The most recent Cocktail column focused on the early career of Joe Scialom, who tended bar at the celebrated Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo during World War II, where he invented the tiki-bar staple, the Suffering Bastard as a hangover remedy for his clientele of royalty and celebrities.
Because Scialom spoke eight languages fluently and entertained diplomats and journalists, he was suspected of espionage and eventually expelled from Egypt. He went on to tend bar at famed hotels around the world, including the Ritz in Paris and New York’s Four Seasons. Scialom is the subject of an upcoming book by Jeff Beachbum Berry, a cocktail connoisseur and tikki historian. Berry, along with the museum of the American Cocktail recently hosted
“The Suffering Bastard: Joe Scialom, International Barman of Mystery” lecture at the Occidental Grill.
During Scialom’s time in Egypt one of the many wealthy guests he befriended was Conrad Hilton. When Scialom left Egypt, Hilton tapped him to work for him in Puerto Rico. The Caribe Hilton, built in 1949, was in first grand tourist resort on the island. Its famous guests, included Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne.
At the Caribe, Scialom began applying his trade to rum drinks. One of the most popular cocktails Scialom took credit for was the Tropical Itch. It was a colossal drink, designed to cater to thirsty tourists, made with 5 oz of booze, Curacao, mango and lime juices. It was served in an oversized hurricane glass with a backscratcher.
When the AFL-CIO held a convention at the hotel, a Time magazine reporter spied some of the delegates enjoying Tropical Itches at the hotel and used the drink by name in his article.
Scialom’s next stop was Cuba where Hilton was trying to muscle his way into the established luxury hospitality market. With 630-rooms, the Havana Hilton was the largest building in Latin American. Hilton took a unique approach and positioned his resort as the only hotel-casino not being run by mobsters
Scialom’s success in Havana was cut short by the Cuban revolution. Just as in Egypt, where Shepheard’s hotel was considered the symbol of British dominance, The Havana Hilton became the symbol of American imperialism in Cuba. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara entered Havana in 1959 and took over the Hilton. One of the restaurants that Scialom managed became a mess hall.
Once again Scialom found himself displaced. He moved to New York and worked for Hilton at the Waldorf Astoria where he entertained clients at the private Marco Polo Club, an exclusive circle whose members were required to have a net worth of $2 million. It was here that Berry joked that “Scialom found himself serving Suffering Bastards to rich bastards.”
Scialom’s fame continued to grow. He traveled frequently opening bars for Hilton Hotels including Paris, Rome, London and, locally, the Statler Hotel in Washington.
He was contracted by alcohol companies to create drinks. One very notable cocktail Scialom made was the Julietta for Plymouth Gin. The result was a very light and delicately balanced elixir.
Back in New York, Scialom continued his odyssey at the Four Seasons and eventually made his final call at Windows on the World, a restaurant located in the then-newly opened World Trade Center. Scialom retired to Florida where he lived into his 90s. He survived to see the fall of the twin towers, which, according to Berry, he likened to the bombing of Shepheards hotel and the takeover of the Havana Hilton.
While the Suffering Bastard may be Scialom’s most well-known concoction, the Julietta is a forgotten gem. Its recipe was unearthed by Berry for his upcoming book.
1 1/4 ounces Plymouth Gin
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce orgeat syrup
2 ounces grapefruit juice
2 ounces orange juice
Shake well with plenty of crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a tall glass. Garnish with an orange slice, cocktail cherry, and mint sprig.
Plymouth Gin may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M Street in Georgetown.) For more information books by Beachbum Berry visit http://beachbumberry.com or http://museumoftheamericancocktail. com