BWW Interview: Delia Cabe, author of STORIED BARS OF NEW YORK
Delia's new book, Storied Bars of New York, offers a visual and historical look at the city's most writerly taverns. Naturally, Delia had to sample some signature cocktails from those watering holes so she could more accurately describe them.
BWW recently asked Delia to share with us some of her inspirations, favorite stories, and other tidbits behind Storied Bars of New York.
BWW: First, tell us a little about the book. What was your inspiration?
I wish I could say that this book's focus was my inspiration. My original proposal was for a book about bars around the world that were like libraries (with literary-themed cocktails). My agent, Jean Sagendorph, sent it around to numerous publishers about five years ago. Cocktail books had been trending, but my proposal arrived too late. Jean noticed renewed interest in cocktail books in April 2016 and asked me if she could send it around again. I agreed, even though I was already researching another book-on my other passion, gardening-and had planned to work on the proposal that summer. I seriously didn't think anything would come of the other cocktail book.
A few weeks later, Jean texted me: CALL ME. An editor at Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton, was interested in my writing a book, but not this one. Could I write a book about literary bars of New York City? I mulled it over and convinced my husband that I should pass on this. I woke up the next morning and thought, "Duh, the editor's idea was a perfect fit for me." I grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side, attended grade school on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, one block down from the literary watering hole, Lion's Head, and went to high school in the same brownstone where Dorothy Parker went to grade school. What's more, I am bookworm and a New York City history buff and have read much about authors' lives in my hometown. I have wandered its many streets reading historic plaques and its many museums. If a book takes place in New York City, I read it.
So I submitted two sample chapters and a table of contents and the publishing team really liked it. By mid June, I had signed a contract.
BWW: How many of the bars have you visited? How many of the cocktails did you sample?
In all, I went to 25 bars out of 31. Three of the bars are long gone, but were an important part of New York's literary scene. I open the book with Pfaff's, which was the birthplace of American Bohemia and Walt Whitman's preferred haunt. The San Remo, a Beat favorite, is now a tea shop, but I did visit the plaque marking its place in history. While Elaine's closed several years ago, The Writing Room, which reopened in the same space, pays homage to its predecessor. The walls are covered with photos of the authors who were regulars at Elaine's. I had plans to visit Chumley's, but the owners postponed the opening date until after my manuscript was due. During my book launch, I will have time to go to the ones I couldn't visit during my research. I interviewed most of the owners, managers. and reading series curators of the bars in my book, as well as several authors.
I've written for newspapers and magazines throughout my entire career, but this book was the first time anyone offered to help me research. I had to turn down their numerous offers of "help." I tried all the cocktail recipes in my book because I had to ensure that they were tasty. Several of the bartenders were generous enough to share their recipes for signature cocktails for the book. The Acerbic Mrs. Parker, anyone?