Gin and Tonic: Sin or Medicine?


It’s sunny in New York today, which means the promise of warm weather is here. It also means that thirsty boozers in search of icy refreshment will reach for my favorite cocktail, the venerable gin and tonic.

Yes, I know we’ve been going through a mixologist craze, where trendy bars are offering up absurdly exotic drinks made with iguana tears and imported Peruvian llama sweat. But I’ll stick with my beloved juniper-flavored libation. Gin and tonic is a vital part of my arsenal while battling the sweltering, sweaty, smelly summer months in New York City. (So is ability to hold my breath while walking past warmed over urine and clouds of B.O. but that’s for another post.) I remember one sticky night I was at an outdoor cafe with some pals in the Lower East Side. A massive, fat roach went creeping across our table. My solid glass of gin and tonic was sturdy enough to smash the ugly bastard, wipe it off on a cocktail napkin and continue our discussion about The Golden Era of 1970’s American Cinema.

Try doing that with a prissy glass of Pinot Grigio.

The gin and tonic can be traced back to 1825 when the British Army of the East India Company were stationed in India.
It was discovered that quinine tonic water could treat malaria. But its bitter taste was unpleasant. No one wanted to drink it. So gin was added, and thus the “medicine” was consumed in the evenings. (By the way-if gin and tonic is medicine, I must be the healthiest bitch on the planet.)

Drinking a gin and tonic under the right circumstances (e.g. while wearing a linen suit on a veranda) can make one feel like a colonial aristocrat. But oddly enough, gin was originally an inexpensive, working class drink. It’s rampant abuse was depicted in Hogarth’s engraving, “Gin Lane”.
Years later, gin became more expensive and the Upper Class claimed it for themselves. Author P.G. Wodehouse created the bumbling uppercrust bachelor Bertie Wooster, who often asked his resourceful butler Jeeves to fix him a gin and tonic (and provide an ingenious plan) when his romantic entanglements proved too stressful.

Gin was also the most popular alcohol during the Prohibition era, as it was the easiest to bootleg. My gin soul mate Bessie Smith sang an incredible song about it. It’s called “Me and My Gin” and it’s my anthem:

So if I ever meet any of you around town–make mine a Bombay Sapphire, please. And keep your filthy fingers off my lime. I’ll squeeze it myself.

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