I got inspired this week when my brother-in-law sent me a clipping on southern cocktails from Garden & Gun magazine. Yes, you read that right, such a magazine actually exists. I could think of no better film to celebrate guns, gardens, southern society, and cocktails, than Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (DVD/Download). This was one of my favorite movies of the 1990’s, and it still holds up well today. It paints Savannah as a mythical place full of people who drink at all hours of the day, sassy drag queens, and gun-toting antiques dealers. I’d say I’m eager to catch a plane there, but who am I kidding- I live in Austin! We’re practically twin cities.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is based on the bestselling non-fiction book of the same name by John Berendt. In it, he chronicles the trial of a wealthy member of Savannah society who is accused of murdering his gay lover. Kevin Spacey plays the antiques dealer/bon vivant on trial, and Jude Law has a few brief scenes as his victim/lover. This film was a great place for Kevin Spacey to hone his eventual House of Cards accent, which he does to perfection. Not so great in the accent dept. is Jude Law, who does a sort of cockney/southern hybrid, but I’m willing to overlook it because he’s young and gorgeous (albeit in a redneck-psycho sort of way). The true star of this film (and the book) is of course The Lady Chablis. Can I just say, this is maybe the best drag name I’ve ever heard. I love that the character was played by the real life Chablis Deveau because really, who else could possibly do this part justice? She steals every scene she’s in, delivering one-liners that keep me laughing for days. And I love John Cusack as the fish out of water reporter who stumbles into this world of, as he puts it, “Gone With the Wind on mescaline.” Gardens and guns- Savannah in a nutshell.
As I have said, this film is excellent with a cocktail pairing because most of the characters treat drinking like a competitive sport. As one person says, “If you’re thirsty, a drink will cure it. If you’re not, a drink will prevent it. Prevention is better than a cure.” My favorite cocktail of those featured in the magazine article is definitely the Antebellum Julep, conceived by bartender Alba Huerta. I’m not a frequent bourbon drinker, but I do like a cold, minty concoction on an unbearably hot day. This drink solves both of those problems at once with a refreshing combination of rum, cognac, and LOTS of ice. When watching this film, I recommend drinking an Antebellum Julep.
8-10 mint leaves, roughly torn
2 tsp simple syrup
2 oz cognac
1/2 oz dark rum
In a cup (a metal julep cup is great if you have it, but I’m going even more southern and using a mason jar), muddle mint leaves and simple syrup. Pour in cognac, to rinse off muddler; remove muddler. Fill the cup ¾ full with crushed ice and stir with a bar spoon. Add a small dome of crushed ice, and pour the rum over the top. Garnish with a mint sprig and a dusting of powdered sugar.
This drink is so refreshing that it might be my summer go-to when the temperature spikes above 100. It’ll always make me think of Spanish moss, long languorous afternoons that stretch into warm, humid nights, and genteel southerners with secrets for miles. As you watch Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, concern yourself less with whether or not Kevin Spacey is guilty, and more with the eccentric group of people that populate Savannah. In this instance, the truth is definitely stranger than fiction. Cheers!