There’s a New Book Club Dinner Series on Tap
Flora brings books, drinking, dining, and discussion together.
Photo by Kristan Lawson
Dorothy Parker was a poet, screenwriter, social critic — and now she’s a cocktail, too.
Flora Restaurant recently launched its new Book Club Dinner Series, a monthly program of carefully curated drinks/dining/discussion evenings each focused on a specific literary masterpiece.
Dorothy Parker — the hard-drinking, acid-tongued raconteur, writer, and one of the 20th century’s most beloved public intellectuals — was the perfect subject for the first meeting, where guests contemplated selections from The Portable Dorothy Parker, an anthology of her best-known works.
The evening started at Fauna, Flora’s adjoining bar, with a new cocktail appropriately named The Dorothy Parker. Along with every other aspect of this event, it was crafted to reflect Parker and her era.
“Here at Fauna, we already like to take old-school pre-Prohibition cocktails and make them more modern,” explained bar manager Wilson Erb. “So designing a drink to honor Dorothy Parker? That’s our sweet spot.”
Although Parker herself favored gin, “these days everyone’s coming out with new gin cocktails,” Erb sighed.
“So I thought that instead we should design a drink to reflect her character. She was a bit of a firebrand — so, obviously, let’s start with a fiery scotch, then balance it out with something sophisticated, just like Dorothy herself. We ended up with a drink loosely based on the Arnaud’s Special, a cocktail now mostly forgotten but popular in her era. The basis is Bank Note 5 Year Scotch, mixed with Luxardo Amaro Abano, which is dark, dry, and bitter — like Parker’s humor. A dash of Benedictine, housemade kumquat syrup, Angostura and orange bitters, and voilà, the Dorothy Parker.”
After 30 minutes spent sipping the Dorothy — velvety, dense, smoky, and sweet — attendees strolled through the door to Flora, where Executive Chef Rebecca Boice had re-imagined the kind of meal that might have been served at the Algonquin Hotel during its 1920s heyday, when Parker presided over the lunchtime literary salon that came to be known as the Algonquin Round Table.
“Dorothy Parker lived in the era that inspired the Art Deco design of Flora, so that was perfect,” Boice explained.
“But I learned that at the Round Table itself, the writers mostly just nibbled on popovers and celery for hours on end. Those items had to become our appetizers, but for the main course I researched what was popular at the time — sirloin steak was big — and designed the meal around that.”
The dinner conversation had no master of ceremonies, but instead was entirely free-form — and were it not for the persistent enthusiasm of one or two literary-minded attendees who kept returning the conversation to the role of women in 1920s society, Dorothy Parker might not have been mentioned at all. Fun Roaring 20s-themed cocktail party? Yes. Twenty-first century literary symposium? Still a work in progress.
Many of Flora’s Book Club evenings feature authors with an East Bay connection: June’s book was Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold; July brings Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley; August focuses on There There, by Tommy Orange; Joan Didion’s classic Slouching Towards Bethlehem rounds out the summer series in September. Each will introduce a new cocktail designed to encapsulate the literary essence of the night’s author. Ever wanted to literally drink in the genius of Joan Didion? Your chance awaits.
Flora, 1900 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, 510-286-0100, FloraOakland.com/book-club.htm.