Drinking in the Morning After

The do’s and don’ts of imbibing in the a.m.

A bloody Mary.
The Bloody Mary: a breakfast drink that’s also breakfast.

Photo by William Clifford (williac).

Do use a clean glass. No guzzling from the bottle, either. Drinking at breakfast is a rare pleasure with a noble heritage, and you need to show some decorum. If self-respect is beyond you at the moment in question, then settle for showing some respect for the institution. Treat this as a special occasion and dress to impress—a feat easily accomplished by waking up in or near your tuxedo. At the very least, affix a boutonniere to the lapel of your bathrobe.

Don’t drink any leftover drinks unless there is theatrical value in it.

Don’t look back, don’t you ever look back. There is the suggestion, made with pernicious frequency, that what you want to drink—if you’ve had a big night and are badly hungover—is the hair of the same breed of dog that bit you. I respectfully disagree. For one thing, this approach draws rather too blurry a line between night’s ardors and morning’s glory. You need a change of pace. Further, if you are capable even of looking at a glass of whatever left you so badly hungover, then your hangover is not so bad, and you are not actually cut out for drinking at breakfast. To you I simply recommend shaking some bitters, preferably grapefruit, into your bicarbonate of soda, and playing Radiohead very loud.

The rest of you can Do yourself a favor by fixing a corpse reviver No. 2. This is equal parts gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, and lemon juice, plus a dash of absinthe, shaken and served up. The act of concentrating on the task will be restorative in itself. It serves to clarify. It gives you a sense of purpose. Make the drink so very cold that it initiates an ice cream headache—nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion—which applies pressure to your temples from an ameliorative angle while the bracing citrus combines with the absinthe to fumigate the undersides of your eyelids. Don’t forget that there’s also a corpse reviver No. 1. That one involves Cognac, apple brandy, and sweet vermouth, and it is tasty, but its mood is most appropriate to those occasions when you’ve had a big night and you’re not hungover—that is, when you woke up drunk and just need to maintain while otherwise hydrating.

Don’t drink at breakfast more than three times a year. You’ve got to be wise when planning to act foolish. Obviously, the ideal breakfast-drinking morning is one where you’ve got a light calendar of professional responsibilities and you either have no children to look after or rather a lot of them. In the latter case, say to the eldest, “Do be a dear and fetch me a fancy pop of jam.” Of the many classic cocktails that involve a dollop of marmalade, the latest and greatest is the “Breakfast Martini,” which bears many happy similarities to the corpse reviver No. 2 and which pairs well with morning television—particularly opening-bell reports, exercise programs watched with a pitying smirk, and Sesame Street.

There are exceptions to the above rule about how often it is healthful to drink at breakfast; the most notable regards that classic variant on breakfast known as weekend brunch, which is not so much a meal as a state of mind or phase of life. (Indeed, for the purposes of this story, we need to reconfigure the definition of “morning” so that it ends not when the sun transits the celestial meridian but when the kitchen is no longer serving eggs Benedict.) It is not socially unacceptable to get kind of hammered at weekend brunch with some regularity, or so it seems strolling the boulevards of urban America, where the girls test the limits of unlimited-Mimosa policies, and the model chicks and their Eurotrash beaux glut on Bellinis, and a dandy fancies Le Perroquet, and grown-up women and men turn to the Bloody Mary and its soul-scouring spiciness.

The basics of the Bloody are tomato juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, black pepper, and vodka. Sea salt, Old Bay seasoning, curry powder, ketchup, capers, and pickling brine are excellent ways to step up your game, as is a squirt of Guinness. (Guinness is the morning-after beer of the cognoscenti; see also “Evelyn Waugh’s Noonday Reviver.”) I prefer V-8—not least because its presence invites playing the parlor game of naming the members of its vegetable octet —and I have dabbled with celery bitters, Heinz cocktail sauce, and anchovy paste. Don’t you know that you can put anything in a Bloody Mary?—browned shallots, broiled scallions, braised octopus, brain of veal …. Skimp on the vodka, but know your limits. For instance, the brand called Vodka City—distilled, perhaps even proudly, in Baltimore—proves perfectly effective on a chemical level but can be rather too morally debasing, in its cheapness, to serve as a spiritual pick-me-up. Nor does the plastic of its bottle offer much tactile pleasure. If you’re ordering a Bloody Mary in a restaurant, then Do request that it is made with well vodka but Don’t ask what brand that is.

In its heartiness, the Bloody Mary points us to a tradition of breakfast drinking in which the drink is the breakfast. Consider, for instance, the eye-opener, which involves combining dark rum with egg yolk and a few fruity notes. Drinking one is somehow rather like pushing a shovel through a Frappuccino snow bank, and if it literally opens the eye, that is because it sits so heavily in the stomach that it drags down the skin of the face. Is salmonella a risk? Yes. But here’s the thing. Considering the laws of probability, it seems to me that the matter of raw eggs in your drinks should be a cause for concern only if those eggs are your primary source of protein, in which case you’ve got other problems. Don’t fear the reaper, and greet the day sunny side up. You’ll look especially couth accessorizing your slept-in evening suit with a golden fizz.