In the ’50s, there was not the dizzying array of cocktail choices of today. The only beer we had on tap was Olympia and Rainier. Pabst Blue Ribbon and Heidelberg came in bottles, and Budweiser was new, in a 16-ounce can.
There were plenty of wines, but most assuredly they were not rated favorably by any enological society. The regulars at Madison Park pubs enjoyed Sauterne, sherry and loganberry, but the most popular was Thunderbird wine.
When the singles, the college set and the many flight personnel entered the scene, loganberry and 7Up became the “Logie Flip.” Those desiring a more refined taste with a bit more punch, ordered Thunderbird and 7Up or the “T-Bird Flip.”
A special wine tasting
A select few of us had been invited to a wine tasting hosted by flight attendants and cockpit personnel. They rented a mansion in the Leschi area — dress code required.
The hosts and hostess met us at the door as if we were entering “First Class” on an airplane.
Our “stewardess” introduced us to a great white wine, which far surpassed any earlier admiration for the 14-percent Thunderbird.
We mingled with the others, dressed-to-the-nines, by a huge fireplace.
One young lady, complete with Hollywood affectation, sported a long, jeweled cigarette holder.
Seated later at a long dining-room table, the host spoke of regions, years and the rating of his chosen grape for the evening. Once poured, the dark-red wine looked rich in color as it lingered on the side of the glass, leaving “long legs.” He then instructed, “Let it breathe!”
Swirling the wine, he plunged his nose deep into his glass, inhaling the berry, nutty, musty and even a barnyard essence.
After several bottles, we all discovered an affinity for the liquid and continued with a great dinner.
Word spread that wine tastings made for excellent social gatherings. Birthday parties and even keggers were opportunities to try new wines.
Blue Nun, Liebfraumilch and Malvasia Blanca were some we enjoyed. Later, Boone’s Farm, Strawberry Hill, Spanada, Annie Green Springs and Tokay became hits. A surplus of Andre champagne gifted to some crew members always created an event filled with love and laughter.
An acquired taste
One evening, a friend came into The Attic with his new date while I bartended, and they sat at the bar. He asked if I was serving special wine that evening; I answered we had a very tasty white available. He asked if it was a good year; I answered that, of course, it was and that, in fact, the gum label was still wet.
I then set before them two of our very fine wine glasses, which resembled small jam jars, with hardly a chip to be found.
He then nodded his head as I poured the white with the consistency of table syrup and asked, “Ice? How about a dash of 7-Up!?” He answered neither and insisted he buy one for the barkeep. We shot the three cups down, laughing at our performance.
Long gone are the days of Golden Spur, Polar Bear, Ripple, Night Train, T-Bird and Lancers, the one with bubbles mimicking champagne. It was always an evening of wines that left you asking the next morning, “Why? And at what price?”
One of the wines, MD 20/20, was not served in most taverns as it was 17-percent alcohol, yet it had a nice finish and pleasant berry taste. There were, however, subtle psychedelic effects that followed, leaving one craving reality the next day or so. A young lady we knew experienced this after a few glasses of the brew as she became the life of the party.
Some of the less-expensive wines gained their notoriety from being the drink of choice in the Skid Row area, now Pioneer Square. The term “winos” was given to those who imbibed in the 14- to 20-percent-alcohol grape.
One early morning, I started my sales day as a bakery driver in Pioneer Square. I’d had breakfast at the Coffee Corral, which looked out to the alley next door. Two gentlemen from the area sat there, one trying hard to twist the cap from his favorite wine in a paper bag. The gentleman next to him saw his dilemma and extended a hand and a friendly smile to help.
The recipient of the assistance handed the wine to the new friend. In a millisecond, the good doer unscrewed the cap, lifted the bottle to his lips and gulped more than his fare share of liquid. He returned the much-lighter bottle to the owner and held his still-smiling face away to avoid being hit.
On Sundays, when alcohol wasn’t sold, many poured Old Spice or Mennen aftershave through a loaf of (preferably French) bread. What came out the other end was drinkable and created good breath.
But the quest for that all-time perfect grape continues. The joys and laughter generated from the likes of a chilled T-Bird Flip will never be replaced. Long live the wines of old!
RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident. To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.