Book Review: Behind Bars: High Class Cocktails Inspired by Low-Life Gangsters

Book Review: Behind Bars: High Class Cocktails Inspired by Low-Life Gangsters

Within the cocktail world over the last decade there has been an aggressive and endless nod to Prohibition/pre-Prohibition aesthetics for inspiration. This trend does not appear to be making an exit any time in the foreseeable future, which is unfortunate: there is no stone left unturned, no magical cocktail recipe or elixir which hasn’t seen some sort of revival. Heralding this era with such fond reverence is a tired exercise, the nostalgia is wearing thinner than a curled mustache: a quick glance in a history book would reveal not everything was so jazzy in the Jazz Age.

Receiving a copy of Behind Bars: High Class Cocktails Inspired by Low-Life Gangsters wasn’t an event met with joy or anticipation. The mythology of the gangster/mobster/whatever is so well worn and recycled by popular culture that it seemed impossible the book could do little else but provide a basic overview, fluffed up with callbacks to flapper girls and smoke-filled Cotton Club jazz joints.

I am so very pleased to say my initial impressions were way off base. Legendary comic book artist Shawn McManus’ illustrations are highly detailed and incredibly easy on the eyes, worth the cover price alone. (I would love to somehow acquire a large print of the Stringer Bell illustration.) Paul Sloman’s introductory essay and opening texts for each recipe are equally entertaining as they are informative and, much to my delight, expand far beyond the notion of gangsters as fellas wearing pinstripe suits and brandishing tommy guns. Most importantly, Vincent Pollard’s recipes are easily laid out, straightforward, and carefully considered alongside their selected character of inspiration. There are even one or two unfamiliar recipes I look forward to practicing and mastering for 2022, when the pandemic finally lifts and we are all able to safely gather together again.

All told, it’s an enchanting escape of the nihilism and monotony of 2020. And for $15, it’s a pretty great value for the number of cocktails included and a very clever and thoughtful addition to anyone’s collection, regardless of skill level. A lot of thought and skill went into the making of this book. It shows on every page.


Behind Bars: High Class Cocktails Inspired by Low Life Gangsters




Rob Theakston is a contributing editor to Drinkhacker.

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