Mallory O’Meara is the award-winning and bestselling writer of The Lady from the Black Lagoon. Every week, she co-hosts the literary podcast Reading Glasses. She lives in the mountains near Los Angeles with her two cats, where she is working on her next nonfiction book. Bourbon is her drink of choice and her new book is Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol. She recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Girly Drinks?
It was a book that I really wanted to read! When I started getting into cocktails, all I wanted to do was read the history behind them. I quickly noticed that all the written histories of alcohol and cocktails mostly left out anyone that wasn’t white and male. It was really frustrating. I wanted to know what everyone else was drinking! So, I took matters into my own hands.
How long did it take you to do the necessary research and then write Girly Drinks?
I started working on Girly Drinks even before my first book, The Lady from the Black Lagoon, came out. So, all told, it was about two years of researching and writing. I read hundreds and hundreds of books, articles and magazines for the project. My heroic librarians at the Los Feliz Branch of the library would haul out boxes filled with books for me!
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned about women, alcohol, or their relationship during your research?
The most surprising thing for me was just how much material there was. I couldn’t believe—just kidding, I could—that no one had taken the time to write this history from a feminist perspective. Obviously, I’m biased, but I think there is just a wealth of fascinating stories and women in the history of alcohol. I ended up having to add a chapter to my original outline for the book because there was just so much to write about!
In the book, you describe 15 different people and eras to illustrate women and alcohol throughout history. Was there a person or period that you discovered but, for some reason, were unable to include?
The Prohibition (1920s) chapter was especially tough because there were just so many women to write about. There is a myth that women were all staunch supporters of Prohibition and the leading anti-alcohol force in America. On the contrary, there were so many amazing women making, drinking, smuggling, and serving alcohol that I struggled to include them all. There were some female moonshiners that I didn’t have space to talk about, like Bernie Brown and Maggie Bailey. Maybe in the paperback!
Do you have a favorite mixed drink? A favorite liquor/ liqueur? A least favorite? (I realize that you may not want to address this last one and if that is the case, please don’t. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)
Bourbon! I’m very dedicated to bourbon. Although for cocktails, I’m more of a rum fan. My favorite cocktail is the simple, classic daiquiri. I’ll drink a cocktail made from almost any kind of liquor, but my least favorite is tequila. Which is funny, because I absolutely love mezcal. I thought I was really terrible at making margaritas until I realized that I just didn’t like tequila that much!
What is your favorite drink/food pairing (either meal or snack)?
It’s very basic, but I just finally started pairing wine with food. I grew up in an Irish-American household, and the things Irish people do to food should be illegal. There’s nothing that really pairs well with boiled root vegetables. I never realized that wine is meant to be paired with a meal. Now that I’ve discovered the joys of good wine with a good meal, I’m hooked!
Do you have a favorite bar/club/pub?
It depends on which city I’m in! In New York City, I love the Dead Rabbit, which has truly exceptional cocktails and is actually where my editor and I went to toast to Girly Drinks. In Los Angeles, I love The Varnish and Der Rathskeller. I cannot resist a tiki bar and the South Seas bar in Clifton’s is over the top and wonderful. But probably my favorite bar in the entire world is Bar Tonique in New Orleans. They serve top-notch drinks in an extremely casual setting. It’s a dream. I love a dive bar and I love fancy cocktails. Their menu is mind-blowing. The first time I was there, I watched a bartender shake three cocktail shakers at the same time and I still think about her.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Elissa Washuta’s White Magic, a memoir about the author’s relationship to magic and the occult, and how she, as a Native woman, dismantles the colonization of many “new age” practices and finds meaning for her own life and struggles. It’s absolutely phenomenal.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
Oh, I love this question. It should come as no surprise from a nonfiction author, but I love documentaries. I love them so, so much. I love them the most when they’re a little weird and tell a story you wouldn’t expect. The last one that really impacted me was Some Kind of Heaven, which came out this year (2021). It’s about The Villages, the biggest retirement community in the country, located in Florida. The Villages describes itself as “the happiest place on earth.” The documentary follows the stories of three older people, a single woman, a married couple going through a possible breakup, and a single man, who are deeply unhappy. It sounds depressing, but it’s so wonderful and funny and well made. I can’t stop recommending it.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
So far, no one has asked what I drink when I write! The answer is that I’m in a platonic lifelong partnership with Buffalo Trace bourbon. It’s my favorite every day sipping bourbon. I never mix it in anything. It’s usually around twenty-five dollars a bottle, so at least in California, it’s a pretty inexpensive bourbon. But it’s so, so good. I don’t know how many bottles went into Girly Drinks, but certainly quite a few.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m writing a middle-grade nonfiction book that has been sold, but not announced, so I’m in a weird limbo with being able to talk about it. I’m also researching for my next adult nonfiction book, which will be another feminist, deep historical dive into a subject I’m fascinated with.