For Black History Month 2019, we're looking back at "Mixed History," an essay by Osayi Endolyn that appeared in the Southern Foodways Alliance journal and podcast Gravy in summer 2018. The essay itself looks back and analyzes what happened when Joe Stinchcomb, the beverage director at Italian-inspired Oxford, Mississippi restaurant Saint Leo, introduced five special cocktails to the restaurant's seasonal drink menu for Black History Month in 2018. The drinks were titled "Blood on the Leaves," a Mai Tai twist that quoted a lyric in Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit;" "Bullock & Dabney," a mash-up of the Corpse Reviver and Mint Julep; "The Clyde;" "(I'm Not Your) Negroni;" and "Black Wall Street." After only 11 days, the seasonal drink menu was pulled because the restaurant received numerous calls threatening protests. Stinchcomb's intent was to use the drinks to present unknown Black history to a wider audience. For example, Bullock & Dabney references Tom Bullock, a bartender at the St. Louis Country Club in Missouri who published a drink manual in 1917, while John Dabney, born a slave in Virginia, was a prominent caterer and social figure. The drink menu was promoted online where it was presented without context, and viewers had no way of telling that the author was a Black man. Saint Leo was named a 2017 Best New Restaurant Semifinalist by the James Beard Foundation, and Stinchcomb has been inserting hip-hop or pop-culture references into his cocktails (which are by all accounts delicious) since the restaurant opened. See the full essay for more details in this complicated narrative of Black history.
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