“Make your mark in New York, and you are a made man.”
“Everybody came. Everybody came to the Cotton Club.”
Have you ever taken a trip that started off so badly that you wanted to just turn around and go home, but you stuck with it out of principle or some other high-minded rationale — only to find that somehow the end of your trip was even worse?
I’m speaking today of our investigative cabal’s second journey: a fateful trip to Gotham that began with a brutal cultist murder and ended with a cascade of horrors and unspeakable mayhem, with property destroyed, sanity eroded, and countless lives lost.
But other than all that… our New York sojourn wasn’t half bad! We spent the better part* of the trip in Harlem, which gave us ample time to rehydrate at the Cotton Club while we theorized on how to infiltrate a cultist stronghold. (*To be sure, many of the worst moments of the trip took place in Harlem as well; see above.)
The Cotton Club is a strange place. It has the widest selection of bootlegged booze on the Eastern Seaboard. Its stage is a world-famous showcase for the great Black artists and entertainers of our era, from Count Basie to Louis Armstrong to Stepin Fetchit to Bessie Smith.
But this isn’t some high-minded performing arts venue like the Town Hall over in the Theater District. The Cotton Club is run by a dangerous mobster. (I’ve never been to the Cotton Club in Chicago, but Al Capone’s older brother Ralph runs it; isn’t it strange how Prohibition seems to attract a certain type of entrepreneur?) And the name of the place ain’t a coincidence: when Owen “Killer” Madden got out of Sing Sing and bought the venue, he redecorated it in a plantation theme and insisted on a whites-only clientele.
Bottom line: the place was just as creepy as anything we saw at the Ju-Ju House, and I wouldn’t blame you if you vowed never to set foot in there. If there were another nightclub where I could watch Duke Ellington conduct his orchestra while sipping a Daiquiri, or where I could listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing while enjoying a Sidecar, I would absolutely send you there instead.
If it makes you feel better, you should make amends like I did—a hefty donation to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It tickled me to think of a powerful Black labor union scaring the pants off some of my batty old colleagues in Congress. Plus, railway workers are helpful allies when you stumble upon an unsleeping creature beneath Harlem and need to skip town quickly. City that Never Sleeps, indeed!
The Gin Rickey originally hails from Washington, DC, but it’s a staple of East Coast barrooms. As the story goes, it was a lobbyist from Missouri by the name of “Colonel” Joe Rickey (he probably wouldn’t have minded the scene at the Cotton Club) who originated the drink at Shoomaker’s Saloon right near the White House.
It’s refreshing, cool, and just a little tart. It’s usually a summer drink, but despite the gray New York winter I was delighted to see it on the Cotton Club menu—it was just the thing to slake our thirst after a long day of dodging creepy-crawlies and strange men with long knives. I had an extra one (or five) in the memory of our dear friend Jackson.
Couldn’t be simpler: gin, ice, lime, and seltzer water
- Put a nice handful of ice cubes into a tumbler or highball glass. Squeeze in half a lime and drop in the rind. Add 1 1/2 oz gin. Top off with cold club soda or seltzer. Give it one quick stir.
Until next time!