SYSK Live: How Bars Work

Josh: Josh Clark

Chuck: Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant

Vo: Voiceover Speaker

M/F: Male/Female Speaker

Vo: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from


Josh: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. There's Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant, and we are live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Chuck: Oh, yeah. That is the good stuff. Canned foie gras for everyone.



Chuck: All right.

Josh: Well, you doing good, man?

Chuck: Yeah, I have to say alcohol makes a difference in the energy levels.

Josh: A huge difference.

Chuck: So thank you.

Josh: Popcorn and Diet Coke just does not cut it.


Chuck: No.

Josh: So we're here today, hanging out, just doing our thing.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And I have a question for you.

Chuck: All right.

Josh: Chuck, have you ever been to a bar?


Chuck: Yes.

Josh: You have?

Chuck: Yes. Yeah, oh, yeah.

Josh: Okay.

Chuck: I went to college.

Josh: I know you have. That was a setup.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Did you realize, though, that while you were at this bar you were in one of the oldest businesses known to humankind?

Chuck: The oldest profession?

Josh: No, not the oldest profession. [LAUGHTER] This is the oldest business known to humankind, one of.

Chuck: I did.

Josh: Bars have been around a very long time.

Chuck: They have.

Josh: But not as long, it turns out, as alcohol. As anybody who's listened to our "How Beer Works" episode. [CHEERING] It's entirely possible that bread was invented as a starter for beer, which is pretty awesome.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: I mean, that makes humanity as a whole like a pretty awesome species. The thing was booze was around for a very long time before bars. So there wasn't a place where you just went to go drink. You just drank everywhere you went, pretty much.

Chuck: Yeah, you literally, like you could drink at work; you could drink at school; there would be meetings and civic meetings, and you would drink there. But there wasn't an establishment with four walls set up just for drinking, at this point.

Josh: Right. You would drink at like the Saturday night ritual sacrifice or something like that. You know?

Chuck: Yeah, as you do.

Josh: Yeah. So the first bars then that really kind of pop up are around the turn of not this past millennia, but the one before. And you can find them in Italy, in a place called Pompeii. And these aren't necessarily the oldest bars in the world, but they are one of the earliest established bars. And they were basically hot snack bars. They're called-

Chuck: That sounds gross.


Josh: They're-it does.

Chuck: Hot snacks?

Josh: Hot snacks. Yeah. Well, it's like, you know, chicken wings or-

Chuck: Sure, poutine.

Josh: Poutine is a hot snack.


Chuck: That's a hot snack. That's the hottest snack.

Josh: That's a-yeah.

Chuck: Because they took a hot snack and then poured hot gravy and what is it, cheese curds?

Josh: Cheese curds, yeah.

Chuck: That's hot, right?

Josh: That is hot. You know, this was more like, I imagine, hot olives, hot-I don't know-hot tomatoes. The point is is there was-there was wine at these places. Right?

Chuck: Yeah, they served booze.

Josh: And actually if you've ever been to Pompeii, as I have, you can see these places. They're like bars or countertops with holes cut out, and they put like jugs of olives, poutine-[LAUGHTER]-and wine and stuff. And you would go down to this area and hang out and drink and hang out with your neighbors and chat.

Chuck: Sure. Like, "Look at Mount Vesuvius over there. Isn't it lovely?" [LAUGHTER] "Think it's ever gonna do a-" "Nah."

Josh: "No."

Chuck: "We're good."

Josh: "Don't be ridiculous. You're drunk."

Chuck: "Give me some more wine."

Josh: "Go home." [LAUGHTER] So, again, these aren't the earliest bars but they're among the earliest. And the Romans were really kind of big with bars. In Rome itself there were lots of bars like there were in Vesuvius, but the Romans also did something else that led to the spread of bars and they built roads.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Well, first of all, they conquered the world, and then they built roads.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: And along these roads there were inns for travelers. And in the inns there were bars.

Chuck: Yeah, because if you were a tradesman on a Roman road that was scary at night, you might get mugged and killed, so they would do their trading and traveling during the day and then they would stay in these inns at night. And just like modern American business travelers, what else do you do when you're on the road like that? You go to the hotel bar and you drink your face off. And that's what the tradesmen did in ancient Rome.

Josh: You celebrate not getting murdered that day on the Roman roads.


Chuck: I traded some spices. I didn't get killed. So bring on the grappa.

Josh: Exactly. And so out of this came the taverns, the inns, the pubs. Like they basically said, "That's great. You've got an inn, but we've got a little town and we could use a couple more, but we don't need inns, so let's just stick to the bar part." That's how those evolved out of there. But the oldest bar in the world, probably-it's definitely the oldest bar in Ireland, but it could possibly be. Guinness is investigating as we speak-

Chuck: Tonight.

Josh: -if it's the oldest bar in the world. Yeah, right now. It's called Sean's. Has anyone ever heard of Sean's in Athlone, Ireland?

Chuck: Yeah, you been there? No?

Josh: It sounds pretty neat.

Chuck: You've heard of it, though?


Josh: He's heard of it. That's enough to cheer. Sure.

Chuck: Yeah, that's not bad.

Josh: Sure. It was founded in 900 C.E. And actual, real live, no joke, Vikings used to get wasted there. [CHEERING] And this place is still around. Like you can go get wasted where the Vikings got wasted, which is pretty amazing.

Chuck: I guess they would eat mushrooms and then kill people all day.

Josh: Right. They would go berserk in the bar, yeah.

Chuck: Go berserker. [LAUGHTER] Right. Remember that?

Josh: So the coolest thing about Sean's actually is it predates the town that it's in now. It used to be, for 250 years, just Sean's Bar and this old Roman road. And apparently people got tired of like having to drive home after getting wasted at Sean's, so they just built their houses around it and that's where the town of Athlone, Ireland came from.


Chuck: That's true. And an interesting fact-

Josh: That's not true.


Chuck: Interesting fact about Sean's Bar. In 1987 it was owned by Boy George.


Josh: Yeah, the Boy George. Not the one you were thinking of. The Boy George.


Chuck: Yeah, I guess he-I don't know. He thought it was a safe investment. It had been there for, you know, that many years.


Josh: Right. Yeah. It's not going anywhere.

Chuck: But he got out of it. He was like, "No." I think he went broke. Someone in the first show said, "He went broke."


Chuck: I was like, "Well, that's mean."

Josh: Yeah, but it could be true.

Chuck: Yeah, I think it is true.

Josh: So we did a little research on your town. And we were very pleasantly surprised to find that-you know, your town was founded on a bar? Right?

Chuck: Did y'all know that? [CHEERING] Gassy Jack.

Josh: That's right. Gassy Jack. And within 24 hours of landing and founding Gastown, Gassy Jack built a bar. That's the first thing he did.


Chuck: He was like, "I'm going to have a town." He woke up the next day and went, "[YAWNS] I'm going to build a bar."

Josh: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] And he built the Globe, which is not there. It was at the corner of Walter and Carrall streets, I think, in Gastown. Oh. Water.


Chuck: Live corrections.


Josh: So Water and Carrall. Hey, I said Carrall right. Come on, give me some points here.

Chuck: Well, the way I look at is we just saved these people from having to email us.


Josh: Right. We saved some time.

Chuck: "Actually it's not Walter."

Josh: This is actually kind of efficient.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Yeah. This is cool.

Chuck: We should just do every show live.

Josh: So there's a statue of Gassy Jack. And we think very highly of him because of the fact that he built a bar. But he did things backwards.

Chuck: And his name was Gassy Jack.

Josh: Well, and Gassy. And we found out it's not Gassy like you think. [LAUGHTER] That it was Gassy because he was talkative. Did you guys know that?

Chuck: Boring.

Josh: Yeah.


Chuck: I was all pumped up. I was like, "This guy farted a lot and owned it." [LAUGHTER] He was like, "Just let that be my nickname."

Josh: And he was clearly proud of it because he let people call him Gassy Jack.

Chuck: He was my hero for like ten minutes.

Josh: He let them erect a statue that says Gassy Jack. [LAUGHTER] That was just because he talked a lot.

Chuck: And they do have a statue there, right?

Josh: Yeah. At Water and Carrall Street.


Chuck: So Vancouver itself would have older bars than it does if like Atlanta, where we're from, it hadn't burned down in what was that, 1886? Quickly rebuilt, of course, because you're a strong city. But in Victoria we have the Six Mile Pub. 1856? Not too shabby.

Josh: Not too shabby.

Chuck: And Garrick's Head Pub also in Victoria, 1867. [CHEERING] So that is not bad as far as old drinking establishments go.

Josh: No, but Gassy Jack kind of thwarted convention by building the bar first and then the hotel, because that whole tradition of having a bar in a hotel survived long past the Roman roads. Yes, there were pubs and taverns and everything, but that didn't mean that there weren't bars in hotels any longer. And that made its way over to the New World, which is here.

Chuck: That's all of us.

Josh: And along the way, one of the reasons why this whole custom and tradition made its way over was because you could make a lot of money being a bartender because you probably owned the bar, you probably owned the inn that the bar was in, and you were probably making the booze that you were selling. So you were just making bank. So the bartenders actually were among the wealthiest of the socioeconomic states.

Chuck: Yeah, they were, you know, the upper tier of society.

Josh: Exactly.

Chuck: In America we have the same thing. Like Josh said, we had inns that had the bars. But then in 1832 the U.S. Congress said, "You know what? Let's pass a law. Let's call it the Pioneer Inn and Tavern Law. And let's just say you don't have to stay in the hotel to get drunk there. You can just come in get sauced and get on your horse and crash it on the way home, I guess."


Josh: Somebody just clapped for the Pioneer Inn and Tavern Law.

Chuck: Really? "Yes." [LAUGHTER] "We won't stay here."

Josh: Right.


Chuck: But it was a cool law and it changed everything because all of a sudden you could just have a bar and place where you could just go drink.

Josh: Yeah, and the industrial age changed everything, too, because a place like, say, New York City became this beacon for immigrants to come to and be skilled laborers and work in factories. And they brought with them their love of bars. And they said, "What the hell is going on with this town? Like, where are all your bars? We want a bar here, a bar there, a bar there, a bar there. We want a bar there. Where are all your bars?"

Chuck: We know how to make whiskey, too, which is great.

Josh: Exactly. Yeah. "Like just leave it to us. We'll open the bars." And very quickly bars sprouted in neighborhoods and became customary, like pretty much overnight, in the United States.

Chuck: Yeah, and they were sort of like they are now in like the best towns. They're the center of civic life. They were where people congregated. It was a center of politics. In fact, back in the day it was untoward to actually have legitimate advertisements in political campaigns. That was no good. What you could do is get everyone loaded on election day. And they even had a name for it. Which was?

Josh: Swilling the planters with bumbo.


Chuck: Yes, and bumbo was a rum and the planters were the voters.

Josh: The voters. And basically whoever got the most people drunk on election day won, like almost literally that's the case.

Chuck: Yeah, which was a pretty solid game plan.

Josh: George Washington, who's the father of our country-

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: -he made his first bid for the Virginia legislature and lost because he didn't cotton to that kind of thing.

Chuck: He didn't swill the planters with bumbo?

Josh: No, he did not. And he learned his lesson because the next time he ran for the legislature, he spent something like 80% of his entire campaign fund on booze on election day, and he won big time. He figured it out.

Chuck: That's right. And to this day-well, it became rife with corruption, of course. Anytime you're getting people drunk to vote for you, eventually they're going to evolve as a nation and say, "You know, maybe that's not such a good idea. So let's outlaw drinking on election day all together." And for many years that was the case. And in a couple of states, South Carolina and Kentucky, in America, they still won't let you drink on election day.

Josh: Yeah, the bars are closed.

Chuck: Which is weird and archaic and it's on a Tuesday, which is strange.

Josh: Yeah, but they have like really efficient, quick elections.

Chuck: They do?

Josh: They're just over and done. Everybody is like, "Let's get this over with." [LAUGHTER] "The bars are closed. This is awful. Yes, you're elected."

Chuck: They do their drinking at home, I think, on election day.

Josh: Probably.


Chuck: We'll be back to Stuff You Should Know live in Vancouver. Right, Josh?

Josh: Right. Hold your horses, everybody.


Chuck: You know, buddy, I was just hanging out with my very cool nephew over the holidays.

Josh: Uh-huh.

Chuck: And he is a budding photographer, and he showed me his website. And I said, "That looks like a Squarespace website." And he said, "Uncle Chuck, it is."

Josh: Awesome.

Chuck: And it looked great, man. It's drag-and-drop. It's intuitive. You don't need to learn how to code. He has a great time with it. He's showing off his pictures and getting business.

Josh: Yeah, well, plus if you're cool nephew gets into any troubles, he can contact Squarespace's excellent customer support. They have email support and live chat 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Chuck: Yeah. And if you need a logo for your company, don't spend a ton of money. They have an easy logo creator, and you can get a really quality logo for your website at

Josh: Plus all plans have commerce options. So from hosting an entire store to accepting donations for your personal blog, it's right there for you.

Chuck: Yeah, and it's going to look good on every device, from your laptop to your tablet to your mobile phone. And, folks, we got a deal for you. You can try the product risk-free just by going to You're going to get a 14-day trial with no credit card necessary. And if you like it, it's only $8 a month after that, including a free domain name if you sign up for a year. And with that offer code STUFF, Josh, you can also get 10% off your first purchase.

Josh: So take our word for it. Get a free 14-day trial with no credit card necessary. Just head on over to


Chuck: So we're in New York City. Let's get in the way-back machine.

Josh: Okay.


Chuck: We brought a full-sized way-back machine, so we can all get in it and go back to New York City. It's 1820. And the first celebrity bar tender is-well, he's not born, because he's old by that point. But his name was Orsamus Willard, and he worked at the City Hotel in New York. And he was famous, and he had two really neat traits, it turns out, to be a celebrity bartender: he was ambidextrous and he had a photographic memory. So he could make drinks with both hands and recognize your face as you're coming in the door and be making your drink with one hand and recognize his face and then-and we say his because only men were allowed in bars at this point, by the way.

Josh: That's true.


Chuck: Right? Ladies?

Josh: It gets better. It gets better.

Chuck: It gets better.

Josh: You guys hang in there with us.

Chuck: Eventually women could go to bars. I don't know if you knew that. [LAUGHTER] So Orsamus Willard was the first dude. And he sort of paved the way. He was known as the best-known man in the city. And he paved the way for Josh's hero.

Josh: My hero.

Chuck: Jerry Thomas.

Josh: Yeah, come on. Give it up for Jerry Thomas. [CHEERING] So Jerry Thomas-

Chuck: They're like, "Are we supposed to know who that guy is?"

Josh: Because, yeah, everybody is like, you know, "Could you tell us more about him?" [LAUGHTER] "Why is he your hero?"

Chuck: "I'll clap later."

Josh: "Explain." They're always asking us to explain. [LAUGHTER] Jerry Thomas was this dude who was flamboyant.

Chuck: Yeah, I like to say he had a little Liberace in him. You know?

Josh: Definitely. He would tend bar-

Chuck: A flashy guy.

Josh: Very flashy. He would tend bar with like diamond rings on both hands, diamond stick pen in his tie, literally a rat on each shoulder while he's tending bar. And this guy-rats. And this guy, his signature drink was called the Blue Blazer, which was scotch and I think a little bit of sugar and some water. But you would pour it from wine glass to wine glass on fire with rats on your shoulders and diamonds sparkling in the flames. And, like, this is Jerry Thomas. Which is pretty awesome. Like that in and of itself warrants mention, you know, 150 years later. But he also had the brains and the creativity to back it up. And basically in Jerry Thomas you have everything that we know about cocktails and drinking and going to a bar, in this one dude's person.

Chuck: Yeah, he bartended in New York for a while, had his own place. And then the Civil War started, and he was like, "I don't like all this killing of each other thing, so I'm going to go out west and do my thing out there for a while, and you tell me when that Civil War is over, and I'll come back to New York." Which he did. He spent some time out west, and in saloons, I guess, plying his trade.

M: West Coast!


Josh: That's right.

Chuck: That's right. West Coast. And-[LAUGHTER] that is a place.

Josh: You just got pandered to, my friend.

Chuck: The West Coast is a thing.

Josh: That's right. West Coast. [LAUGHTER] Good job.

Chuck: Isn't that what they do?

Josh: That works. I think that's east side.

Chuck: Oh, I thought it was W. [LAUGHTER] I was-

Josh: Or maybe this. Or is that whatever?

Chuck: I got kicked out of my gang early on; I was so bad at it.

Josh: This is West Coast, clearly. [CHEERING] Right?

Chuck: So he goes back to New York, and he says, "You know what? I'm going to write a book. I'm going to spread the joy of my craft."

Josh: Yeah, he's going to take like everything that he's learned through his travels, all the inventions he made, and puts it into a book.

Chuck: Yeah, all the way back in 1862. It's really the first bartenders guide ever. You should do the honors here, because it's the greatest book titled.

Josh: Well, there's three titled. It's called The Bartenders Guide or How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant's Companion.


Chuck: I like The Bon-Vivant's Companion. That's the best.

Josh: Yeah, for sure. Especially when you're like wearing diamonds on both hands and rats on your shoulders. It's The Bon-Vivant's Companion.

Chuck: So he had a lot of flash, like we said. And not necessarily-the other bartenders that followed in his footsteps didn't really necessarily go that far. But what he did do was he provided craftsmanship and artisanship to bartending, for the first time. And he was the first guy to really say, "You know, you should take pride in what you're doing here in making a good drink."

Josh: Yeah. "And dress up. Will it kill you to dress up a little bit?"

Chuck: Would it kill you to put a rat on your shoulder for once?


Josh: They don't bite.

Chuck: Much.

Josh: And we'll talk a little more about Jerry Thomas and what he did. But while he's working, this is like the boon, the heyday, the initial boon of drinking, basically. Before then everybody drank, and they drank all the time. But this was like going and getting a drink was a cool thing. You know?

Chuck: It was legit.

Josh: But if you listen closely while Jerry Thomas is mixing his Blue Blazer, there's a drumbeat in the background. And if you listen, it sounds really like stupid and wrong-minded. And if you really focus in on it, you realize it's the drumbeat of the temperance movement.

Chuck: Ugh.


Josh: Which managed to get Prohibition passed, not just in our country but in your country. Yes, let's all boo the temperance movement. Shall we? [BOOING] Boo. Boo.

Chuck: What a bad idea. And the Canadians knew it was a bad idea way before we did because you had Prohibition for a very short time and went, "This sucks."

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: "It's just stupid." You had it for a couple years during wartime from, I think, 1918 to 1920. It was provincial otherwise. But you had a very nice Canadian loophole. If you have an ailment, you could get booze. You could go, even during Prohibition, you could go to the doctor and say, "Doc, I got the-"

Josh: "I got the shakes."

Chuck: "I got the shakes."


Josh: "I need some booze bad."

Chuck: "I got the sits. I got the colds."

Josh: "I got the jimmy legs."

Chuck: "I'm awake. Doc, I'm awake."

Josh: "Just give me some booze." And the doc would be like, "Yeah, sure. All you had to say was I need some booze."

Chuck: And in Ontario in one year in 1923-anyone have a guess on how many prescriptions for booze?

Josh: Just in Ontario, everyone.


Josh: 41?

Chuck: What'd you say? 400,000?

Josh: No.

Chuck: Double it. 810,000 people were so sick that they needed booze.


Josh: In one year, just in Ontario.

Chuck: In one province, yeah.

Josh: So we were really impressed by that number. So, as is our usual wont, we went and looked at the 1921 Canadian census. And we found-

Chuck: Apparently you can do that.

Josh: -that 810,000, the number of prescriptions in that one year in Ontario alone was one-tenth the entire population of Canada.


Josh: And we were like, "Wow, the numbers really add up. Canada is pretty cool." [LAUGHTER] Like that's when it really broke on us. [APPLAUSE] We're like, "All right."

Chuck: You are a very sickly people.

Josh: We hope that you feel batter.

Chuck: You needed your medicines.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And it is funny to see it play out all these years later, with the marijuana clinics.

Josh: Yeah, it's like history is repeating itself.

Chuck: It's the same thing. "I got the sits. I'm awake. I got the shakes." "Oh, you need some marijuana."

Josh: "I don't eat enough."


Chuck: You have the neuropaths here, right? Like you can just walk in and talk to a dude, a neuropath. And they'll say, "Oh, well, you clearly need some marijuana." So this was a very dark time not only for bartending as a craft, because it was just starting to become like a legitimate thing and respectable thing, but for booze, period, Prohibition was bad because there were a lot of bars, but they just weren't legal. I think there were twice the number of Prohibition bars than there were legal bars, before Prohibition.

Josh: Yeah, in 1927 in the U.S. there were 30,000 speakeasies, which was twice the number of legally licensed bars before Prohibition.

Chuck: So it's clearly working.

Josh: So clearly Prohibition was just a great idea all around. Because the mob was like, "Yes, come here, we can take care of you. Just look for the green door and you'll find a speakeasy."

Chuck: Yeah, and it was bad for bartending, though, because whoever the bartender was, was who, was the guy who could get the booze. And who could get the booze didn't necessarily know anything about booze, for one, or making good drinks. And it wasn't necessarily good booze. Like, it would literally kill you.

Josh: Or strike you blind.

Chuck: Yeah, have you heard the saying, "This'll make you go blind"?

Josh: That happened.

Chuck: It really made people go blind.

Josh: Like to a lot of people.

Chuck: Yeah, that's where the phrase comes from.

Josh: There was a batch of industrial alcohol that I guess the U.S. government thought was going to fall into the hands of bootleggers, which it did. So they decided to poison it. And a lot of people died. And the American government was like [WHISTLES] and like walked away. [LAUGHTER] It's not very much talked about. We found out about it, so we're like telling everybody. Because that is messed up. But I think in-what is it, Chuck? 1928 alone, 50,000 people died from bad liquor. And that's not including people who were paralyzed or struck blind.

Chuck: Yeah, what that means-actually it just occurred to me. That means 25,000 people died and 25,000 more people were still like, "Eh, I'm going to give it a shot."

Josh: Right.

Chuck: "What are the chances? You know?"

Josh: Yeah. Anything to take care of the jimmy legs.

Chuck: Yeah, I got the shakes. So the other cool thing about Prohibition is, since all the rules were out the door, basically women said "[BLEEP] I'm going to a bar." [CHEERING] "And you're not going to stop me. I've come a long way, baby." So women were now congregating in bars. And men all of a sudden went, "This is great." [LAUGHTER] "I don't know why we never allowed women in here. Because we've just been getting drunk by ourselves and sort of looking at each other and going home at the end of the night. And that's sort of weird."

Josh: Which, as we'll get to, eventually became a tradition at bars.

Chuck: That's right. Going home alone. But at least there were women now and they were getting sauced right along with the guys, which is great.

Josh: Right. And it was because there weren't any rules. It was like a speakeasy was operating illegally so a woman would come to the door and be like, "What, are you going to not let me in? You know, like you're not even supposed to be serving booze anyway."

Chuck: Yeah, and there's another unbelievable fact here that Josh dug up that I still take issue with. Apparently up until the 1980s in Alberta. Where is that?


Chuck: That way?

Josh: This way.


Chuck: Is that east?

Josh: It's that way.

Chuck: Apparently in Alberta they had laws on the books up until the 1980s that still were gender-specific with bars.


Josh: I know. Hey, man, we're just telling you guys about it.

Chuck: It's crazy.

Josh: We did create the laws.

Chuck: Well, I think it might have been a-I don't know if it was enforced. Surely not, because they had the '60s and the '70s, too, right?

Josh: No, they're just now catching up.

Chuck: No? No? They just fast-forward to the '80s?

Josh: So Prohibition happens, right? And everybody is like, "That was a really bad idea. Let's never do that again. Let's repeal it. And, oh, let's go to war." So World War II happened. And that actually had a pretty significant effect on bars, too. Apparently up here, they sent all of your guys over to Europe to fight. And your guys came back and said, "There are these pubs in Europe that are awesome, so let's build them everywhere." And then after that, like, "Yeah, we got the pubs. How about some sports bars, too? Let's mix those in a little bit." And that's pretty much how things went for a while in Canada. In the U.S., our guys apparently all went to the South Pacific and came back and were like, "Tiki culture." And Tiki was huge in the United States.

Chuck: Not a fan here.

Josh: I don't understand this at all. Like, how do you not like Tiki? There's like fun shirts. Right? All the drinks are good, very tasty stuff. The restaurants that you go to to drink are fun. It's just nice.

Chuck: Yeah, I'm a pub guy.


Josh: I don't see why you have to differentiate. You know?

Chuck: That's true.

Josh: Anyway, so that's how things were in the U.S. and Canada, until there was a very dark time that settled over the land. Not as dark as Prohibition but pretty close. And this was the age of the fern bar. Does anyone know what a fern bar is?

Chuck: Anybody ever heard of that?

Josh: You know how you go to Red Robin and there's like Tiffany lamps and like terrible drinks and all that stuff? Well, you can thank the invention of the fern bar for that. Like, have you ever seen Three's Company? Remember the Regal Beagle?

Chuck: Remember that show?

Josh: That was a fern bar. And in the '70s they were all the rage.

Chuck: Yeah, there was a guy in San Francisco. And he went by the name of Henry Africa, because that's a super fun name. [LAUGHTER] His real name was Norman Hobday. And he opened his bar, Henry Africa's, because Norman Hobday's is a really bad name for a bar, as well.

Josh: Plus also he apparently all the time wore safari gear and like a pith helmet. And so he went by Henry Africa.

Chuck: He and Jerry Thomas were sort of similar, I think. They were both flamboyant.

Josh: A little. One ruined things, one did great things, though.

Chuck: Right. [LAUGHTER] So he opened up Henry Africa's. And there was another one in San Francisco, too, in the early-yeah, in the 1970s and '80s called Perry's. And they were like, "You know what? Let's get rid of the classy oak dark bars that everyone loves because they're awesome, and let's put in ferns and Tiffany lamps and fat chairs, and let's bring the lights up. And let's serve nasty drinks mixed in machines."

Josh: Nasty drinks.

Chuck: "From bags of mixed chemical-flavored things."

Josh: Yeah. "And I have an idea. This is going to make us a million bucks. I'm going to make a gun that shoots soda, water, and orange juice out of the same thing." And everyone apparently said, "Yeah, it's the '70s. Who cares about anything? Let's go this way for the fern bars." And they did.

Chuck: Yeah. True. And it was the sexual revolution. So the ladies that were already going to bars now felt like, "Hey, I'm in a bar, and I can be like more aggressive all of a sudden. It's the hip happening times. I'm Diane Keaton. I can"-

Josh: This is what they said to themselves.

Chuck: "I can look for Mr. Goodbar. And have a drink. And go meet a man."


Josh: I'd like to-

Chuck: That was my lady from the '70s impression.

Josh: I have to see Mr. Goodbar.

Chuck: Uh, "Searching For Mr. Goodbar," Looking For Mr. Goodbar? What was it?

Josh: No one knows but you.

Chuck: No? Has nobody ever seen that movie?

Josh: No.

Chuck: Oh, my god.

Josh: That was a pity clap.


Chuck: They don't have Diane Keaton in Canada.


Chuck: Have you seen it?

F: Yeah.

Chuck: All right.

Josh: I think my Three's Company reference is way more well received.

Chuck: Way better. [CHEERING] But, the point is, you could get bad drinks in these bars. And it was just sort of a dark time for the craft of bartending.

Josh: Like the Bahama Mama.

Chuck: Ugh.

Josh: The Kamikaze, the-

Chuck: Mudslides.

Josh: Yeah. The Harvey Wallbanger, which apparently was so popular it had its own mascot. It was like basically a drunken version of Ziggy just wondering around. And I guess like you would get a sticker or something if you ordered a Harvey Wallbanger. This is the level of thought people were putting into drinks at the time.

Chuck: Yeah, if to sell the drink you give a sticker out then it's-that's not a place you want to be in.

Josh: No, especially Ziggy with like X's for eyes.

Chuck: Oh, is that what it was?

Josh: Pretty much.

Chuck: Oh, I changed my mind. I'd like one of those.

Josh: And I think he had stink lines coming off of him, too.

Chuck: That's kind of nice.

Josh: I'll get you one for Christmas. They have them on eBay. So this is the way things were going for a while, until this very fateful meeting between this guy named Dale DeGroff and a dude who owned a restaurant. And he wanted DeGroff to set up a bar for him. And he said, "You know what? I don't want this usual fern bar crud. This is awful."

Chuck: "This is New York City. Like, we've got to do this right."

Josh: Yeah. "Let's get back to basics." And he tossed Dale DeGroff a book, a very important book. What book, Chuck?

Chuck: The Bon-Vivant's Companion.

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: From 1862.

Josh: Everything came full circle.

Chuck: Yeah, and Dale DeGroff was like, "This is amazing. We can bring craftsmanship back into bartending. And let's use real ingredients. And let's get rid of these stupid swirly mixing machines and these bags of chemical fruit-flavored things. And let's use real fruit because there is such a thing as real fruit. And we should put it in drinks again, like we used to in the 19th century."

Josh: Right. And that's what they did. And the bar was saved. So when you go to like the Cascade Room or the Diamond. Or I don't know if you guys have been to Boulevard. I know it's like pretty new. But if you finally do go and you enjoy a cocktail there-we did our research. And I hope that was dead on.

Chuck: I think so.

Josh: Because I really put us out there just then. But if you go to a place where there's a decent cocktail and somebody is really putting thought into it, you can thank this Dale DeGroff guy for bringing it all back. But really, you should thank Jerry Thomas, to tell you the truth.

Chuck: Agreed.

Josh: Now do you understand why he's my hero?


Chuck: See. They love Jerry Thomas.

Josh: Well, let's talk a little more about him. Right? So like at the bars as they're evolving and bartenders are evolving, they're going from diamond-studded to, you know, just normal, cocktails are evolving, too. Like early on, basically everybody made their own booze, and they had it in a jug with three X's on it, and they just turned it up, and that was like their cocktail. That's how they drank.

Chuck: The good ol' days.

Josh: Yeah. Like Chuck.

Chuck: Yeah. [LAUGHS]

Josh: They just turned the three-X jug up. And then when Jerry Thomas came on the scene, he was like, "We can do better than this. There are some cool ingredients that I want to kind of mess with and create new stuff." So originally there were punches, which is huge bowl of hot booze that everybody drank from, the bumbo that the planters swilled. Right? Then there was a toddy, which apparently from what I can gather is just like a single serving of hot punch. Right? And then there were slings. And slings were the ones that had the most promise. Those became what we understand now as cocktails. They were basically booze, a little bit of water, a little bit of sugar, and then maybe some fruit juice. And Jerry Thomas looks at the sling and he goes, "I can do something with this." And he creates what's called the Baroque Age of Cocktails, where there is just like this great experimentation going on. Nobody knows what the hell anybody else is doing, but everybody is trying new stuff. And all of these-the foundation for what we know now as cocktails came out of this era.

Chuck: Yeah, and the first cocktail was mentioned in print, the word, in 1803 in Amherst, New Hampshire with the slogan, "It's excellent for the head," because it was a morning drink. You were supposed to drink a cocktail-that's where it comes from: the rooster, cocktail. That's where the word comes from. And if you drank too much the night before, you would get up in the morning and make your little fizzy cocktail drink with bitters, and it's like the hair of the dog that some of us know and love.

Josh: Right. [CHEERING] You would drink your cocktail, get punched in the face by your wife, pick up your axe and go back out there and work another day. [LAUGHTER] That's what they used to do. Jerry Thomas said, "You know what? I love a morning cocktail as much as anybody else, but why can't we keep drinking throughout the day? Let me see if I can mess with this." And he did.

Chuck: Why save alcoholism for the morning?

Josh: Right. So through this Baroque era of drink-making, it was very, very nuanced. Like, you would have like a sour, and a sour was just booze, citrus, and a little bit of sweetener, usually maybe curaçao or something like that. And then you would change that dramatically by adding soda, and then all of a sudden you had a fizz. Or if you wanted to use booze, a little bit of grenadine, I think-or was it curaçao-sweetener, and brandy or something, you would have a daisy. And then in Mexico they added tequila to the daisy and in Spanish daisy is "margarita." So that's where the margarita came from around this time.


Chuck: Yeah? Right.

Josh: We've got some margarita fans out there, huh?


Chuck: So Jerry Thomas was very influential, but he was-if you ever pick up a copy of The Bon-Vivant's Companion and try and read this thing, it doesn't translate that great to today's proportions. Like what is a glug? Like literally like, "Three glugs of this, and a pinch of that," and, well, I guess a pinch is easy enough. But-

Josh: Well, no. I still don't understand pinch. I mean, yeah, it makes sense, but what if you're like a giant or something.

Chuck: Have big meaty hands? Yeah.


Josh: You know?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: That's a lot more than normal.

Chuck: That's a good point. So it took like cocktail historians to kind of read this thing and bring it into the modern era, because back then sugar came in a big loaf, and sugar wasn't like refined like it is today, and ice, you know, was-

Josh: That was a big deal outside of the winter.

Chuck: Yeah, sure. You had to chip it away exactly how you wanted to. And so it took cocktail historians to really kind of translate all this stuff.

Josh: Right. And they did. And along the way Jerry Thomas dies, but he creates this great body of work that's added to over time. And then eventually we come to like the streamlined classic cocktails that we have today, like the martini or the Manhattan. And all of this was from the work of these like wonderful, genius people who were like fighting on the front lines against the temperance movement and making life better for everybody.

Chuck: Heroes.

Josh: Heroes, real heroes. You know? Shirking out of like the Civil War and all that stuff. Just doing God's work, basically.


Chuck: So the martini-we're going to talk about some of these classic cocktails. The martini, if anyone here drinks martinis, it's always-

Josh: Any martini fans? [CHEERING] "I love martinis," says the guy with the PBR in his hand. [LAUGHTER] "Let's down some martinis right now."

Chuck: "I'm just going to put these back in my helmet and drink them from my straw." [LAUGHTER] So the martini, if you've ever had a martini, it's very dependent on the individual on how exactly you like it. Everyone says that they like make the perfect martini. But the ratio for vermouth to gin and the-

Josh: No, no, no, I make the perfect martini.

Chuck: See. Everyone things they make the-how do you make it?

Josh: Oh, okay. I use two to three ounces. Okay, I use three ounces of gin.

Chuck: Four ounces. Let's be honest.


Josh: Three, like a skosh over three. Three ounces of gin and half an ounce of vermouth. Stir it with some crushed ice because it gets colder faster; it's way better. Strain it. Sometimes if you want to get a little crazy and you want to go original, the martini is actually supposed to have orange bitters in it, a couple of dashes of orange bitters.

Chuck: What?

Josh: Yeah. You say, "what," and it seems weird, but you don't taste the orange. It just does something different to it. And then a couple of olives.

Chuck: All right.

Josh: A martini.

Chuck: I like a little olive juice. I drink mine dirty.


Josh: Do you really drink yours dirty?

Chuck: Oh, yeah. I like it. It's salty. I don't know. Is that wrong?

Josh: No, no. No, that's the thing, Chuck. That's the key.

Chuck: There is no wrong way.

Josh: If you enjoy it, there is no wrong.

Chuck: Absolutely.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: But the origins of the martini are equally contentious because everyone thinks they invented it. There was a drink in Martinez, California.

Josh: No, no, no, I invented the martini.


Chuck: There was a place in California called Martinez, and they, in Martinez, they made a drink called the Martinez. And they claim that the martini came out of the Martinez, and that they are the inventors. But they are just one of several.

Josh: Right. There's another one that said it's just named after Martini & Rossi, the vermouth makers.

Chuck: Does anyone else make vermouth?

Josh: Oh, yeah, there's tons of other vermouth.

Chuck: Why is that the only one I ever see anywhere?

Josh: I guess marketing.

Chuck: Oh, okay.

Josh: Yeah. It's the worst kind of vermouth, too.

Chuck: Oh, is it really?

Josh: Yeah. Like every other vermouth on the planet is better than Martini & Rossi, and that's the one that everybody knows, is Martini & Rossi.

Chuck: Oh, I feel like a heel.

Josh: No, no, you're fine.

Chuck: Okay.

Josh: You're fine. If you enjoy Martini & Rossi, it's cool.


Chuck: Patronize me.

Josh: I'm getting you back for that one dude. West Coast. Yes, we're on the West Coast.


Chuck: Drinking.

Josh: What about the daiquiri.

Chuck: Yeah, the daiquiri was invented in Cuba by an American who was there working in the mines and was bored. And went to a bar and said, "You know what? Why don't you take some rum and some lime and some sugar and mix that all up? And let's make a drink. And let's call it a daiquiri." And that's how the daiquiri was born. By an American in Cuba.

Josh: Yeah, and then the fern bar ruined it. You know?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: By making the-

Chuck: Making it frozen.

Josh: -thing you take out of the freezer and put into a blender and put like a fifth of rum in and just get wasted. And that's the fern bar version of the daiquiri.

Chuck: And your wife punches you, and you get your axe, and you go to work.


Josh: Right. You can't work on a blender full of daiquiri. Believe me.


Chuck: The Tom Collins has an interesting history. Kind of dorky now. But in New York in the 1800s it was a big fun joke to tell everyone that this guy Tom Collins has been talking [BEEP] about you.

Josh: Yeah, because apparently like just going to a bar to drink wasn't amusing enough. Like they had to jazz it up with hoaxes. You know?

Chuck: They didn't have Ziggy stickers at the time.

Josh: No.

Chuck: So there was no Tom Collins, of course; it was just a big hoax. But apparently it was a big laugh back then to tell people that. So bartenders got the idea, like, "Hey, these people come around asking, 'Where's this Tom Collins? I got to have a word with him.' So let's make a drink called the Tom Collins, so when they come in and ask for it, we just serve it to them and they have to give us money."

Josh: Right. [LAUGHTER] Easy sale.

Chuck: Easy peasy.

Josh: Every time. What about the mojito? Does anybody here like a mojito? [CHEERING] I like a mojito, too, a good mojito. It turns out that the mojito might be the oldest cocktail in the entire world. Yeah. It's what? Mint, a little sweetener.


Josh: Right. That's a different drink actually. It's mint, soda water, some sweetener, and rum. But originally the reason they put all this stuff in-because these are pirates drinking this in the 16th century.

Chuck: Yeah, believe it or not.

Josh: And the reason they put all this stuff in was because the stuff they were drinking, which was kind of like a proto-rum called tafia or aguardiente.

Chuck: Hey. Nice.


Josh: It tasted so bad that you had to put all this other stuff into it. And so eventually they introduced copper stills to Cuba and started making like really good rum there. But they were like, "No, I still like the mint and the sugar. This is a really delicious drink." So that's the mojito, an old drink.

Chuck: That's right. Here in Canada you have a drink called the Caesar. [CHEERING] Another popular morning drink.


Josh: Man, they love the Caesar here in Canada.

Chuck: I know. God. They're like, "We had eight this morning." I have been making those for years unknowingly.

Josh: Calling them Bloody Marys the whole time.

Chuck: I did. My friend taught me a recipe-[BOOING] [SHOUTING] he taught me a recipe that had Clamato in it, and it was delicious, and so I was like, "Well, this is my Bloody Mary. It's with Clamato."

F: No!

Chuck: I did not know it had a different name. So I'm going to call it a Caesar from now on because it is delicious.

Josh: Yeah. It is pretty good.


Chuck: It's way better with the Clamato to me than just regular tomato juice.


Josh: It's good despite its origins. Apparently the guy, I think his name is Walter Chell from the Calgary Inn. He went to Venice and tried a spaghetti dish and was like, "I want a drink that tastes like that." [LAUGHTER] And he came up with the Caesar, which you guys love. So you love spaghetti in a glass. A clam dish basically.


Chuck: Yeah. "What would be really good in this drink? Uh, let me mash up clams."

Josh: Snails. Uh, clams, yeah.

Chuck: That's a great idea.

Josh: It is a good drink. We jest. And then, of course, we figure you guys would probably beat us to death with your shoes if we didn't conclude this podcast with a lengthy discussion on Canadian whiskey, which you call rye. [CHEERING] Which we're big fans of actually. And in Toronto for the first show that we did, we said we're going to talk about Canadian whiskey. And everybody went, "Rye!" And we thought everybody was going, "Why?" And we just like looked at each other like, "Oh, [BEEP] we just lost the crowd. This is not good. Something just turned."

Chuck: I was like, "I don't get it, man. I thought they would love this."

Josh: Yeah, it turns out we finally-everybody calmed down. One person basically raised their hand and addressed you guys for us and said, "Everyone is saying 'rye.' We call it rye here." And we were like, "Oh, okay." So just disregard the last like 45 seconds of panic that you saw us go through. So we understand now you guys call it rye.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: But we call it Canadian whiskey.

Chuck: The first distillery here in Canada was opened in Quebec City, you may have heard of, in 1769. And that was number one. And then by the 1840s there were over 200 distilleries, which is not too bad. You guys love making your whiskey, because you had people from Europe and Scotland and Ireland coming over and saying-[CHEERING]-"We know how to make this stuff. We know how to spell it, without the E like the rest of those dummies." And that's why you spell whiskey without the E, it was because of those immigrants. And a man named John Molson is credited with starting the first distillery in Canada, whiskey distillery.

Josh: And your rye is very similar to our bourbon except the process is different. Like, both of them have corn, a lot of corn in them, a lot of malted barley, and then a little bit of rye. The difference is in Bourbon County, Kentucky, where they have the soberest elections in the country-

Chuck: Ironically.

Josh: Ironically, yeah. They take the corn and the rye and the barley and they ferment and distill it and age it together. You guys take your barley and your corn and your rye and you make liquor out of them, and then you bring them together at the end, which is why rye is a blended whiskey, like scotch actually.

Chuck: Yeah, and apparently the rye part of it is the smallest amount of grain that they use, but it provides the most flavor, so I guess that's why you call it rye.

Josh: And so during the Civil War, our Civil War, when our country was torn asunder, you guys were totally fine. We were busy fighting. We weren't. Our forefathers were.

Chuck: The Clarks were killing the Bryants.

Josh: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] I feel really bad about that.

Chuck: It's okay, man. It's all good.


Josh: So during the Civil War-[LAUGHTER] during the Civil War our distilleries shut down. We were like, "We have other things to focus on. But we still need booze." So Canada said, "We got plenty of it. Here you guys go." And after the Civil War, when our distilleries went back on line, there was enormous amount of competition still, because everybody loved your rye. You know, we were like, "Oh, I just got my leg amputated. Give me some more of that stuff." And you guys were more than happy to oblige, so much so that the American distilleries were like, "Congress, we need you to step in and do something about this." And Congress did. They said any-

M: No!

Josh: No, it's true. They said any booze that's manufactured outside of the United States has to have its country of origin on the label. So in 1890 a very, very popular whiskey from Canada called Club Whisky became Canadian Club.


Josh: And it's still around today.

Chuck: Because of a law.

Josh: Because of us. Because of our Congress. Thank you.

Chuck: That's right. And Canadian Club remains super popular still, to this day. And in the 1960s one of the reasons-one of their cool little advertising tricks was they had this cool campaign called "Hide A Case." In 1967 they said, "Well, you know what we'll do? Well, let's appeal to the rich drunks of the world, and let's hide a case of whiskey in some remote area and leave clues in magazines." And the rich drunks said, "This is fantastic."

Josh: "Yeah, this is exactly what I've been looking for."

Chuck: "I have something to do with my time."

Josh: "I have been wanting a free case of Canadian Club for a long time."

Chuck: Right.

Josh: "I want to spend $50,000 finding that free case."

Chuck: This free case. [LAUGHTER] So they hid them in places like Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa; the Great Barrier Reef; Angel Falls, Venezuela. And they hid, I think-the last one in 1980 they hid in Washington, D.C.

Josh: Yeah, from 1965 to 1980 they hid 25 cases. And it didn't go quite according to plan. I think the first case that they hid at Kilimanjaro was found by accident, like ten years later.

Chuck: Yeah, like a guy just tripped over it.

Josh: Yeah, he was like, "Oh, a case of Canadian Club is here for some reason. I guess it's mine. I'm taking it."


Chuck: That's good fortune.

Josh: So, and then the last one, by 1980, they had kind of given up on the whole thing. It was in Washington, D.C., and I think they let the people who found it watch them just set it down and back away. And they just walked up, and they were like, "Hide A Case. Catch the fever." [LAUGHTER] But the cool thing is there's a bunch of them out there that have never been found, still hidden.

Chuck: So if there are any rich drunk out there, [CHEERING] with a passport and some spare time, there's some whiskey that you could buy at the store, or you could just spend a lot of money and go out and try and find it.

Josh: Right. And that's all we found out about Canadian Whisky. [CHEERING] You got anything else, man?

Chuck: I'm just glad that people can see your jazz hands live.

Josh: Jazz hands. [CHEERING] I do it a lot.

Chuck: Because he does that in the studio for me, and I'm just like-


Josh: I wasn't even thinking about that. Did you bring a listener mail?

Chuck: No, sir.

Josh: No? Okay, we'll have to dub one in later.


Chuck: Sorry. If someone prepared one to hand to like-does someone have a paper airplane of a listener mail they can fly at me?

Josh: Let's not encourage people to throw stuff up here.

Chuck: Okay.

Josh: So I guess we'll wrap it up. You want to wrap it up?


Chuck: This part of the show. There's more.

Josh: Just this part.

Chuck: Don't worry.

Josh: Everybody, there's more treats in store.

Chuck: It gets better.

Josh: If you want to know more about bars, you can type that word into the search bar at How Stuff Works. But I don't think it's going to bring anything up. You can try it anyway. And if you want to get in touch with Chuck and me, you can tweet to us @SYSKPodcast, you can join us on, you can send us an email to, and, as always, join us at our luxurious home on the web,



Vo: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit