Thursday, 2 July 2015

Banquet at the Maury

As I write today temperatures are moving on up into the 30s here in Lisbon. Time for one of my all-time favourite summer cocktails - Chilcano de Pisco.

Pour a good large measure of Pisco (about 50ml) over plenty of ice cubes in a tall glass, add a squeeze of lime juice (about a tablespoon), a splash of Angostura bitters, and top it all up with ginger ale. Have fun playing around with the measurements if you like, but I have it on good authority that it’s all in the order of ingredients in the glass.

photo - El Comercio

Pisco Sour is the better known classic Peruvian cocktail, and some years ago I went to the bar at the Hotel Maury to research the lineage of this most cherished lovechild of Peruvian culture. 

If I’m honest it was a chance to just hang out in this coolest of cool bars in the heart of downtown Lima on a dusty Sunday afternoon. But I was also lucky enough to watch a master at work. Señor Eloy Cuadros Cordoba has worked at the Hotel Maury for more than half a century. The full interview, complete with Señor Cuadros' tips for the perfect Pisco Sour, is here

Señor Eloy Cuadros Cordoba doing what he does best behind the bar at the Maury
photo - el Comercio
fig. 1
It’s a Californian import, Victor Morris, who is widely credited as having invented the original Pisco Sour. He worked in the mines of Cerro de Pasco where he ran a gaming house. The story goes that with no whisky to hand to make whisky sours, he replaced it with Pisco. He later opened the Morris Bar in Lima. But Morris was a consummate gambler. He went bankrupt, had to close the bar, and some of his employees then moved to the Hotel Maury.

The Posada de Pedro Maury existed since the days of independence. General San Martin himself stayed there, as well as Miguel Grau. Later the posada was refurbished and modernized and in 1848 became Lima's first great illustrious hotel - the Hotel Maury.

Today it is a rather prosaic 1954 version of the original. Needless to say it has lost much of its former grandeur, but the bar is still splendid and proclaims to be the birthplace of the Pisco Sour as we know it. 

As Cuadros, the resident, charismatic barman will testify, his clientele is now a mixed bunch of professionals and tourists, although the Maury still sees the odd diplomat or two popping in from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just up the road.

photo - citiHeartBeat
I had also gone to the Maury because of this story that I found in the Anecdotes. 

Tio Hernan makes it clear that back in the day, the Maury had clout; home to a glittering array of politicians, business men, and the social elite. 

Peru’s devastating loss to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1884), and the country’s ensuing bankruptcy spawned a group of young intellectuals who questioned what had happened, what had gone wrong, and more importantly addressed the issue of what needed to happen now. How was Peru to emerge and develop and move forward?  They are known as la generación de los 900 (900 is short for 1900’s), and they were the emerging thinkers of the new twentieth century.

Victor Andrés Belaunde, Raul Porras Barrenechea, José de la Rivera Agüero, Francisco Garcia Calderón -the journalist, writer and diplomat who Hernan describes here returning to Peru after his postings abroad. These are all names that resonate in Peru still today.

They all gathered at the Maury and they were, as Hernan points out here, all white.

Banquet at the Maury
In which Tello appears on the radar of Lima's society elite

If all the anecdotes from the Hotel Maury could be compiled, we would have a fascinating record of the many subtle nuances of our nation's story. So many of the men, in so many diverse fields, who helped trace the route of our country's history have passed through those doors

On this occasion, none other than, the famous Peruvian philosopher and writer, Francisco Garcia Calderón had just arrived in Lima from Paris, and his friends wanted to organize a banquet in his honour. Naturally it would be in one of the city’s most luxurious and prestigious locales … the Maury.