Last Meal: Dave Wondrich Drinks Himself to Death


David Wondrich, a writer and historian whose passion is America’s drinking tradition, has just published Imbibe!, a book chronicling the life of “Professor” Jerry Thomas, who wrote the first known bartending guide, How to Mix Drinks, in 1862.

Wondrich translated 100 of the professor’s recipes into modern measurements, so we can all learn how to prepare a proper toddy.

It’s been an exciting morning here—there was a fire next-door.

Yikes. Did it make you hungry, by any chance? I’m always hungry. It makes me focus on my mortality, at least. I think I would have to do this a little bit backwards. It would be street food, a steady stream of little plates. Some Spanish chickpeas and fritters, some dim sum, maybe a nice pork sandwich from Reading Terminal in Philly. I have to get the drinks just right.

Oh, backwards, meaning the drinks are the main menu, and the food the accompaniment. What’s first? A vintage Henriot champagne. I would be with my closest friends, of course. We’d sip that, and as long as you’ve got the champagne, there should be caviar and blintzes. We’ll interpret “street food” liberally.

Hey, there are caviar stands. Yeah. Then Dale DeGroff would make a martini and Gary Regan would make me a Manhattan. Then I would have to relax. Those are two powerful drinks. Next would be a pint or two of a porter—maybe to go with that pork sandwich. I would also have a Stinger, which is cognac and white créme de menthe. It has to be really fancy cognac. There’s no other way. At this point, I’d probably be pretty, uh, tipsy. I might have to drink seltzer for a while.

Wise. But then you’d need to rally before you passed out. I think a couple of old-school punches would be a good palate cleanser. I would have a Garrick punch—a light, lively gin punch—just because it’s delightful.

What’s in that? Green tea, cognac, champagne—it’s difficult to make. Also, a Chatham Artillery Punch, which is equally elaborate. This is pretty close to the end. At this point, maybe shots of whiskey till I pass out. Then I don’t want to know what happens.

Do you eat anything else? I’m like the Russians. I never drink without eating something. Maybe soppressata from Caputo’s in Brooklyn, some aged Gouda, things like that. Jamón ibérico. Then end it with a nice straight rye—that would be its own course.

Any specific setting? Maybe my backyard here in Brooklyn. Otherwise, I’m particular to the back room at McSorley’s. They only have beer, so we’d have to bring everything, but it would be most pleasant.