A Drinker’s Guide to Hemingway and the Lost Generation

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Ah, Paris in the 1920s…one decade and one locale that still encapsulates all the heady romanticism of being an artist. Picture living in France amongst a generation-wide embrace of decadence and a morality shift that personified itself in everything from the style of women’s hair, to those glorious flapper dresses, to the ubiquitous cigarettes mounted on narrow, foot-long holders, waved around like a conductor’s baton.

And drinking—lots of drinking. Whether their famous thirst was fueled by a collective realization of one’s mortality (thanks World War I!), the larger fine de siècle hangover (thanks 1899!), or just the perfect accompaniment of all that swinging jazz, alcohol stands as the north star in most of the art and literature that the “Lost Generation” created.

Hemingway, the Big Papa

As evidenced by the aptly titled A Moveable Feast, the unofficial godfather of the Lost Generation was a man of appetites. And while the idea of him drinking while writing is a common misperception, his characters drank like it was an obligation, just as the writer did whenever he put down the pen. Ever count the number of gins that the two leads drink during the last chapter of The Sun Also Rises? It’s enough to euthanize an elephant.

Signature Drink: He loved the Bloody Mary, and once said that, if the drink lacks authority, just add more vodka. But he also loved gin and rum and wine and whiskey. Hell, he even loved the daiquiri (which is okay to admit after you’ve hunted in Africa, mastered the art of the short story, and survived two airplane accidents). But your best bet is to order something that’ll put metaphorical hair on your (sometimes metaphorical) balls. Because it’s good and simple and pure and what makes us human. And really, it’s all about the end result anyway. As he wrote in For Whom the Bell Tolls: “To drink is nothing. It is to be drunk that is important.”

Fitzgerald, the High-Class Hemingway

The way Earnest portrays his colleague Fitzgerald is sometimes less than flattering, but that’s no surprise considering their divergent appetites for life. Hemingway went to fight in the Spanish civil war. Fitzgerald pranced with Zelda in a New York City fountain. Yes, his was a tragic fate, dead by 1940 in relative anonymity after a long fight with alcohol. But during the ‘20s, he wrote one of the best American novels, and also penned some fantastic, alcohol-fueled (or -influenced) stories like “May Day” and “Babylon Revisited.”

Signature Drink: Champaign, of course. From a glass if you have one nearby, but it’s better if it’s from the bottle, or poured on your companion while standing on a balcony in Paris while watching the sunrise.

More Than Just a Bunch of Alcoholic Writers

Yea, those two big hitters get the most ink when it comes to the Lost Generation—as well as other writers like Dos Passos and TS Elliot. But the Paris of the ‘20s was also a fertile ground for revolutionary painters like Gertrude Stein (who coined the phrase “Lost Generation”) and Abraham Walkowitz, as well as dancers like Isador Duncan. Their artistic influence in the larger canon may be debatable, but their presence in Paris—and their love of the drink—likely anchored some of the generation’s best stories.

Signature Drink: Absinthe. The green fairy was already memorized in paintings by the likes of Degas, van Gogh, and Picasso long before most American ex-pats landed in Paris. But they sure did gravitate to that iconic drink for all its high-octane, potentially hallucinogenic properties.