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All Hail the Bon Vivant: Keith Allison’s Cocktails & Capers

Everyone is looking for those hints, tips, and tricks to help better their lives. Self-help gurus attempt to light the way by giving you condescension wrapped in a smiley-toothy blanket. Religious and political leaders often have the morals of whorish roadkill, so forget about that! Memes on Pinterest and other social mediums can be nice but are a mere garnish trying to mask a bigger problem. But there is a new tome out there that will light the way to have a more lavish mind, a richer life, and a liquor cabinet that will leave your local bars sobbing with envy.

Welcome to Keith Allison’s Cocktails & Capers: Cult Films, Cocktails, Crime & Cool.

It’s not often a book, or any creative work for that matter can live up to a truly great and ambitious title. Luckily for us, Cocktails & Capers does all this and more. This book is absolutely phantasmagorical in its variety of subjects. Even the descriptive subtitle of the tome doesn’t quite purely cover the breadth of topics. We’re talking everything from Toots Shore to martini history to El Santo and even the most in-depth writing you are ever going to find about E.W. Hornung’s famous literary character, A.J. Raffles.

For those of us who cut our outre culture teeth on creations like Re/Search publications, Rhino records, old Martin Denny albums, and Reel Wild Cinema, Cocktails & Capers feels like an old hug from a new friend and reads even better. Keith Allison’s ability to take deep dives into every subject is impressive and mercifully too loving to ever veer into dry academia. Let’s face it, the best kind of research and expression is the one where the heart and mind meet and hive mind together.

A feature that sets Cocktails & Capers apart from the rest of the pack is it is both a cultural history book AND a guide to cocktails and music, right down to precise recipes and playlists. Even more impressive is the fact that both are tailored specifically to each chapter. For example, the section on actress Kay Francis features drinks like Angel Face and Whizz Bang, while the playlist, cutely titled, “Cocktails with Kay,” sports the compilation, “Elegance Sophistication: The Age of Style.” I’m hard-pressed to think of many books that take such an interactive type route by giving us mini-guides to help further flesh out the prose.

Not that you necessarily need fancy libation-concoctions and swanky music to fully enjoy this book, because it is a dense, jazzy beauty. The amount of intricate detail and the interconnectedness of so many figures, themes and works of art is staggering. It takes a mind that is innately hyper-focused, turned on by esoteric detail, and creative 24/7 to pen such a work, so bless all the beasts of bourbon for Keith Allison. (The aforementioned beasts, for the record, of the general variety, though the Australian rock band of the same name are some rock & roll stunners!)

There are textbooks whose girth and academic fortitude are wholly outshone by the number of intricate details, research, and controlled-frenzied-passion that is contained within these pages. Perhaps, the greatest thing one can say about Cocktails & Capers is that as complete work, the book itself is akin to the finely honed and hewed spirited potions that it celebrates. If you like your details lush, love film, music, and crime ephemera, and are just an overall pip with fine taste, then you will cherish this tome. Just make sure to have the good Luxardo cherries on hand for your drinks.

About Heather Drain

Heather Drain is a fringe culture writer who has written for Dangerous Minds, Video Watchdog, Lunchmeat and Cashiers du Cinemart. She has also been a contributor to The Rialto Report, The Projection Booth, Paracinema, Cinema Head Cheese and, on occasion, as a guest writer at both Rupert Pupkin Speaks and Turner Classic's Movie Morlocks blog. Heather currently writes for Art Decades as well as her own site, Mondo Heather, and is the Music & Culture Editor at Diabolique Magazine.

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