The Geechee is "kind of like a bourbon-based white Russian," explains Proof's Craig Nelson.
Nelson is mixing the drink for chef BJ Dennis' pop-up supper at the bar this Sunday. The cocktail of bourbon, coffee liqueur, sugar and cream will accompany dishes, including butterbean-and-tomato salad and turkey wing peanut stew.
"The original calls for whipped cream, but we'll probably use some egg white for the frothiness," says Nelson, who was entrusted with the recipe by its originator's son.
Whipped cream and coffee liqueur, unlike butterbeans and peanuts, aren't considered standard Gullah-Geechee ingredients. But the drink recalls Charleston's more recent past, since it was created by Eddie Matthews, who served as the Mills Hyatt House's bartender for 16 years. Matthews, who died in 1988, was also head bartender at the Francis Marion Hotel's Swamp Fox Room.
On the occasion of Matthews' passing, Edwin Pearlstine Jr. of Pearlstine Distributors sent a letter to The News and Courier.
"Eddie was a gentleman and a true friend to all of those who availed themselves of his hospitality," he wrote. "Eddie was one of those people who truly made Charleston a better place to live."
The Mills Hyatt House, which was designed as a reproduction of the 1853 hotel named for Charleston businessman Otis Mills, opened in 1970. The original grand hotel was sold numerous times; it was known as the St. John Hotel when it shed the last remnants of its antebellum elegance. (In 1942, the hotel advertised for a dishwasher: "Experienced," the classified ad insisted. "No drunks need apply.")
Although investors initially planned to renovate the hotel, it was in such poor condition that they were forced to demolish it. The new Mills Hyatt Hotel featured a chandelier from Nashville, Tenn.'s Belle Meade Plantation, furniture chosen by the man who decorated the White House for the Kennedys, and The Best Friend Bar, headed up by Matthews.
Whether The Geechee was on the bar's opening menu is uncertain, but the recipe is very much in keeping with the period's drink trends: Sweet, dessert-style drinks that combined booze with ice cream shop flavors were supremely fashionable in the 1970s.
At some point, Matthews entered The Geechee in a national contest sponsored by Old Crow Light Whiskey, a bourbon devised to satisfy baby boomers' thirst for light-bodied spirits. His recipe won second place.
Matthews' Mills Hyatt House colleague, John Williams, submitted a drink that was perhaps even more stylish than The Geechee. Williams' Old Crow Light cocktail incorporated curacao, white creme de cacao and Galliano, the Italian liqueur that the Harvey Wallbanger made famous. During the decade that cocktail writer Robert Simonson has referred to as the "Death Valley of cocktail eras," Galliano was the nation's top-selling liqueur.
Alas, the New York judges weren't impressed. "The 'Barbadian Booster' is a local favorite, although it didn't gain national recognition," a Hyatt newsletter reported.
The 7 p.m. dinner at Proof costs $40, including cocktails (Nelson vows none of them will feature Old Crow Light). For more information, call 793-1422 or stop by the bar at 437 King St.
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