Badass Women of Booze History

By Logan R. Brouse, March 8, 2023

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201703/logan.pngLogan R. Brouse, proprietor and mixologist of Tacolicious, has run bars and clubs in Shanghai as far back as anyone can remember. In between hangovers, he puts pen to paper in his column for That’s to record his pontifications on the drink industry.

In Herbert Asbury’s book Gangs of New York (which was the basis of the awesome movie of the same name starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio), there was a character named Gallus Mag that didn’t quite make it into the film adaptation.

As the legend goes, she was a six-foot-tall bouncer at The Hole in the Wall Bar in Lower Manhattan’s infamous Five Points District during the 19th Century. Her reputation was nuts - she was known to drag unruly brosefs out of the bar by the ear, and, if they gave her a hard time, she’d bite the ear off and toss it back to them as they writhed in the street.

Image via Comedy Central/IMDb

Hearing about this lady (get it?) made me think of all badass ladies in and around booze, so make sure you pour your mom a stiff drink, cheers your grandmama and prepare to go on a little journey into the saying “good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.” 

Shanghai-based hell-raiser Emily Hahn lived here from 1935-1941. She befriended the famous Soong Sisters (Ai-ling, Ching-ling and Mei-ling), memorably slapped the Japanese Chief Intelligence Officer of Hong Kong in the face, and became wildly addicted to opium (homegirl was down to party). 

READ MORE: Emily Hahn: The American Writer Who Shocked '30s Shanghai

This while writing for the New Yorker and hanging out with Shanghai old school hot shots like Sir Victor Sassoon (who is responsible for many of the Bund’s buildings) and Chinese poet Shao Xunmei. She was also an English teacher, natch. 

READ MORE: Sir Victor Sassoon: Shanghai's Playboy of the Eastern World

When Hahn passed away in 1997, her granddaughter Alfia Vecchio Wallace’s heartfelt eulogy went like this:

“Chances are, your grandmother didn’t smoke cigars and let you hold wild role-playing parties in her apartment. 

“Chances are that she didn’t teach you Swahili obscenities. 

“Chances are that when she took you to the zoo, she didn’t start whooping passionately at the top of her lungs as you passed the gibbon cage. 

“Sadly for you... your grandmother was not Emily Hahn.”

Then we have famous female bootlegger, Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe. American by birth, she was a legitimately licensed liquor wholesaler out of the Bahamas, which she used to her advantage when prohibition became law in the United States.

Miss Cleo started out by using other people’s ships to sell legal booze from the Bahamas to the illegal receiving areas of the US. Before long she started counting stacks and went all ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ on everything. 

‘The Queen of the Bahamas’ was so gangster that she gave interviews like an early 20th Century version of Cribs, with her lavish lifestyle making headlines all over the East Coast.

Of course, she had numerous male admirers, and told one English would-be beau, “I don’t need a man to tell me what to do.”

This strong independent proto-Beyonce was estimated to be worth more than USD1 million by the Wall Street Journal, and that was when one million dollars was one million dollars. You know she had that Rick Flair drip, too.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

I guess I’ve got a thing for bad girls, because the story of Bonnie Parker doesn’t get told enough. You probably know her as the pretty half of Bonnie and Clyde.

At her funeral, she was revered as a folk hero by the 20,000 people surrounding the casket, but don’t forget she helped rob, murder and spread the fear of Jeebus through five American states on a reign of terror that ended in whiskey, bullets, blood and 13 corpses.

Here’s the thing though, none of these incredibly sassy gals holds a candle to my great aunt Lilly, who was my grandfather’s sister. I met her for the first time when I was a grown man working as a concierge in San Francisco; she and my other great aunt Helen showed up dripping in Gucci, Chanel and other old lady things and proceeded to book a suite.

From there, they took me out on the town to a super high-end restaurant called Farallon, and we got Jay Gatsby faded.

They laid down the rule that we needed to finish a martini before we opened a menu – this was the Jing’an Ben Affleck at age 22 with my two 80-year-old great aunties going gorillas.

Next, we discussed the menu over a bottle of wine. When we finished the bottle, the main courses came. 

By dessert, I was ready for bed, but they wanted another martini. These women lived through prohibition, so I put up, shut up and downed that coupe crowned delight.

I think about them every now and then, because these are the women who shaped me into the wonderfully hard-drinking man I am today.  

Raise a Vesper martini to your favorite bad babe. Image by Cristina Ng/That's 

Let’s end this by lifting a shot of Fernet, a glass of rosé or a Vesper martini for all the moms, aunties, sisters, girlfriends and Swedish best friends out there who helped us men grow up and do the right thing.

If it weren’t for them, I’d still be having one martini lunches. 

See more of Logan's columns here.

[Cover image via Wikimedia Commons]

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