The literature and film of drinking culture


While we’ve been chewing on the daunting task of identifying a Cocktail Canon (perhaps more accurately described as a Mixology Canon), we realized that there was a lot of fiction, commentary, and perhaps even some histories (and movies) that are equally or more significant. We’re running a separate list here for the sake of manageability. Please contribute.

P.G. Wodehouse, the Jeeves canon; numerous novels and stories (1915-1974)
Hewson Peeke, Americana Ebrietatis (1917)
Don Marquis, The Old Soak and Hail and Farewell (1921); The Old Soak’s History of the World (1924)
Bruce Reynolds, A cocktail continentale, (1926)
Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926)
Frank Shay, My Pious Friends and Drunken Companions (1927)
John Thomas, Dry Martini: A Gentleman Turns to Love (1927)
Bruce Reynolds, Paris with the Lid Lifted, (1927)
Frank Shay, Drawn From the Wood (1929)
Basil Woon, When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba (1928)
Gilbert Seldes, The Future of Drinking (1930)
George Ade, The Old-Time Saloon (1931)
Wilfred J. Funk, Manhattans, Bronxes and Queens (1931) (doggerel)
W. S. Van Dyke/Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man (film, 1934)—massively successful Hollywood idealization of alcohol-soaked leisure class
Don Marquis, Her Foot is on the Brass Rail (1935)
Joseph Roth’s ‘The Bust of the Emperor’ (1935) — regards Europe’s ambivalence toward cocktails post WW1
Marjorie Hillis, Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman (1936)—unsure how well known this was, but chapter 10 is “A Lady and Her Liquor”
Jack Hanley, Let’s Make Mary: Being a Gentleman’s Guide to Scientific Seduction in Eight Easy Lessons (1937)—appalling yang to Marjorie Hillis’s yin?
Charles, B. Driscoll, The Life of O. O. McIntyre (1938)
Evelyn Wells, Champagne Days of San Francisco (1939)
Raymond Chandler, the Philip Marlowe canon; seven novels and several short stories (1939-1958)
Lucius Beebe, Snoot If You Must (1934)
Charles Jackson, The Lost Weekend (1944)—because you’ve got to take the good with the bad
John McNulty, Third Avenue, New York (1946); rep. as This Place on Third Avenue (2002)
Bernard DeVoto, The Hour (1949)
Ian Fleming, Casino Royale and other works, 1952-1961
André Simon, Drink, 1953 (maybe doesn’t belong here)
Gregor von Rezzori’s ‘Oedipus at Stalingrad’ (1954)—regards Europe’s ambivalence toward cocktails post WW1
Cyril Ray (editor), The Compleat Imbiber (1956-1960s)
Helen Cromwell and Robert Dougherty, Dirty Helen (1966)—An autobiography of notorious brothel and saloon keeper. Great insight into Midwestern saloon culture, pre-Prohibition, during Prohibition and post-Prohibition.
Hunter S. Thompson, various works ~1971-2011
Kingsley Amis, On Drink (1972)
Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking (1983)
Kingsley Amis, How’s Your Glass? (1984)
Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories (1989)
Didier Nourrison, Le buveur du XIXe siècle (1990)
Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life (1995)
Roger Donaldson/Heywood Gould, Cocktail (film, 1988)—redefines drink mixing as theater by having Tom Cruise practice flairing
Sex in the City (tv, 1998-2004)—romantic comedy/drama that significantly stimulated interest in the US in drinking something—anything—from a V-shaped cocktail glass; popularized the Cosmopolitan Cocktail
Robert Sellers, Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed (2008)

Debating the Cocktail Canon

I added a couple here just to help roll the ball. This is a very interesting category that needs people to weigh in, particularly for the non-English stuff.


Would the Ian Fleming novels fit here? Our favorite MI6 agent was always pretty good about drinking like a local. Except of course for that time in New Orleans when Felix had to remind him to drink Sazeracs instead of Bourbon.

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I think he would. Bond was influential as hell and Fleming knew his drinks.

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Robert Sellers, Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed (2008)

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What about the Basil Woon or Bruce Reynolds 1920’s type of guides? Would they fit here? They’re literary, in a sense, and offer great comments on drinking culture in the very important cities they describe.

No obvious French or Spanish equivalent to Amis or DeVoto come to mind at the moment. For what it’s worth, though, Europe’s ambivalence towards cocktails in the years following WWI is, to my mind, best described in a key scene of Joseph Roth’s ‘The Bust of the Emperor’ (1935) and the first third of Gregor von Rezzori’s ‘Oedipus at Stalingrad’ (1954) makes very clever use of an American bar called Charley’s as a refuge for Weimar sleepwalkers. Adding them to the list would probably stretch its actual scope beyond recognition, though.

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“Dirty Helen” by Helen Cromwell and Robert Dougherty. An autobiography of notorious brothel and saloon keeper. Great insight into Midwestern saloon culture, pre-Prohibition, during Prohibition and post-Prohibition.

“The Sun Also Rises” by Hemingway.

“The Lost Weekend” by Charles Jackson (because you’ve got to take the good with the bad)


“A Drinking Life” (1995) Pete Hamill
“Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories” (1989) Raymond Carver
All Hunter Thompson.
More bad with the good…


In a lighter vein: the collected films of W.C. Fields.

Groucho Marx used to tell about visiting Fields and discovering dozens and dozens of cases of liquor hidden in his attic. “But Bill,” Groucho joked, “Prohibition is over.”

Fields deadpanned: “It may come back.”


Doug, I tell that story all the time! Mostly to explain what happened to my living room.

So, what constitutes a book or film that is part of the drinking culture? Is it merely featuring drinking? Or does it have to get deeper into the culture around it, or even the practices? For example, Philip Marlowe always drinks, usually bourbon, but only in “The Long Goodbye” is a cocktail recipe mentioned (a pretty terrible one for a fifty-fifty Rose’s and gin Gimlet).


I’d exclude stuff that only features drinking. It needs to tell us something deeper, I guess. It’s amazing to see Cary Grant having a Martini at The Plaza’s Oak Room in North by Northwest, but that’s just a setting, a place used as any other place could have been used. Henry Fonda’s multiple Mint Juleps in Jezebel plays a much more important role, they have a wider significance.

(Although I wouldn’t consider N by NW Oak Room scene as sufficient, I would definitely add to this list Carol Reed’s Our Man in Havana (1959) if only for that scene filmed at Sloppy Joe’s, with the bar’s real bartender making the drinks - when fiction turned documentary)


“Our Man in Havana,” book and movie both, is suffused with drinking—the daily Daiquiri breaks are an important part, and the plot even hinges on the protagonist being a collector of whisky miniatures. Even though the bars are, as you say, settings, they seem crucial settings. You couldn’t tell the story of “Our Man in Havana” without Sloppy Joe’s; it’s part of the life of the characters in Havana. You could tell the story of “North by Northwest” with plenty of different settings. I’m not sure what that means for a test, of course.

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Anyone familiar with William Juniper’s The True Drunkard’s Delight (1933)? Interesting?


Not as much as you would think.

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