Thirty years ago I attended my first graduate sherry hour. I marveled at the very idea of it—drinking with one's teachers? Fantastic! There would be no undergraduates about, just we the advanced students who one day soon would be lording over our own classrooms and ensconced in our own book- and paper-stuffed offices.
I did not know what to expect, but whatever I had imagined is not what occurred. Marilyn, the ageless, ever-patient secretary of the department, strolled out to the common area at exactly 5:00 p.m. and put down a single bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and some plastic cups. Professors promptly emerged from behind their doors, and graduate students seemed to exude from the Politics Department’s drearily painted walls.
None of us students were especially thrilled with the gloppy beverage. Drink it we did; alcohol was alcohol, and we were beggars not choosers. On occasion, I believe she set out a bottle of Tio Pepe Sherry on a side table, although I could not prove that fact in a court of law. You see, come 6 o’clock, Marilyn, invariably wearing a thin sweater over a blouse with a cascade collar, a skirt, and dark hose, would depart to catch the train back to an outer borough.
Thereupon, my fellow students would haul out pre-positioned cases of cheap beer, wine, and sometime even hooch. Most of the professoriate would depart, and the collegial palavers descended into drunken banter through clouds of smoke. Parliaments and Camel Lights, I believe, were the usual smokes, although I occasionally brought Dunhill Blues, which I puffed from a six-inch, black and silver holder.
Sometime after 9 p.m. we would do our best to tidy up and then pour out of the building and onto Broadway. Some would go home, others of us went around the corner to the divey Boo Radley’s pub for more cheap drinks. Sometimes a professor or two would tag along. We repeated this ritual perhaps once per month, and it seemed perfectly normal.
Those days seem so very long ago. Nowadays, many universities are cracking down on drinking, whether it occurs in fraternity houses or anywhere. Alcohol makes for mischief, and letting it be served might make for #MeToo or "inappropriate socializing." And smoking has been banned on just about every campus.
But anxious administrators will never be able to stamp out consuming on campus entirely. Humans have been enjoying intoxicants for all of recorded history, and often they guzzle to salve their anxiety. And today’s institutions of higher education are chock full of that, in part due to the very administrators who would rather professors and students alike conclude their days by reflecting on their daily exertions to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion rather than getting snockered.
So I was astonished when I caught word of The Faculty Lounge: A Cocktail Guide for Academics. A drinks book written by a history professor?
The book began gestation during COVID, a period where anxiety and misery were amped high. Philipp Stelzel was trapped at home, conducting classes via online video. He does not say it, but I imagine the frustration of staring into his monitor’s brain-aching blue light and seeing students’ eyes darting into other browser tabs and generally failing to thoughtfully engage in the rich material he was presenting.
Wisely, he turned his fine mind to mixology and began inventing cocktails with names that expressed the plight of academics: the Remote Instructor (gin, orange juice, cranberry, grenadine, lemon twist) and the Canceled Conference (gin, pomegranate, lemon juice, simple syrup, bitters, lemon twist). Some of the names may make a reader laugh aloud, like The Classmate Who Hasn’t Read but Talks Anyway (vodka, orange juice, Green Chartreuse, orange bitters, orange wedge). All told, the book has about four dozen recipes, all of which are easy to make with readily available ingredients.
Stelzel, to his credit, gives a forthright defense of his work:
Clearly, there are many aspects of academic life that call for a cocktail. A mixed drink can help with coping and commiseration. Perhaps most importantly, a cocktail facilitates new connections, whether at a conference hotel bar or, more recently, over Zoom. … And I believe that in light of the current, severe challenges higher education is facing almost everywhere, fostering the community of academics has never been more essential.
Also admirable is that Stelzel published this book with an academic press—yet another much beleaguered higher education institution. More and more these presses are trying to bolster their bottom lines by releasing trade press books.
The Faculty Lounge was published months before the recent campus tumults over Gaza and congressional hearing thereon. I suspect copies of this trim volume will find a wide and welcome audience among the professoriate—and perhaps some university administrators.
The Faculty Lounge: A Cocktail Guide for Academics
by Philipp Stelzel
Indiana University Press, 97pp., $19.99
Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Moonshine: A Global History (Reaktion Books) and Whiskey: A Global History (Reaktion Books).