When ‘drinking holidays’ are truly about the good, the bad, and the ugly

Occasionally the cocktail stars align and three of the biggest “drinking holidays” all fall within the same week. And when I say “drinking holidays” what I really mean is a collection of amateur events so randomly smashed together as to make New Years Eve seem demure and sophisticated. Cinco de Mayo, the Kentucky Derby, and Mother’s Day, on a respective Thursday, Saturday and Sunday is a lot for anyone to handle. Maybe that’s why this year it really was the good, the bad, and the ugly

The good:

“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges,” said the man with the ridiculous little sombrero hanging off the back of his head.

His two friends, also with small sombreros both laughed hysterically.


“Three shots of tequila!” said the man who then began to dance like Pee Wee Herman.

I’m not sure why we in the United States like to appropriate other cultures and then proceed to caricaturize them in holidays: Saint Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day, and of course, Cinco de Mayo.

By now most of us know that Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexican Independence Day, it is a localized celebration of a battle won over the French in a war that the Mexicans ultimately lost. In fact, it was the first battle of Puebla during that war, the second didn’t go so well. The city of Puebla itself, had been besieged before, during the Mexican-American war of 1847, but by Mexican troops. Yes, you read that right, an occupying American army successfully held the city against an onslaught of Mexican forces for about a month. The besieging general? Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. The same commander who won the battle of the Alamo. This defeat, lead to the overthrow of his government and the disastrous Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended any hopes of recovering Texas (annexed by the U.S. in 1845) and ceded to the U.S. nearly half of Mexico’s entire country, up to and including all of Marin County.

“Viva Mexico,” said one of the men.

“Really?” I said. “I will buy these if any of you can sing the Mexican national anthem.”

The three of them looked at me, and then looked at each other.

“In fact, I will buy them, if anyone can even name it,” I said.

“The Mexican National Anthem?” ventured one of them.


The bad:

She ordered three mint juleps, five minutes to four on Kentucky Derby Saturday. That’s what I get for coming into work five minutes early. I get to make mint juleps and miss the entire running of the Derby. Often referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” the Kentucky Derby also features the most overrated cocktail in history. The mint julep is undeniably one of the most recognizable drinks in the world. Its pedigree goes back to 1770, long before the Kentucky Derby. It’s combination of shaved ice, Southern bourbon, mint, and sugar seems like Americana personified. Except for one thing, it tastes terrible. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Just look at bourbon marketing and see for yourself. There is apple bourbon, cherry bourbon, peach bourbon, cinnamon bourbon, and even peanut butter bourbon. You know what flavor there isn’t? Mint. And if it was delicious, there would be

Another oddity is that the “official” mint julep – the most famous of all strictly bourbon cocktails (manhattans and old fashioneds are either bourbon or rye, and Sazeracs are exclusively rye) – doesn’t use bourbon. Early Times the “official whiskey” of the Kentucky Derby doesn’t meet the U.S. definition for bourbon (at least in the U.S.), making its choice for the “official” Derby Mint Julep strangely peculiar.

“Have you ever had mint juleps before?” I asked the three women.

“No, but we like mojitos,” answered the one who had ordered.

So, remembering my faux pas on Cinco, and the fact that I had already had to buy three drinks this week, I instead made the women three whiskey mojitos, which, merely with the addition of lime juice, makes the mint julep quite delicious. You’d think that in 260 years someone else would have figured that out.

The ugly:

 “We would like the chef to prepare a special menu for us today,” asked the woman sitting at the table.

 “We already have a special menu,” replied the server. “It’s Mother’s Day,” she said, looking around nervously at the second wave of people who populate a sold out Mother’s Day, one of the busiest days in the whole of the restaurant business.

 “But we want an ‘only for us’ Mother’s Day menu,” replied the woman. “To make our Mother’s Day memorable.”

 The server retreated at that request and returned with the chef.

Let’s just say she didn’t get exactly what she asked for. But she certainly got a Mother’s Day to remember.

And so did the chef.