Inside D.c.'s Long, Elaborate History Of Toasting (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Inside D.C.'s Long, Elaborate History Of Toasting

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection," I'm Rebecca Sheir. And as we continue going down the hatch this week in exploring the world of Washington cuisine, let's not forget that said cuisine doesn’t just include food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

00:00:19
Good afternoon, how's everyone?

SHEIR

00:00:21
Good, thank you.

#1

00:00:23
And what may I bring you this afternoon?

SHEIR

00:00:24
It also includes drink.

SHEIR

00:00:26
I'll let you order for us, Paul.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:00:28
Okay, we'll have two authentic Washington Gin Rickeys.

#1

00:00:31
Certainly.

SHEIR

00:00:33
Thank you.

SHEIR

00:00:33
And in this case, drink means D.C.'s signature cocktail, the Gin Rickey, which, as historian Paul Dickson points out, here at the Round Robin Bar downtown, was originally the Whiskey Rickey. That was back in the 19th century when the cocktail was invented by a lobbyist by the name of Colonel Joe Rickey.

DICKSON

00:00:51
There was a fruit vendor coming through the bar one night, and this lobbyist picked up a lime, cut it in half, squeezed it into a large whiskey glass, poured Apollinaris water, which is the equivalent now of club soda, and well that was the drink.

SHEIR

00:01:06
But whether you make your Rickey with whiskey or gin, Apollinaris water or club soda, one thing Paul Dickson suggests you do before you take your first sip...

DICKSON

00:01:14
My favorite all purpose toast...

SHEIR

00:01:15
...is toast.

DICKSON

00:01:16
...days of ease, nights of pleasure.

SHEIR

00:01:20
Let me get that clinking sound.

DICKSON

00:01:20
Okay.

SHEIR

00:01:22
And Paul Dickson knows a thing or two, or 1500, about toasts. That's because he's the author of "Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces." So he has an ideal brain to pick when it comes to talking about toasts, particularly the history of toasts right here in Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

00:01:42
This is a city that has, you know, presidents, political leaders, a large diplomatic community, so I'd imagine toasts have played a big part here in the District.

DICKSON

00:01:49
They've always being totally co-mingled with politics, and one of the things about toasting would be whether you fast-forwarded to today, or you go back to the earliest days of the Republic, it was always a moment of sort of bipartisan celebration. You would say, you know, here's to the Union. They could be that simple. You know, Congress, courage, and cash. I mean that was the hard edge, you know. But it starts really with the beginning with George Washington. When George Washington leaves office, there's such a love of the man that they composed these 13 toasts in honor of Washington, in honor of the Declaration of Independence, in honor of the United States.

DICKSON

00:02:23
This was done all through the 19th century. In the mid-20th century, toasts sort of drifted away from the sort of short 15, 20, 25 word salutary. You know, this is to our future, this is to our children's future. Often very simple, but heartfelt. But what happened in the middle of the 20th century, there was this epidemic of really bad toasts and toasts that went on for a long time. And there are a couple of my favorites. 1979, the president of Mexico in was ticked off at the United States for something, and gave a toast in which he enumerated all the crimes in the United States over the last couple hundred years.

DICKSON

00:02:57
And President Carter was the recipient of this toast, and all he could think to do was to propose a toast in which he mentioned Montezuma's Revenge, and it created a diplomatic furor. There's another one, the other breakthrough, in 1984, the Premier of China is in Washington and gives a toast, a 700-word toast about the United States and China, and it signals the warming of relationships between the United States and China. I mean, that's the moment in which everybody says, ah. We may be able to work with these guys. And so there are a lot of these toasts that became moments of conciliation.

SHEIR

00:03:31
I would love to hear some examples. You have a copy of your book here, are there some examples you can give us?

DICKSON

00:03:35
Here's one that was very popular in Washington during Prohibition. Here's to Prohibition, the devil take it. They've stolen our wine, so now we make it. The most famous Washington toast, during the 20th century when the Washington Senators were the ball club, the big gag toast was, here's to Washington. First in war, first in peace, last in the American League. And this prevailed through two different teams, the Senators, and prevailed even when the Nationals first came here, when they first weren't doing well, or the second year especially. When they were the last in the National League, they would be first in war, first in peace, last in the American League, or National League.

SHEIR

00:04:12
So given that you've done so much research on toasts, and you've read so many through the years, what are your tips for giving the perfect toast?

DICKSON

00:04:19
I think you be short, you rehearse it. If you're stuck for good language, don't be afraid to steal from other people. Steal from Browning or Shakespeare or Dickens. You try to be whimsical, you try to be kind, you try to be celebratory. You're trying to make people in the room feel together and you're trying to elevate. You're trying to elevate the room. You're not trying to say something snide or snippy. And you want to leave there, literally the feeling you've left a verbal souvenir, a piece of yourself on the table that these people will take away and remember for a long time.

SHEIR

00:04:54
I'll drink to that.

SHEIR

00:04:58
Paul Dickson is the author of "Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces." His most recent book, "Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick," came out in April. For more information on both those books, and the roughly seven gagillion others Paul has penned through the years, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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