Nick Petrulakis has been a bookseller for more than twenty years, first in San Francisco and now in Boston at the Brookline Booksmith, and has been mixing his love of books with his appreciation for good drinks for ten of those years. His creations and more can be found at drinkswithnick.com. At our virtual Bibliotherapy Event on April 23, Nick will be creating literary cocktails based on bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud’s recommendations. We spoke with him about the origins of his literary cocktails and what books he’s been turning to during this tumultuous time.
Can you tell us how you first developed the concept of the literary cocktail and how you started making them?
I’ve been fortunate to have always been surrounded by books. My parents made sure that books—unlike toys—were not reserved for special occasions, so trips to the library were a common occurrence and they always allowed me to purchase Scholastic books. I can remember poring over those lists, trying to decide which book I should order. I don’t think I’ve ever looked as forward to something as I did to the arrival of Scholastic Day. With a last name like Petrulakis, you can guess that I’m Greek, and the rumors are true—we can make a celebration out of any occasion, so good drinks and good food have always been a constant. Because they are entwined with some of my happiest memories, combining my love of books with my appreciation for food and drink was a natural marriage. At first I just noticed drinks in a book—the Brandy Alexander used as a signal between James Bond and a CIA agent— and then I started recognizing ingredients in the books, so I thought, well, if I was going to make a drink for Celeste Ng and Everything I Never Told You, I wonder what I could make with the choices she’s given me? What alcohol does she mention? What tastes, what scents? And then I started to do my best Dr. Frankenstein impersonation to see what I could create. So here I am, selling books and mixing drinks.
What’s your favorite literary cocktail you’ve ever made?
I don’t have a favorite, of course! They’re all equal. But, to paraphrase Mr. Orwell, some drinks are more equal than others. Visually—because drinks should look and smell good in addition to tasting good—one drink I really like is Twain’s End for Lynn Cullen and her novel of the same name. At the time, I said that, after his words, the thing people remember most about Mark Twain is what he looked like: the white suit, the stern look, those eyebrows, that hair — that simply wonderful hair.
I wanted to make a drink that was as recognizable as Cullen’s subject. When someone said, “You’re drinking Twain’s End,” I wanted you to look at the cocktail in your hand and say, “Of course I am.” So I topped a whiskey cocktail with a lovely head of sarsaparilla flavored froth, and it looked ridiculous but fun. Tasted okay, too.
What have you been reading—and perhaps drinking—lately?
Thankfully, I have quite a few reading options at home—a peddler’s capital can often be measured in what they traffic in, so for me, I’m wealthy in books. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry—Robinson Jeffers is a favorite—and old-timey mysteries. Highsmith’s Ripley can always be counted on as a good diversion. A dash of Hammett, some Ruth Rendell. Karen Abbott adds some nonfiction hijinks. But ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a new list. As far as what I’m drinking—Diet Coke is a constant. But at night—as if it’s important to wait for five o’clock anymore—it’s hard to beat a good martini. I’ll drink those until the olives I panic-bought run out.
Register for our Bibliotherapy Event today and send Ella Berthoud your quarantine-related quandaries — who knows, she might pick yours to receive a literary prescription live! Purchase Nick’s recent reads at the Bookshop links and support your local bookstores during this difficult time.