Listening time: 2 minutes. On their travels to the Soviet Union in 1946, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa were surprised to encounter something as Western-decadent as a cocktail bar; and they delighted in the simultaneous variety and uniformity of its cocktails.
Steinbeck’s slim account of their trip, illustrated with Capa’s photos, is one of the finest – and funniest – pieces of travel writing I’ve read. More quotes will be appearing in the coming weeks, to be followed by a glorious all-in-one quote taster review, a cocktail bar for the mind.
Note that Steinbeck often refers to anyone or anything in the Soviet Union as ‘Russian’ even when he was in Ukraine or Georgia.
Enjoy, and thank you for listening.
Photo credit: KRiemer at pixabay
‘In Kiev there is a place called the Cocktail Bar. It is spelled in Russian letters so we couldn’t read it, but that is the way it is pronounced, Cocktail Bar … They have tall drinks which are called cocktails, and they are wonderful drinks. There is the Kiev cocktail, and the Moscow cocktail, and the Tiflis cocktail, and oddly enough they are always pink in color and they always taste strongly of grenadine …
The Russians, when they make cocktails, seem to believe that the more ingredients, the better the cocktail. There was one that we tasted which had twelve different liquors in it. We forgot what it was called. We didn’t want to remember. We were a little surprised to find cocktail bars in Russia, since the cocktail is a very decadent drink. And surely the Kiev cocktail and the Moscow cocktail are the most decadent of cocktails that we ever tasted.’
Source: John Steinbeck, A Russian Journal, with photographs by Robert Capa (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999 (1948)), p. 108