Ten years ago this week, the world lost a literary giant. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., World War II veteran and author of dozens of novels, short stories and essays—most famously Slaughterhouse-Five—passed away at 84 on April 11, 2007. Vonnegut helped invent modern fiction, and he made science fiction, crass satire and profanity safe for “real” writers’ work.
So why is Playboy’s booze columnist covering this? Kurt Vonnegut had a long and fruitful relationship with the magazine, and in honor of the anniversary, 10 bars across Vonnegut’s hometown of Indianapolis are featuring cocktails inspired by the writer and his creations.
“Vonnegut’s writing style was not what you’d call rapid. He’d spend years writing his novels,” says Chris Lafave, curator of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.
In order to support his family in between novels, he churned out short stories and essays for a variety of magazines. Vonnegut had plays, stories, interviews and more published in Playboy over a decades-long relationship, but his first contribution is perhaps his best known. In 1968, Playboy published “Welcome to the Monkey House,” a short story that later lent its title to Vonnegut’s best-known short story collection.
“Welcome to the Monkey House” deals with typical Vonnegut themes of dystopia and overpopulation and, appropriately for Playboy during the sexual revolution, birth control pills. Lafave says Vonnegut often tailored his short works for the publications he pitched them to in this way, but he wasn’t always successful. The Vonnegut Library has a very funny rejection letter in its archives for a story called “Blessed Are the Numbskulls” from the now-defunct Woman’s Home Companion.
If you’re a true Vonnegut fan, you should try to find your way to Indianapolis this year, where the mayor’s declared 2017 the Year of Vonnegut. The author grew up in Indy and his architect father and grandfather designed many of the city’s iconic buildings. In the coming months, a new Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library will open on the city’s trendy Mass Ave. Four times the size of the current library, the new facility will house Vonnegut’s own artwork, his typewriter and Purple Heart medal, first editions and more of his work, including a special exhibit on banned books.
The local tourism board also just rolled out Cheers to Vonnegut, a set of 11 cocktails inspired by the writer and his work that will be available all year at watering holes around town.
The Breakfast of Champions recipe comes from Ryan Gullett, bartender at Bluebeard, a restaurant itself named for a Vonnegut novel. It’s a tart and creamy mix of apple brandy and two types of amaro with, in a very literal twist, half & half infused with Apple Jacks cereal. At Bluebeard, Gullett garnishes the drink with a spritz of Angostura Bitters in the shape of an asterisk—AKA Vonnegut’s infamous drawing of an asshole.
Breakfast of Champions
• Wheaties cereal, crushed
• .75 oz. Laird’s Applejack
• .75 oz. Amaro Montenegro
• .5 oz. Amaro di Angostura
• .75 oz. Honey
• .75 oz. Lemon juice
• 1 oz. Apple Jacks half & half*
Stir together some sugar and crushed Wheaties in a small bowl or plate and use to coat the rim of a coupe glass. Set the glass aside. Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the prepared glass. To make Apple Jacks half & half, pour some Apple Jacks cereal into a small bowl and top with half & half. Let stand 30 minutes, strain and store in the refrigerator. Serve in a Coupe glass.
Vonnegut himself was certainly no stranger to alcohol, though his tastes weren’t exactly adventurous: He was a Scotch and soda man. One of his regular hangouts is still in business, too: The Red Key Tavern, first opened in 1933, was Vonnegut’s favorite bar in Indy, according to a letter from his son. “It’s a magnificent place to go in Indianapolis,” Lafave says. “It’s cash-only, and there’s a jukebox with nothing from after about 1960 on it.”
The writer didn’t talk too much about drinking in his books, but the closest thing to a cocktail recipe in Vonnegut’s work is pretty epic, and that’s what I’ll leave you with. In Cat’s Cradle, a bartender tells a story about the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima:
“The day they dropped Hoenikker’s fugging bomb on the Japanese a bum came in and tried to scrounge a drink. He wanted me to give him a drink on account of the world was coming to an end. So I mixed him an ‘End of the World Delight.’ I gave him about a half-pint of creme de menthe in a hollowed-out pineapple, with whipped cream and a cherry on top. ‘There, you pitiful son of a bitch,’ I said to him, ‘don’t ever say I never did anything for you.’”
So it goes…