Add gin and lemon juice to a mixing glass with ice
Shake and strain into a small juice glass (about 6 – 8 oz)
Top with champagne or ginger beer
Stir in sugar at the end to create the fizz
* * *
As this is our year of the sportsman and this is the season for baseball, I think we’re long overdue for a proper MLB post. Not that we haven’t been working on a few – heck, we’ve had the Hall of Fame itself researching for us – but many of the esoteric tales we’ve been trying to dig up are still works in progress. So, rather than wait any longer, we figured we’d go with one of the hallmark tales of the sport and find a proper drink to serve alongside it.
Fortunately, when it comes to baseball research and memorabilia, I have one of the greatest resources imaginable at the other end of the phone – my brother. Since he was a kid, Steve has been obsessed with the national pastime, and what started simply as a boy’s baseball card collection has grown into a mini-museum to the sport. Cards, of course, but also game-worn uniforms, pieces of stadiums, and – after this weekend – a cup of dirt from the Fenway dugout. Whenever I feel the need to succinctly describe Steve’s trove, I simply tell people that when they replaced the “Welcome to Cooperstown” sign on the road to the Baseball Hall of Fame, my brother got the old one.
You might say that baseball is in the family blood, so Steve and I spent a bit of time on the phone a while back as I quizzed him on a few of the stories I was looking to do. “What about Billy Goat’s? It used to be a tavern.” Indeed, Billy Goat’s is at the center of not one but two seminal American moments – the curse of the Chicago Cubs and the “cheezborger, cheezborger” sketch from the old Saturday Night Live days. The fact that what is now a mecca among greasy spoons was once a thriving bar had escaped me, since my visits (once, I went twice in a day) have only been in pursuit of a cheezborger and a Coke (no Pepsi). But the real story of Billy’s Goats – and how it forever affected the prospects of the boys at Wrigley – happened quite a bit earlier.
It was back in 1934, just after the repeal of Prohibition, that Greek immigrant William Sianis bought a tavern for $205 he didn’t have. I’m not making a judgment call here – the check bounced, but Sianis made good on the purchase with the sales from his very first weekend. Back then, the bar, called the Lincoln Tavern, was across from Chicago Stadium (today’s United Center), and Sianis had a good business among sports fans.
The story behind the “Billy Goat” name came from a goat that wandered into the bar one day. Some stories say the goat fell off of a passing truck, others claim that the baby goat was left on Sianis’ doorstep. However the goat may have arrived, Sianis quickly adopted it, grew a goatee to match, and earned himself the nickname “Billy Goat”. All that was left was to change the name of the Lincoln Tavern to the Billy Goat Inn, which Sianis did. For the following ten years, everything was fine and everybody was happy.
Up until 1945, the Chicago Cubs had been one of the stronger teams in baseball, with ten World Series appearances (two wins) from 1903 onward – that’s roughly 24% of all World Series at the time, which is nothing to sneeze at. Come the fall of ’45, the Cubs were once again the National League Champions, and they found themselves facing the Detroit Tigers in the final contest. On October 5th, up one game after the initial three-game series in Detroit, the boys from Wrigleyville arrived home to find an expectant city waiting for them. Wrigley Field hadn’t hosted a World Series game in seven years, and it had been thirty-seven years since the Cubs had last won the championship. The stadium itself had been given a complete makeover – bunting everywhere, freshly manicured grass, and additional seating, which brought the total seats to 41,700 (plus another 2,500 SRO tickets).
Box seats for game four were going for $7.20, but scalpers were asking as much as $200 for a pair, despite the wet weather. Among those with two box tickets for the game was William Sianis. Like any other fan, Sianis was excited to see his Cubs best the Tigers, and as he had apparently done for many a game throughout the season, Sianis brought his friend Murphy along with him. Murphy, it should be pointed out (if you haven’t already gotten ahead of me), was Sianis’ goat. Bedecked in cape proclaiming “We Got Detroit’s Goat”, Murphy became the hit of the crowd. Quickly, Sianis and Murphy were parading on the playing field (the game had been delayed by the rain), and a small bit of keystone cops hijinks ensued, as the ushers tried to corral both the human Billy Goat and his animal companion.
When the ushers attempted to eject Sianis and friend from the stadium, Sianis pointed out that he clearly had two tickets – one for him and one for Murphy. After a bit of an argument, the two were permitted to stay, as long as they remained in Sianis’ box seats. For the first three innings, the game was tied 0-0, then suddenly the Tigers rallied in the fourth and were up by four. The Cubs came back with one run in the sixth, but it was too little too late. The Tigers ended up tying the series at two games apiece. But Sianis and Murphy were no longer at Wrigley Field to see it.
Prevailing accounts say that Sianis was asked to leave because the smell of his goat was upsetting those around him (remember, it was raining – wet goat, anyone?). Some claim that Cubs owner P. K. Wrigley himself had ordered the removal. However the removal happened, it must have been relatively quietly – the following day, the Times reported the affair but only up to the point where Sianis and Murphy took their seats, and the Tribune offered only “[Andy] Frain (head of stadium security) finally convinced Sianis goats should be with the Navy football teams.” Needless to say, Sianis was outraged at the ejection. His family states that he “sent a telegram to Mr. Wrigley saying, ‘You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to go to another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.’” The popular version, however, is that the telegram to Wrigley simply read, “Who stinks now?”
The Cubs did, indeed, go on to lose the series in game seven, 9-3 (ouch). And, more importantly, in the 65 years since, the team has never gone to another World Series. Blame it on the Curse of the Billy Goat.
Obviously, the Billy Goat story is one of sports’ greatest legends, and we were dying to tell it. Unfortunately, it didn’t come readymade with a cocktail chaser. Once the Billy Goat Inn moved to its present location in 1964 (and became the Billy Goat Tavern), it started to attract a different crowd, particularly the journalists from the Tribune and the Sun-Times. Most famous of all was the legendary Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Royko, who regularly held court at Billy Goat’s. In 1974, Royko wrote:
“It was 1:30 a.m., a half-hour to closing time in Billy Goat’s Tavern, which is in a basement on Hubbard Street near the Chicago River. A dozen or so people sat at the bar. Most of them had finished work at midnight, so it was their cocktail hour. But people who finish work at midnight aren’t full of smart cocktail talk. They don’t even drink cocktails, at least not in Billy Goat’s, where the ‘in’ drink is still a shot and a beer.”
We know from photos of the original Billy Goat Inn location that the menu was more encompassing and that the bar was large and well-stocked. Beyond that, however, I couldn’t find one mention of what might have been served, cocktail-wise. Fortunately, we have among our bar books, a reprint of a bar guide from the Chicago Bartender and Beverage Dispensers’ Union Local No. 278 – circa 1945. Even if we didn’t know what Sianis himself was pouring his guest, we could offer up something completely of the fashion and the time. Digging through the union bar book, one drink jumped out at me: the Diamond Fizz.
I’ll admit, I like the Diamond Fizz on name alone, which is all that connects it, however tangentially, to baseball, but then, are there really that many good baseball-themed cocktails? Traditionally, fizzes are small drinks – they should be served in a 6 – 8 ounce glass, like a small juice glass – and are meant to be consumed quickly like a Cocktail and unlike their tall cousin, the Collins. At the turn of the 20th century, they were quite popular as Ernest P. Rawling tells us in his 1914 Rawling’s Book of Mixed Drinks (via David Wondrich’s Imbibe!):
“At any time or in any place where the tongue and the throat are dry; when the spirits are jaded and the body is weary; after a long automobile trip on hot and dusty roads; it is then that the Gin Fizz comes like a cooling breeze from the sea, bringing new life and the zest and joy of living.”
Damn, if that doesn’t make you want one, nothing that I write will. Where the Diamond Fizz differs from your run-of-the-mill fizz is in its use of Champagne over seltzer. Of course, this makes it a French 75 in different clothing. What I like about the Chicago recipe is that it also offers up a 50/50 Ginger Ale and Seltzer topper (or Apple Cider, should you prefer). Of course, this sounds a bit anemic, so we suggest just using a good ginger beer, which of course, makes it a Gin and Ginger, except that the fizz doesn’t get ice. It could also be a Gin Buck, but unlike the buck, no fruit is inserted. Finally, we have the Collins and Rickey camps, but those call for soda or seltzer, so it’s definitely not one of those. Indeed, by using ginger beer and embracing the small fizz format, the Diamond Fizz actually carves out a little niche for itself, at least on our menu. I’m also inclined to believe that if I were to sidle up to Billy Goat’s bar and order a Diamond Fizz with Widow Clicquot’s best, I’d feel a bit precious. After all, if you want to go the fancy route, order the French 75, but this is a sports bar in Chicago we’re talking about – the soda pop will do just fine.
One trick Wondrich offers is to stir in the sugar at the end, which gives the drink a proper fizz. Sage advice, so we’ve passed it along. Overall, I think the Diamond Fizz lives up to the claims of Rawling; it’s a tart little quaff that will definitely quench your thirst. Which could come in handy, because if you’re the Chicago Cubs, a dry spell can last for a very long time.