Quirky Romantic Comedy and Drink Pairings for Valentine's Day

Scene from One Way Passage, courtesy precode.com
Scene from One Way Passage, courtesy precode.com

Gaston Monescu: "If Casanova suddenly turned out to be Romeo having supper with Juliet, who might become Cleopatra, how would you start?"

Waiter: "I would start with cocktails." - Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Tired of the same old Valentine’s drink and movie recommendations (Moonstruck, again)? Here are a few intriguing wine and cocktail options and cinematic gems to drink to, from Hollywood’s golden age to 2015.

Two With Cary Grant

Drinking with classic cinema’s best-dressed man is always a treat — he looks so tan and healthy when he’s imbibing. Even when playing against type in 1963’s Father Goose, Cary’s the fittest drunk ever. Try spending Valentine’s with two of his best from the 30s.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but could I have a drink? I hadda a couple at home and they’re starting to wear off… and you know how that is.”- Irene Dunne, The Awful Truth

The Awful Truth
The Awful Truth

Sophisticated fun with a bit of slapstick, 1937’s The Awful Truth is one of the best of the 1930s cycle of screwball comedies. This couple-almost-getting-divorced comedy, the first of three films pairing Grant with the delightful Dunne, features a great supporting cast, including Ralph Bellamy and The Thin Man’s Asta as “Mr. Smith.” Best scene: the usually ladylike Irene crashing a society gathering as “Lola,” her husband’s imaginary sister, a fun-loving nightclub entertainer. 1939 is considered commercial Hollywood’s peak and it’s hard to argue with a list of classics beginning with Wuthering Heights and Gone With the Wind. Often overlooked is the unjustly neglected Only Angels Have Wings, in which director Howard (His Girl Friday) Hawks paired Grant with the great Jean Arthur (playing against type as a stranded showgirl) and a young Rita Hayworth in an exciting tale of pilots in South America.

While drinking with Cary, try 2016 New York International Spirits Competition gold medal winner Grand MacNish Black Whiskey. Rich and bold, it offers flavors of peat smoke, with honeyed undertones and a creamy, lengthy finish.” For Angels, have this whiskey neat or with a splash of water, like Hawks’ rough-and-ready pilots would. For Awful, mix it in a highball that any pearl-clutching matriarch would approve of, or sneak a shot when no one’s looking (and think of “Lola.”).

Two from 1932

Deco beauty Kay Francis was known as a fashionplate, with a charming lisp that inhibited her ability to pronounce the letter ‘r’ (thus her nickname ‘wavishing Kay Fwancis). ‘Wavishing’ Kay added glamor and fun to a number of 1930s films, including two classics from 1932. Both under 90 minutes, this tearjerker and high comedy pairing make a great double feature.

Prohibition-era Cocktail romances reached their peak in One Way Passage, with lovers Francis (an heiress with heart trouble) and pre-Thin Man William Powell as a dapper criminal headed for the electric chair. (Spoiler alert) Unable to make a final New Year’s date, their ghosts and signature drink (Champagne cocktails) have to fill in.

belle de brillet
belle de brillet

Set in Venice and the Riviera among the wealthy chic and “nouveau poor,” Ernst Lubitch’s Trouble inParadise offers Herbert Marshall as jewel thief Gaston Monescu, who tells a waiter there must be “moonlight in the Champagne” as he plans a seductive private dinner for pickpocket Miriam Hopkins. In this perfect little movie from the creator of Ninotchka and The Shop Around the Corner, dinner turns into a sexy game of one upsmanship as they pick each other’s pockets (she “regulates” his watch/he politely returns her garter). Kay creates an intriguing triangle as a beautiful young widow with an alluring safe full of jewels.

A suitable pairing for both these black and white treasures: cocktails built around Belle de Brillet Pear Liqueur (about $50). With an actual pear and 22 pounds of distilled pear in each decorative bottle, it also won gold at NYISC 2016. Try this Pear Gin Fizzie, from Gastronomista.

  • 1 Egg White
  • 1 1/2 oz Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin
  • 1/4 oz Belle de Brillet
  • 3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 3/4 oz Simple Syrup
  • Seltzer (Thomas Henry Soda Water)
  • Lemon Peel Coin for Garnish

Add all ingredients (except for the soda water) to a cocktail shaker and vigorously shake (do not add ice yet, this is your dry shake).  Add a few cracked ice cubes and shake a second time.  Strain into a cocktail glass, and top with seltzer.  Squeeze a lemon peel coin over the foam, gently rim the glass with orange citrus oil, and float the coin on top.

Short of ingredients? Here’s a simpler option: mix one oz. Belle de Brillet with Champagne in a Champagne flute. Enjoy!

photo by Amanda Schuster
photo by Amanda Schuster

Forbidden Twosomes

Based on packaging, taste and (obviously) the name, NJ-based Devotion Spirits Blood Orange Vodka (gold medal, NYISC 2016) at around $20 is the perfect offering for LGBT couples from more restrictive eras – Thatcher’s England in Beautiful Thing (1996) and 1950s Manhattan in Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015). In many countries, Beautiful Thing’s teen couple Jamie (Glen Barry) and Ste (Scott Neal) would be too young to drink. But, assuming they had parental consent, we’ll let them have one each as they celebrate Valentine’s (on a school night!) with a Blood Orange Kick.

  • 2 oz Devotion Blood Orange Vodka
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Juice of half a blood orange
  • Ginger beer

Shake all ingredients except the ginger beer with ice. Strain into a rocks-filled Collins glass. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with slice of blood orange and sip through straw.

‘Loveblocked’ on Valentines?

Alone on Valentine’s? Go for cheeky retro glamor or let yourself wallow in the gutter.

Whether you aim high or lowdown, New Zealand’s Loveblock Pinot Noir (around $37) is a refined option for the single and surly. With aromas of dark berries and warm spices, its palate features up-front tannins and balanced earthiness. So, what to watch with your glass (or glasses) of delicious Loveblock? Two ideas:

So far, all our recommendations have been celebrations of love, but if you’re really feeling down and kicked in the pants there’s nothing better than spending a few hours with skid-row sweethearts Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway in Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 Barfly (based on the life and work of skid-row poet Charles Bukowski). Best scene: unwashed Mickey and Faye swaying down the aisles of a liquor store filling a shopping cart with bottom-shelf liquor like frat daddies shopping for a blowout.

photo by mobil'homme via flickr
photo by mobil'homme via flickr

Not quite a modern classic but pretty to look at and fun to mix colorful cocktails to, Ewan McGregor and (pre surgery) Renee Zellwegger make a fun couple in 2003’s Down With Love, a music-filled, candy-colored “homage” to the Rock Hudson and Doris Day comedies of the early 1960s. Feeling like something a little stronger? Try a standard amaretto sour made with Vincenzi (2016 NYISC Italian liqueur producer of the year) Amaretto. We like Jeffery Morgenthaler's recipe, which adds some bourbon to keep it from being too cloying.

  • 1 1/2 oz Amaretto
  • 3/4 oz Cask Strength Bourbon
  • 1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1 barspoon Rich Simple Syrup (2:1)
  • 1/2 Egg White, beaten

Dry shake all ingredients for about 20 seconds, then shake with cracked ice until well chilled. Strain over an Old Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with cherry if desired.

A Final Few Suggestions

Ready for a binge? Here are a few final recommendations. If you fall for The Awful Truth (and most do), check out Grant and Dunne in their follow-up comedy My Favorite Wife (1940) and pair it with their bittersweet Penny Serenade (1941). If Ewan’s swagger in Down With Love gets you going, check him out as a repressed government planner who finds his mojo with Emily Blunt in 2011’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

And if none of our drink suggestions quite hit the spot, you can always just have a good belt of Amaro. Cheers!