By CARTER PATERSON
I operated my first tiki bar, Toucan Sam’s, out of my dorm room at Washington University in St. Louis. Comprised of wood pallets, dowels, and a hula skirt I’d fashioned into a thatched roof, the bar was inelegant but effective. I spent four nights a week shaking Whiskey Sours and Sex On The Beaches, charging $3 to break even on my ramshackle hut. The gag expanded to theme nights, fake merchandise, and even a Yelp page; it was the most serious joke on campus.
Fast forward four years, to 2021. Quarantine taught me a number of lessons about intimacy, the self, and limits of the digital landscape. Also that I didn’t know how to mix a proper drink. The “secret” to Toucan Sam’s success became clear: corn syrup. I’d spent so many nights sugar-bombing otherwise untenable mixtures with faux grenadine and Rose’s lime juice that I’d mistaken sweetener for skill.
There was no better time, then, to invest in technique. I mass-purchased a cocktail book library spanning the pre-eminent scholars of the bartending world: Jerry Thomas, David Wondrich, Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, and Gary “Gaz” Regan. It was in Regan’s The Joy Of Mixology, one of the best-selling cocktail books of all time, that a familiar and warming character suddenly sprang from the page: it was our beloved clubhouse, auspiciously referenced as the birthplace of the Gibson Martini:
It is true that the "Gibson" debuted as early as 1908 in William Boothby’s The World’s Drinks And How To Mix Them, but none of these variations included the cocktail onion, now synonymous with the drink. In fact, previous Gibsons called for no garnish at all; they were nothing more than re-branded Martinis. And, lest we further doubt Regan, other accredited sources have cited The Players as the Gibson’s home: most notably, Imbibe.com and Difford’s Guide For Discerning Drinkers.
While we can't frequent the Grill just yet, the re-discovery of the Gibson’s heritage should be a comfort to us all. For a time there was concern that our shuttered clubhouse, the vessel of so much history, was losing opportunities to expand its tapestry with each passing day. But in re-discovering the story of the Gibson, the cultural legacy of our club continues to grow even in our absence, with unearthed roots still sprouting beneath the permafrost. Welcome back to the clubhouse today, if not yet the Grill -- and since you're here, let's welcome the Gibson back to its ancestral home.
Carter Paterson joined The Players in August 2020. He is a television production assistant, and serves as Editor-In-Chief of the satirical site TheNearNewYorkTimes.com. Carter opened his first tiki bar, Toucan Sam’s, in 2017; his latest creation is the “Smokey The Bear” (cinnamon whiskey, honey mead, bitters and lemon juice, smoked with hickory).