Highball (St. Louis, 1888?)

Mon Jan 8 23:15:57 UTC 2001

With reference to Barry's recent posting on "highball":
        "In each glass was also placed an "ice ball"."
        I have never encountered the word "ice ball"; the only word I am
familiar with is the now-standard ice-cube.  I can't picture how one
would freeze ice into balls, and would have supposed that in the
1880s ice would have to have been formed in cubes, (or at least
rectangular solids more likely to be called cubes than balls,) or be
fragments chopped from a block of ice.

        "The drink was usually called a "Ball".  Many members, however,
wanted a bigger drink and they would tell the bartender, "Make it a
High Ball."
        It is my impression that the Irish use the word "ball" for a glass
of whiskey.  I believe that one of the boozers in Ulysses refers to a
"ball of malt".  If so, would this have a connection?  A highball
being a ball of liquor in a high glass?

        Despite having grown up in the company of my father, I was not a
habitue of barroom when a toddler.  Other hand, neither was I
unfamiliar with them.  When I got to college, I took a room in a
working class neighborhood in Allston, within walking distance of
Boston Univ.  The bar in my neighborhood -- the Brighton Avenue Cafe
-- was a working man's joint, exactly the sort of place my father
would take me into, if he needed a beer.  Or even if he didn't need
one, but he hardly ever didn't need one.  My friends from college
would have me take them there, and they would be goggle-eyed at being
in a place where drinkers at the bar wore paint-speckled overalls.
The bar-tender, Les, who claimed to have pitched in the majors in the
1920s, was a cut-up.  One of his standard gags was to bet someone
that he could throw a ball into the phonebooth in the corner.  If the
bet was taken, he would go into a cramped windup, with empty hands,
and mimic a throw toward the booth; then he'd send his foil to look
in the booth, when he would have planted a glass of whiskey -- a
ball.  (You were wondering how this would be relevant, weren't you.)

        To become irrelevant, or even more irrelevant than usual, the first
time I went into the Cafe, Les tried one of his gags on me.  I might
have been from a working class family, and raised to be at home in
low saloons, but I also had "college kid" written all over me.  After
Les served me, he said, "Listen, you're a baseball fan, right, know
the game?  Tell me this, who would you say is the greatest
ball-player who ever lived."  I don't remember noticing the other
bar-flies nudging each other and saying "watch Les give it to this
kid", but I figured I was being set up for something.  So I said,
"Gee, that's a tough one, the greatest ever.  I guess I would have to
say, Big Ed Delehanty."  Les didn't say anything for a few seconds,
and then said, "Where in the hell did you ever hear of him?"  The
script, you see, called for me to say Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams,
or some other player of the day, and then Les would say, "Shit, they
don't teach you young punks nothing about history in school.  You
never heard of a man named Babe Ruth?"  and he'd be off.  But when he
had been a kid himself, I think, his uncles and his father's friends
would ask him "who's the greatest ball play of all time" and he's
say, Babe Ruth, and they'd say, "Shit, you young punks don't know
nothing about history.  Ruth is nothing compared to Big Ed

        End of irrelevancy.

        Actually, not quite.  I used to say frequently that the best advice
that my father had ever given me, indeed the only good advice he'd
ever given, was that if I ever saw the sign "Tables for Ladies" in
the window of a bar, I could know that it was a low dive, and I
should stay out of it.  I tested this advice frequently when I got to
college, and it proved valid every time.  I remember one of my
friends coming to me bubbling: she and her boy friend had actually
seen a bar with that sign in the window, and she had wanted him to
take her in, but he wouldn't.  Perhaps his father had known my


More information about the Ads-l mailing list