The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

If Proust were still around, I would be his poster boy. That whole business with the madeleine that brought memories flooding back seems to be my modus operandi for life.

Now, there's one thing that I don't get. Why something as basic as a madeleine? Sure, they're OMG exotic for us Americans; because we think that anything more sophisticated than an Oreo is somehow not only unfamiliar, but exotic and possibly sinful. I'm not even sure that you could really, successfully, DO anything sinful with a madeleine. I've done some sinful things with Krispy Kremes, but even that hasn't worked out very well, because I become much more interested in the Krispy Kreme than I am in the person with whom I am attempting to do something sinful, and the whole thing falls apart. Sex is awesome, but there is NOTHING like a good fresh raspberry-filled Krispy Kreme. (You were waiting for me to talk about the white cream filled ones, weren't you?)

Madeleines are, as French pastry goes, pretty damned basic. It is therefore not unusual to see one. So, again, Proust's memory flood is a bit of pretense. It would be like me seeing--oh, the aforementioned Oreo--which I see fairly often--and being awash in memories of every time I've ever had an Oreo. Since that's roughly ninety-three thousand times, it would make even such basic tasks as breathing difficult for the memory flood.

My versions of the madeleine are more esoteric, at least slightly. The one that set me off tonight was at a friend's house. I was innocently mixing a highball when I noticed something on his bar: DeKuyper's Creme de Menthe. (TM), I'm sure.

When I was a little shaver back in the distant days of the 70s, there was a big liquor store in the North Baltimore burbs. I always thought it was really cool. (This probably foreshadowed my future as a functional alky.) This one was really awesome, though. It was in a shopping center on York Road. When you went inside--it had those cool automatic doors with the big rubber mats that triggered their opening and closing--there was that pleasant liquor-store smell. The vast array of merchandise surrounded a big raised central section, about five steps higher, that was outlined in a wrought iron fence and contained a bar. This was the perfect 70s bar, too. It had lots of barrel chairs upholstered in leather and cocktail tables with rudimentary video games embedded in their surfaces. You could get hammered, feed quarters into your table, and play something like Pong. Except that I'm not sure even Pong had been invented yet. It was probably more like Tic Tac Toe, but who cares? I only regret that by the time the State of Maryland allowed me to drink legally, the bar section of the place was long gone. The store is still there, but what's the point without Pong cocktail tables?

What really stands out in my mind, though I'm sure all liquor stores in the 70s had the same thing, was the truly gigantic array of liqueurs that the place sold. I may need to explain this for the sake of younger readers.

Liqueur, of course, still exists, though God only knows who drinks it anymore. In the seventies, though, everyone drank liqueur, and it was as integral to a party as ice and salty peanuts. Creme de Menthe, Curacao, Drambuie, Cherry Heering, Framboise, Creme de Cacao, Creme de Banane, Creme de Horse Poop. It was all disgustingly, nauseatingly sweet and had the consistency of cough syrup. For all intents and purposes, it IS cough syrup. If you don't use all of your Creme de Cassis or whatever at a party, after a week or two, it develops those crunchy sugar crystals around the neck of the bottle, just like unused cough syrup does.

And, any party worth its salt back then had seventeen different varieties of the crap. My parents always kept a case of various liqueurs on stock because different friends liked different ones. If you went to a restaurant back then, after dessert they would always give you a thimbleful of one of these concoctions. It was just de rigeur. Repugnant, but de rigeur.

It was also the last gasp of dying eras.

In a more elegant day (read: pre-70s and decidedly pre-now) dinner parties ended with sherry or port. Somehow, this mutated into hyper-sugared cough syrup by the 70s, but the idea was still there. Now, we think we're all that because we cover a perfectly good piece of meat with seventy-four unrelated ingredients, but we can't be bothered to serve a "cordial" after dinner. Hmph.

Also, the 70s were the end of the road for the times when everybody, but everybody, drank. If you didn't like the taste of alcohol, you were screwed. What were you going to do, look like some kind of earth mutant drinking iced tea during happy hour? You were saved by the viscous charms of Creme de Whatever. It was alcoholic and would get you wasted, but you thought you were drinking a melted Snickers.

By the 80s, the only people left who drank dark liquor were diagnosed alcoholics and octogenarians; the With It crowd drank the newly-chick vodka, which of course tastes like absolutely nothing, and anyone who drank more than two cocktails per month was considered to Have a Problem.

Somehow, by comparison, Creme de Snot doesn't seem so bad after all.


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