When I was twelve, my father took me to see a little film called Evil Under the Sun— the last in a trio of tony Agatha Christie whodunit films that somewhat shaped the person I am today. The first, Murder on the Orient Express, cemented my passion for train travel and smart suits; the second, Death on the Nile, ignited a fondness for women in floppy sun hats and beautiful, wee handguns. It was Evil Under the Sun, however, that really stayed with me. Some would understandably think the reason was Diana Rigg having a field day being a classic, haughty, soon-to-be-murdered bitch, or getting to see Roddy McDowall in a never-ending series of sailor suits, but they would be wrong. Not too far off, but wrong, all the same.
It was Maggie Smith. Maggie Smith and her cocktail parties. I don’t think my father had any idea what he was getting me into when he took me to see that picture.
It was a simple scene, really– almost a throw-away, apart from firming up the tension between Diana Rigg’s Arlena Marshall and just about everyone else residing at an exclusive, Mediterranean island resort. While passing around a tray of hors d’oeuvres to her guests, Smith asks the world-famous detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) if he would care for a cocktail. “Care for a cocktail, Monsieur Poirot? A White Lady, Sidecar, Mainbrace, or Between the Sheets?” Poirot rejects them all and asks instead for either crème de cassis or sirop de banane. With a bit of a sigh, she acquiesces, only to move on to offering Diana Rigg a sausage– the one thing of which one would think she had had enough, given her proclivities.
And that was it. I followed the murder well enough, and the inevitable, intricate unveiling of who-done-what. But I kept thinking about those cocktails. As I sat in that theater, I decided that I was going to be the sort of chap who drank Sidecars and Between the Sheets while Cole Porter tunes were played somewhere out of sight on a piano. I filed their names away in my memory and bided my time.
When the appropriately legal time finally came nine years later, I unleashed my inner Maggie Smith, marched into a very (to me) upper, upper lounge in Los Angeles, and ordered a Between the Sheets from the bartender.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “You’re going to have to tell me what’s in it.” When I recovered sufficiently from the shock, I next asked for a Sidecar. “Can you tell me what’s in a Sidecar? Maybe if you knew what you were asking for, I could help you.” Devastated, I settled for a martini to drown my nine years-worth of disappointment. How on earth could a bartender at the Atlas Bar & Grille– a place decorated in the luxe fashion of a 1930’s Supper Club, a venue that showed old films from that era on a giant screen, no less– not know how to make a Between the Sheets? Given its Hollywood location, I should have realized that everything, maybe even my beloved fantasy cocktail, was an illusion.
Perhaps he was right– I should have done a little research. I bought a book of classic cocktail recipes, just to make sure the screenwriters hadn’t made up the names.
They did not.
Very much relieved and filled with renewed hope, I made my way back to the bar the following week– this time armed with the recipe. I called out the ingredients in a voice that was only vaguely Smith-like, and finally got what I’d been waiting for. I got my Between the Sheets.
Between the Sheets
Like most cocktails, the origin of the Between the Sheets is murky. Some people believe it was created at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris (the place, incidentally, where George Gershwin partly composed An American in Paris) in the 1930’s. Others hold fast to the notion that it was the brainchild of a bartender at the Berkeley Hotel in London in 1921. It doesn’t matter much to me. I’m just grateful that someone created it.
The Between the Sheets is a very close cousin to the Sidecar– a drink most bartenders now know, thanks to the surge of interest in classic cocktails. Made of white rum, brandy, and Cointreau, it even comes with a sugared rim. It is a tart, refreshing member of the sour family of alcoholic beverages.
The following recipe is not the classic one. While white rum is well and good in its place, I think it has a bit of trouble competing with the brandy and other flavorings. I have substituted my favorite dark rum instead, which makes its own, indelible impression without overpowering the other players.
Not unlike Dame Maggie Smith herself, if you ask me. I know you didn’t ask me, but if you did, that is what I would tell you.
1 ounce dark rum. My personal preference is Zaya (thank you, Shannon).
1 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
A twist of lemon or orange peel for garnish, which is purely optional. Or sausage, if you are feeling saucy enough and think you can pull it off.
In a cocktail shaker, insert ice. Pour all liquid ingredient over ice. Close lid of shaker. Shake vigorously and pour into an awaiting martini glass. Garnish, if that pleases you.