Some of us soak up cocktail history as happily as we suck up gin. But for those who have grown weary of having every happy hour turn into a teachable moment, with a tatooed expert holding forth on the dusty origins of the concoction you ordered, there is Mamrie Hart.
Hart loves a good cocktail as much as any other millennial You Tube sensation, but her bartending banter is more akin to a cinnamon vodka shot than a well-aged glass of rye. That’s probably why about 100 20-somethings lined up for autographed copies of her book when she stopped in at Quail Ridge Books earlier this month. Many told the bookseller it was the first time they had ever been in the store.
I don’t know which made me feel my age more – seeing so many young people who had never set foot in Quail Ridge or watching Mamrie Hart’s “You Tube” series “You Deserve A Drink.” Sassy, foul-mouthed, funny and fearless, Hart dreams up drink recipes to celebrate pop culture events on her videos and to commemorate her own booze-fueled adventures, which she chronicles in her hot-selling book of the same name.
A UNC-Chapel Hill grad who grew up in Boonville, near Winston-Salem, she majored in drama and communications and ran off to New York City to make her way as an artist. Bartending was, of course, her primary source of income before she found her footing as a serious comedic actor. If you’ve never seen her on “You Tube,” you may recognize her from a La-Z-Boy commercial. Hart played a nosy neighbor spying on Brooke Shields as she reveled in her new, affordable sectional sofa.
As a struggling performer in the Big Apple, Hart couldn’t afford to pay the bar tabs she was handing out.
“On average, a gin martini was $16, which just blew my North Carolina mind,” she said.
While she was pouring drinks to pay the rent, she did theater and improv and developed the comic persona that she showcases on the small screen. Her book is so bawdy she inserts a safe word (it’s rutabaga) to signal to her parents to skip the passages that follow. Her video spots are so raunchy I had to wait until I was alone in the house to watch them. Much of her humor revolves around making crass puns about what a tart she is while her adorable pet Chihuahua, Beanz, listens patiently and hopes his owner doesn’t dribble watermelon schnapps on him. She says the essence of the character she plays is her.
“It’s completely my personality … It’s the person I am after five drinks,” she said.
Since I met her before her book signing, Hart was soberly sipping herbal tea, which I found to be her more endearing incarnation, though I can imagine that sharing a few lemon drops with her would be fun, if potentially terrifying. Stories in her book include recollections of setting herself on fire at a Flaming Lips concert, how she showed up to her high school English final exam reeking of vodka and how traveling in foreign countries tends to cause her profound irregularity. Her style is so likable it transcended my preconceived notions of disgust. In fact, I like this book so much I can’t decide whom to loan it to first.
The most charming tale is about her parents telling her and her siblings that they’re getting divorced. Her recounting of the road trip and family reunion that surrounded the event is delivered in such clear, absurd detail that it turns what could be a very sad story into an affirmation of love and family. Plus, she includes a recipe for a drink inspired by her favorite treat when she was in fifth grade – a Coke with peanuts poured in it. (If you grew up in the South, you already know about this.) Only Mamrie’s adult version includes white rum and homemade grenadine and she calls it “Right in the Nuts.” The story made me laugh out loud. It also gave me hope for a generation of cocktail drinkers who’ve never set foot in a bookstore.
Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at amberwrites.com.
Right in the Nuts cocktail
The homemade grenadine is worth making. To make grenadine, dissolve 1/4 cup sugar in 1 cup pomegranate juice over medium heat. Let it boil for 5 minutes, then add the juice of half a lemon. Excerpted from “You Deserve A Drink” by Mamrie Hart (Plume, 2015).
1/2 ounce homemade grenadine
2 ounces white rum
Pour the grenadine into a tumbler filled with ice. Add the rum and Coke. Stir and top with a handful of peanuts.
Yield: 1 cocktail.