Drink Like a Dead Art Star: Cocktails Inspired by Diane Arbus and Mark Rothko


Not all books come with a body bag, but that was the favor given out at the book party for Alix Strauss’ marvelously morbid Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious. The bags held macabre gifts like Funeral Home Perfume and Waterproof Mascara, which aren’t exactly to my taste, but they also included Vincent Van Gogh vodka and Hemingway Daiquiri rum, which definitely are. The liquor didn’t stop flowing there: Strauss asked mixologist Eben Klemm to invent signature cocktails for a few of the book’s exquisite corpses, making it the best literary celebration of death since Finnegans Wake.

Start with the Diane Arbus cocktail: Michael Collins whiskey mixed with Squash and Balsamic. (Somewhere Michael Collins is wondering why his whiskey is being served in honor of another one of the deceased.) Whiskey, squash, and balsamic may sound like a strange mixture but I can assure you it’s no stranger than the people who posed for her.

As Alix Strauss puts it: “Midgets, circus freaks, nudists, retarded children, giants, twins, and transvestites. Human oddities. These were the subjects and the passions behind the controversial black-and-white photographs that made Diane Arbus famous.” Remember, Arbus is the only person to have a fictional biopic made about her romancing a man with werewolf syndrome. And no matter how you usually take your balsamic, the cocktail certainly goes down smoother than this:

For something more soothing, switch to the Mark Rothko cocktail: Tommy Bahama Gold Rum, Averna and beet juice – “for the bloodshed,” as the menu puts it, referring to his elaborate death by slitting his arms (wrists were too conventional, perhaps). I’ve never been a big fan of Rothko’s paintings, but I wouldn’t mind contemplating a roomful of them with a glassful of this in hand. There’s always room for a new perspective. Consider, for instance, that on the day of Rothko’s suicide his doctor had given him a clean bill of health. But the doctor was drastically mistaken – the artist had only a year to live. If he’d been told about this death sentence, would Rothko have decided to wait and let nature take its course?

We could ask a similar question to any of the celebrities in Death Becomes Them. What’s the hurry? There are books to be read, blogs to be written, and drinks to be drunk. Not all cocktails are named for someone who has died. “Colonel” Joe Rickey drank his name into history. John Collins enjoyed more than a few of his namesake libation (though he probably didn’t call it that). Why not stick around to witness your honorary drink’s creation? That’s my plan. If only to be sure that there will be neither squash nor balsamic in it.

Cocktail image via The Lost Girls