Great American Writers and Their Cocktails Famous writers and their drinks are inseparable, despite the price some paid for the vice. Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide delves into the drinking habits of America's top writers to reveal their favorite cocktails. Steve Inskeep talks with author Mark Bailey and illustrator Edward Hemingway, the great writer's grandson.
NPR logo

Great American Writers and Their Cocktails

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Great American Writers and Their Cocktails

Great American Writers and Their Cocktails

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We've been spending time on assignment investigating one of life's eternal questions. Why do you think that writers drink?

That question comes up because so many great American writers famously drank, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to William Faulkner.

Mr. MARK BAILEY (Author, Hemingway and Bailey's Bartending Guide): You spend the whole day working in your mind and at the end of the day you want to figure out a way to leave the office. And a drink is what allows you to do that.

INSKEEP: That's one explanation we heard when we posed our question to two guys at the end of the bar. They're Mark Bailey and Edward Hemingway, author and illustrator of a new bartending guide.

INSKEEP: So, just to be clear on everybody's relationships here. Ernest Hemingway was your grandfather, Ed Hemingway.

Mr. EDWARD HEMINGWAY (Illustrator, Hemingway and Bailey's Bartending Guide): Yes.

INSKEEP: And you're no relation to the...

Mr. BAILEY: I'm just a guy. I'm just some schnook here.

INSKEEP: But Bailey's Irish Crème (unintelligible)?

Mr. BAILEY: No relation, no relation to the Crème family.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Bailey and Hemingway met us in Washington at a Louisiana-themed restaurant called Acadiana. We sat next to a giant decorative urn that didn't have much to say, so we talked about their little book. It tells you what famous writers drank, what they wrote about drinking, and which ones tended to wear lampshades. The list includes Ed Hemingway's grandfather.

Mr. HEMINGWAY: Yeah, yeah, my grandfather loved, he loved the mojito. He also, he loved sugarless daiquiri as well.

Mr. BAILEY: You know, Faulkner liked mint juleps. Fitzgerald liked gin rickeys. I mean these were these writers' favorite drink.

Carson McCullers had a drink famously that she liked that she called sonny boy, which was hot tea and sherry that she kept in the thermos on her desk and would drink throughout her workday.

INSKEEP: Since you mentioned the mojito, your grandfather's drink, would you just describe for people who aren't familiar, what were your grandfather's drinking habits?

Mr. HEMINGWAY: He didn't drink while he wrote. I mean even if it was a bad day he would still write. But he would then wait until late afternoon/early evening to start drinking.

INSKEEP: (Unintelligible) may have been one of the those people who said never before 5:00 p.m. but then said it's always 5:00 p.m. somewhere in the world or...

Mr. HEMINGWAY: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...something like that.

Mr. HEMINGWAY: He acclimated.

INSKEEP: Well, on that note, you want to order something to drink?

Mr. BAILEY: Sure.

INSKEEP: Let's see if we can get the bartender over here. Sir, can we get a drink?

Unidentified Male: Sure thing. What can we do for you?

INSKEEP: Well, you mentioned that your grandfather's, one of your grandfather's drinks was the mojito?

Unidentified Speaker: OK.

INSKEEP: I'd like one too.

Mr. BAILEY: I'll keep with the New Orleans theme of things. I'll have a mint julep.

Unidentified Male: Mint julep, OK. Be right back.

INSKEEP: And while the bartender mixed the drinks, we talked of what happened to the writers who drank them. A drunken John O'Hara famously got in a fight with a dwarf. He also tried to punch out Robert Benchley, who had plenty to drink himself. Benchley was warned once that alcohol was a slow death. He replied, so, who's in a hurry?

Mark Bailey says the mystery writer Raymond Chandler managed to stop drinking until he fell behind in writing a screenplay.

Mr. BAILEY: So they're two weeks into production and Chandler hasn't finished the script and he has writer's block. So he goes in and he meets with his producer, a fellow named Houseman. And he says to Houseman, listen, you know that I used to be an alcoholic and I've been sober for a number of years now. But I've just got this writer's block and the only way I can finish this script on time is if I relapse completely and I'm willing to do that. And then, famously, they go out to lunch at a restaurant called Perino's and at the lunch...

INSKEEP: Oh, what have we got here? Is this a mojito? I'm sorry to interrupt this story in the middle but...

Mr. BAILEY: No, cheers.

INSKEEP: There are actually leaves in the middle of the mojito. This is great.

Unidentified Male: (Unintelligible)

INSKEEP: Cheers. All right. This is tasty.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, so he goes to Perino's. He has three double martinis before lunch and he has three double stingers after.

INSKEEP: What's a stinger?

Mr. BAILEY: A stinger is brandy and crème de menthe.

INSKEEP: So he got off to a running start.

Mr. BAILEY: I mean, and a martini is gin and vermouth. So they're both two different types of spirits and he had six doubles. And Houseman notes that he seems much cheered.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: So he spends the next two weeks, Chandler, working from home. They keep a limousine out front to run the pages to and from the studio. They hire a doctor on hand to give him vitamin shots because he forgets to eat when he's in the midst of a drinking binge. They have nurses around the clock for him. And Chandler spends the next two weeks at his typewriter writing and drinking and passing out, and writing and drinking and passing out. And in the end, he delivers the script on time and it's considered one of his better original scripts. And the story of his self-sacrifice becomes sort of the stuff of Hollywood legend.

A footnote on that, which is a sort of alternative history, is that actually Chandler had already slipped off the wagon and couldn't even drive himself to the Paramount lot and that the whole thing was a rouse to figure out how he could drink from home.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. You describe in here some rather devious drinkers. What are some of the tricks that some of these writers have employed?

Mr. BAILEY: We talk about Fitzgerald a bit and how his preferred drink was gin, and that was in part because he believed you couldn't detect gin on the breath. And there are also Fitzgerald's stories of him sort of slipping off into the kitchen to double up his martinis and things like that at parties.

INSKEEP: Did anybody ever walk up to Fitzgerald and say, you know, Scott Fitzgerald, this thing about thinking it's undetectable...

Mr. BAILEY: Sorry (unintelligible), yeah, it's not working. I don't...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEMINGWAY: (Unintelligible) showing up at a party in pajamas.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, I mean I think (unintelligible) anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEMINGWAY: (Unintelligible)

INSKEEP: This mojito, by the way, is really pleasant tasting. This is just a nice, cool, faintly salty drink. Just kind of got a nice taste to it.

Mr. HEMINGWAY: The key to a really good mojito I think is with the mint. It needs a lot of mint. This has a lot of mint. It's nice.

INSKEEP: Well, this - Ed Hemingway, let me ask you about the dark side of this...


INSKEEP: ...simply because your grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, he wasn't killed by alcohol, but you could make an argument that it contributed to his decline and demise.

Mr. HEMINGWAY: A lot of the stories in the book, although we present them in, you know, in sort of a fun way, there's a dark edge to a lot of the stories in there. My grandfather was a great writer and he was a great drinker. And I don't know. I think both those things could have contributed to his demise.

Mr. BAILEY: But I think if you were a writer, you were supposed to drink and you were supposed to drink pretty hard and you were supposed to be able to handle it for the most part. One of the things about writing is the lifestyle is very conducive to heavy drinking. You know, you can more or less set your own hours and...

Mr. HEMINGWAY: It's also very solitary sort of.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah.

Mr. HEMINGWAY: You know, people write alone so then they get a chance to all be together, why not go out and have a drink. I mean, you know, you need to create time to be with other people.

INSKEEP: Well, Mark Bailey, Ed Hemingway, thanks very much. Enjoyed sharing a drink with you.

Mr. BAILEY: Thank you.

Mr. HEMINGWAY: Thanks for having us and thanks for the drink.

INSKEEP: You can go to our Web site for excerpts from “Hemingway and Bailey's Bartending Guide” including recipes for mojitos, gin rickeys and other favorite cocktails of the literary set. They're all at, which is where you'll also find a round up of recommended wines for the holiday season.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Cheers!

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.