Shawn's Reviews > Tales From Gavagan's Bar

Tales From Gavagan's Bar by L. Sprague de Camp
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's review
Mar 26, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: read-fantasy
Read from April 16 to 25, 2012

I first read these stories when I was about 10 or 11 years old, then loaned the book to someone and never saw it again. As I was passing the sci-fi section in a well-stocked used bookstore recently, I thought I'd take a chance and, there it was, another compilation of my youth.

Take 2 jiggers of Lord Dunsany's Mr. Jorkens club tales, add a snifter of the rare essence (in 1950) of what we now call "urban fantasy", grate some Damon Runyon to taste (alternatively, O. Henry can be substituted for a more surprising variant), add a small dusting of The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen;, charge with nitrous oxide and serve in a tall glass - chilled or neat, preferably in an old-style, big city, neighborhood saloon while listening to "Duffy's Tavern" on an old Philco radio. (If decanted and served in the United Kingdom, substitute essence of "pulp science fiction" for the urban fantasy (being careful to strain most of the the pulp), and grate a fine dusting of P.G. Wodehouse to taste to create a Tales From The White Hart). Also note, alternate mixes created later from this basic recipe include the Callahan's Crosstime Saloon and the Curious Quests of Brigadier Ffellowes.

Many of these stories stayed with me through the years. One even inspired a story idea of my own (sadly, yet unwritten - too much time spent in bars, I'd wager). These are charming, light-hearted, low-key tales of the "would you believe what happened to me?" sort, the British "club story" moved down-class to the neighborhood bar ("pub story", perhaps?). The bar setting serves as a wonderful frame - not just for natural raconteurs and plot timing involving comedic side comments, interruptions from the bartender and dramatic punctuations like a dropped glass - but also as a suitable bed for what is commonly called, nowadays, "flash fiction" - wonderful because it allows for some of the stories to end unresolved (although, conversely, this also means that a number of the tales are barely stories at all, just showcases of a cute idea, and so a few are rather weak). Although these stories were written in - and are set in - the 1950s (with a full compliment of businessmen, salesmen, academics and Cold War characters) - they actual feel of a slightly earlier period (1920s-1930s) and are in no way part of the "Rat Pack" culture gaining footholds in a few years. There are some similarities between Gavagan's Bar and Duffy's Tavern - the owners are never present and so the premises are run by the bartenders (Mr. Cohan and Archie, respectively)

I'm not going to go into detail (and thus possibly ruin the fun) on every story, just some teasers (including the main alcoholic libations consumed therein):

"Elephas Frumenti" - the square cube law limits the selective breeding of giants, but what happens if you turn it around and attempt to breed the perfect bar pet? (one of my favorite stories here - only a scientific justification for a rosetae coloring in the creature is neglected - and a bit of an oddity as it all happens in Gavagan's) - Presidente cocktail, 1/8th of a shot of whiskey.

"The Ancestral Amethyst" - a drinking contest between an unreasonably self-assured Dane and a reformed Irish pickpocket is undone by some magical (and human) cheating ("up Erin!"). (another oddity, again all happening at Gavagan's) - cherry brandy, schnapps, shots of Irish whiskey, a Manhattan, a shot of vodka - it was a drinking contest, after all!

"Here Putzi!" - the trails and tribulations of being married to one of the lesser tribes of were-creatures (features some wonderful interaction between Mrs. Vacarescu and Mrs. Jonas over the use of the term "bitch") - Tokay.

"More Than Skin Deep" - the secrets of snaring a husband can be found in a special treatment at a very special boutique. - Presidente cocktail, whiskey sour.

"Beasts of Bourbon" - Asian metaphysics, despondency and bender don't mix, as a man finds his DT figments manifesting in the real world (most witty title of any here!) - Yellow Rattler cocktail, Daiquiri, rye & soda.

"The Gift of God" - a composer of religious poetry for the radio finds her prayers being answered - without heed to the actual intent behind the wording. (a weak story) - double Martini.

"The Better Mousetrap" - A man borrows an unearthly pet to solve a vermin problem, then loses it. - Boilermaker and a long shot, double Zombie, Vin sable wine, Tom Collins.

"No Forwarding Address" - an impossibly old research librarian, who seems to possess personal knowledge of ancient history, gets in dutch for teaching a simple trick. - Martini, Sazerac cocktail.

"The Untimely Toper" - an unruly bar fly is cursed to an imaginative fate until he sobers up. - Martini, Tom Collins, scotch & soda, Lonacoming whiskey, bottle of bourbon, Prairie Oyster cocktail, deluxe Boilermaker.

"The Eve. of St. John" - you can only push a fairy curse of automatic bad luck so far before the backfires backfire on you! - Angel's Tit cocktail, rye & water.

"The Love Nest" - a young woman evidences an interesting mutation (pretty weak story) - scotch & soda, Boilermaker.

"The Stone of the Sages" - an item found in the Florida surf may be the stuff of legend (kinda weak) - rum & Coke, scotch & soda.

"Corpus Delectable" - a mans discovers his visage is an undertaker's advertising dream - Boilermaker, Martini, double scotch.

"The Palimpsest of St. Augustine" - an accidental discovery solves o historical, religious mystery - or perhaps not (weak story) - whiskey, Martini.

"Where To, Please?" - Two friends' disagreement over whether the past or the future is more palatable leads to a bet and accidental time travel (enjoyable story) - Martini, double brandy, Brandy Smash.

"Methought I Heard A Voice" - a popular religious orater may be too popular (weak story) - double Manhattan.

"One Man's Meat" - a spy mission in soviet Czechoslovakia runs afoul of Communist spies, but a mysterious old man and a sausage save the day. (another story that stayed with me - the final image is wonderfully absurd!) rye & soda, Slivovitz, Tom Collins.

"My Brother's Keeper" - Twin brothers, one pious and one less so, share a link - of the "Corsican" variety. (pretty weak story) double whiskey, Manhattan, Boilermaker.

"A Dime Brings You Success" - a mail-order course imbues strength of personality but also bad luck (another pretty weak story). Boilermaker, whiskey sour, rye & soda.

"Oh, Say! Can You See" - a man falls for a mysterious girl who seems to live on the roof of an office building (another favorite of mine from years ago) - Boilermaker, dry Martini, double Stinger, Hennessey.

"The Rape of the Lock" - A man is given a good luck charm that will open any door, but it leads to unforeseeable problems (excellent story with a truly marvelous, unresolved ending) - rye & water, Martini, Rob Roy.

"Bell, Book & Candle" - the minutia of religious ritual cocks up the attempted exorcism of a poltergeist (again, a pretty weak story). scotch, Manhattan, Stinger cocktail.

"All That Glitters" - the bar's ancient spittoon hides a secret of Leprechaun gold and local politics (enjoyable, very "Oirish" story) - Irish whiskey (of course!).

"Gin Comes In Bottles" - a cocktail party gets lively after a misunderstood request unleashes an atypical "spirit". - Appetizer #3 (very dry whiskey cocktail), Boilermaker, double scotch, Martini, Gin, dry-ice Martini.

"There'd Be Thousands In It" - the invention of an automatic "dressing machine" causes unforeseen problems (a weak bit of slapstick, really, and no fantastic element) - Boilermaker, neat vodka.

"The Black Ball" - a fully functioning crystal ball unbalances the local criminal numbers racket, leading a lawyer to intervene. - Rob Roy.

"The Green Thumb" - an aboriginal magic gift "curses" a tomboyish woman to be unable to cook a non-fancy meal. - rum & Coke, Alexander cocktail, Angel's Kiss cocktail.

"Caveat Emptor" - some trickery involving sub-leasing of souls in a classic deal with the Devil. - Martini, Boilermaker.

"The Weissenbroch Spectacles" - glasses made from Kobald Quartz (that function like X-Ray Specs) assist a man with a specific, if common, fetish. - Boilermaker, (Hollands) gin & bitters, Stinger cocktail.

Perfectly charming stories - glad I checked in with them!

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Quotes Shawn Liked

Fletcher Pratt
“The more people that meet each other, the better it is for all of them. ("The Gift Of God").”
Fletcher Pratt, Tales From Gavagan's Bar

Fletcher Pratt
“A fine young man and a fine young felly he always was, except that in the old days, before you began coming in here, Mr. Witherwax, he maybe had too much money and spent too much of it on girls. Take them alone, either one; the money without the women, or a good girl without the money that can be a help to a young felly, and he's fixed for life. But put them together; and often as not, the young felly goes on the booze. ("The Better Mousetrap")”
Fletcher Pratt, Tales From Gavagan's Bar

Fletcher Pratt
“Need 'nether whiskey. Whiskey chaser. Gotta get two men drunk.'

Mr. Cohan placed both hands on the bar. 'Mr. Walsh,' he said severely, 'in Gavagan's we will serve a man a drink to wet his whistle, or even because his old woman has pasted him with a dornick, but a drink to get drunk with I do not sell. Now I'm telling you you've had enough for tonight, and in the morning you'll be thanking me...' ("My Brother's Keeper")”
Fletcher Pratt, Tales From Gavagan's Bar

Fletcher Pratt
“That's just like the manual says,' said Witherwax. "If we want to have international brotherhood, we gotta get a language that everybody understands all the time.'

'You mean with no homonyms?' said Doc Brenner.

Mr. Gross belched again, and held up two fingers to indicate another Boilermaker. 'Are you saying that the language a fella speaks can make a fairy of him?' ("Gin Comes In Bottles")”
Fletcher Pratt, Tales From Gavagan's Bar

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