Even outdoors or at war, civilization demands proper liquid provisions
For the two who witnessed it, the moment was a miracle of sorts.
It happened in the early 1930s when two British women in Kenya hired a guide and set off by touring car on a multi-day exploration trip into the African Congo. On the first day, they drove well into evening through dust and heat along teeth-jarring roads that were little more than animal trails.
When they finally stopped and set up camp for the night, one of the women, Lady Myra Idina Sackville, a decadently scandalous descendant of one of England’s oldest families, dragged a leather-bound box from the luggage compartment of the car and placed it on a folding table. She then produced keys from her pocket, unlocked the straps and began opening the box, which seemed to expand in multiple directions.
In the box were several bottles of liquor, crystal cocktail glasses, a cocktail shaker and, here’s where the miracle comes in, a round, tightly-sealed bucket of ice.
Writing about the trip years later, the other woman noted the incident and wrote of Sackville: “She was someone who always imposed civilization in the most contradictory of circumstances.”
For cocktail lovers, there is no greater compliment.
Be it the Congo, the woods or the less predictable wilds of the backyard, civilization really should be imposed. It wasn’t invented to randomly toss aside when some primitive urge to get back to nature cannot be overcome. It’s why people have installed outdoor misters to keep them cool, built outdoor kitchens that sometimes put the indoor ones to shame and add Bluetooth speakers that look like big rocks to provide sound that drowns out the damn birds, crickets and frogs.
As Sackville proved almost 90 years ago, the same goes for the bar. When the most contradictory of circumstances prevail, civilization demands not just a fully stocked and equipped bar, but one that represents the achievements of mankind in taming the primitive environments into which he has tread.
Fortunately, civilization and modern purveyors of fine goods have been very diligent in seeing to it that no one has to venture into the great outdoors with anything less than a stellar, show-stopping bar and all the pieces that need to go with it.
The idea of a travel bar goes back at least as far as the 15th century, when royalty, even kings and queens, would travel with furniture, rugs and all kinds of household goods to be used in whatever castle or chateau at which they would be guesting. Included would be a securely locked case of liqueurs and wines. The French nobility, as French nobility were apt to do, began crafting incredibly artistic and elaborate travel bars to demonstrate wealth and power. Known as caves à liqueur, these boxes were enameled, jeweled, often mirrored inside and included cut crystal carafes and glasses.
These French bars almost always are found online in antique sales and in antique stores rather than being reproduced new, but they’re readily available. One for sale on eBay featured “12 Hand Blown Gilt Decorated Bottles,” while another for sale on 1st Dibs is described as “constructed from ebonized wood with magnificent inlays of rosewood, mother of pearl, and bronze.”
But it was the British army in the early 1700s that set the bar, pun intended, for what travel bars are today. With troops in the field all over the world, especially in India and Africa, British officers developed ways to not be “uncomfortable for want of things” to which they were accustomed. The result was an entire design of furniture pieces, including bars, still known today as campaign furniture.
So elaborate were these furnishings that collapsed, folded and packed up into amazingly small spaces, that many officer’s tents were more plush and equipped than most upper-class homes. It became a small industry manufacturing the pieces with some of the best furniture makers in the Empire competing, including Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Ross and Co. of Dublin, and Sheraton.
British Secretary of State for War H. O. Arnold-Forster made the observation in 1903: “The British Army is a social institution prepared for every emergency except that of war.”
Campaign furniture caught the fancy of wealthy non-military travelers as well and by the end of the 19th century and well into the early 20th centuries, it wasn’t uncommon to pack the bar, chairs and tables right next to the croquet mallets.
World War II understandably ended the popularity of such luxuries, and the demand remained almost nonexistent until about the 1990s, when outdoor adventuring became increasingly popular and doing it in style quickly followed.
Today, travel bars are readily available from all kinds of sources and in a range of prices from under $100 to several thousand dollars. They come in leather-bound cases, backpacks and polished woods. Some come with additional carrying cases. Some include fine crystal glasses and decanters, as well as silver-plated ice buckets, serving trays, shakers and utensils. There are even ones made designed just for specific drinks like martinis.
Frontgate has a buffalo tan leather-covered travel bar that comes with opener, corkscrew and tongs, two spots for bottles, a separate pull-out drawer and nine cups to drink from. The $500 case includes one other item that any Idina Sackville-prompted trip to the Congo requires — an insulated, sealable ice bucket.
For the absolute traditionalist ready to search for tigers in an Indian jungle or opossums on the neighbors’ fence, the J & R Guram company, based in New Delhi, might be the adventurist’s dream. Touted as one of the finest manufacturers of old-style campaign furniture, J & R’s contribution to cocktail time is the Kandahar Field Bar, a large chest covered with crocodile-embossed leather. It has solid brass corners, a single brass lock at the front and leather straps on both sides to fasten it shut when in transit. Inside are six tumbler compartments on a shelf that slides out to double as a tray. There are six slots for bottles. One must contact the company to discuss the price.
These are just a few examples of hundreds of travel bars available now, from antique to vintage, reproduction to novelty. What they all have in common is the message that no one should leave the comfort of the estate to go into the wilds beyond unarmed or uncivilized.
This is a slightly sweet but spicy cocktail created at Verandah Progressive Indian Restaurant in Houston. It’s a perfect days-end cocktail after a dusty safari across the Punjab or a hot steamy one into the backyard. The specialty ingredients such as black salt and Rooh Afza can be found at most area Indian or Pakistani food markets. Rooh Afza is a rose syrup concentration — concentrated squash — that was formulated in 1906 in Ghaziabad in Old Delhi. It’s a very popular drink during Ramadan. Being that it’s for show in this drink, rose syrup or grenadine can be substituted. For the chile seeds and garnish, the Indian bird’s eye chili is suggested, but any 1½-2-inch green chile will work.
3-4 ice cubes
½ cup mango juice, preferably fresh
½ ounce fresh lime juice
1½ ounces vodka
¼ teaspoon black salt
Seeds of a green chile, to taste
1 teaspoon Rooh Afza
1 green chile, about 2 inches long, for garnish
Add the ice cubes, mango juice, lime juice, black salt and the seeds of the green chili to a cocktail shaker then shake to incorporate the ingredients. Pour into a martini glass. Slowly drop the Rooh Afza and allow it to sink to the bottom to create a dramatic effect. Garnish with the green chile and serve.
Ever wondered what is was like to sleep on a mid-century passenger railcar? This summer, the Galveston Railroad Museum is converting the Bonnie Brook into a unique vacation rental. Built in 1949 for the New York Central Railroad, the Bonnie Brook features 2½ bedrooms, a galley kitchenette, a working bathroom with a shower, and a huge observation lounge area with seating for 20 guests.
The Bonnie Brook served on the New York Central’s New England States train between Boston and Chicago for many years. It was sold in 1961 and left active service. One of the most prominent celebrities to regularly use this private car was television entertainer Jackie Gleason. Gleason’s fear of flying drew him to use the Bonnie Brook for travel between New York, Los Angeles and the Miami Beach studios, where he filmed his popular television show in the 1960s.
For information, visit www.galvestonRRmuseum.org.