Hayward needs no manual to whip up a cocktail for Lee Bowman in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947).
As the same rudimentary technique applies in most cases, I don’t provide instructions within every recipe as to how to make a cocktail. Plus, I want to save space to tell more stories, rather than repeat the basics every time. Once you read the following, you’ll be able to make most of the drinks in this book by merely knowing the ingredients.
Whether the drink is being made in a mixing glass or a shaker (or even a blender), chilling your stemmed glasses is always step one. Either place the glasses in the freezer (five minutes is plenty) or fill them with ice and let them stand for a few minutes. Don’t add water with the ice; it doesn’t make the glass any colder and only dilutes the drink.
If the recipe calls for a mixing glass, that means the cocktail is stirred. Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, here’s the basic approach to making a stirred cocktail: Add liquid ingredients to the mixing glass. Add ice until two-thirds full. Gently stir at least forty rotations. Use a julep or Hawthorne strainer to strain into the chilled glass. Add garnish.
If there are juices and/or muddled herbs and fruit in the recipe, it needs to be shaken. Always muddle those ingredients first. Muddling is simply gently breaking down herbs and/or fruit, usually with some juice or simple syrup, to extract their essence as flavoring. Once you’ve muddled those ingredients, add spirits, liqueurs, and ice, and lastly put the larger tin atop the shaker and rap it with the heel of your hand to get a tight seal. Shake gently ten to twenty times (or until you feel the shaker is chilled). Tap the shaker near the middle to break the seal and pour the contents into the smaller half of the shaker. Use a Hawthorne strainer to decant into your chilled glass. If you’ve used herbs or fruit with seeds or pulp, double-strain through a mesh-cone strainer. Add garnish.
Fresh lemons and limes are as essential to making cocktails as the spirits themselves. You’ll need to keep plenty on hand. Set a few aside for providing garnishes and juice the rest into small bottles. Store both the fruit and the bottles in the fridge.
ALIAS NICK BEAL
BARBADOS RUM PUNCH
Alias Nick Beal (1949) is a Faustian film noir. Ray Milland plays the titular character: a suave and sinister Lucifer who tries to claim the soul of a decent, reform-minded gubernatorial candidate played by Thomas Mitchell. Far from biblical depictions of the devil, Beal is a smooth-talking and smartly dressed political fixer—Satan with a checkbook. Modern audiences recognized this devil in 1949, as they do today; he has always oozed among us and always will.
Nick Beal first emerges mysteriously on the world’s most fog-shrouded waterfront and sets up headquarters in a ramshackle saloon teetering on the edge of a dilapidated pier. This barroom set, with its slanted floor and canted plank, was based on Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon in Oakland, California, where Jack London was a regular in the late 1800s. He immortalized the tavern in Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf. Now relocated to Jack London Square, the bar is still in operation to this day.
- On Sale
- May 23, 2023
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Running Press