The Suffering Bastard is a curious name for a drink that I’ve seen on numerous menus in Tiki bars and Chinese restaurants. Aside from the humorous moniker, I never really gave this drink much thought. But like many popular cocktails, there’s a story behind this concoction, which belongs to a man named Joe Scialom, who was perhaps one of the world’s most famous bartenders.
The Museum of the American Cocktail and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the author of five books on vintage Tiki drinks and cuisine, recently hosted a lecture, “The Suffering Bastard: Joe Scialom, International Barman of Mystery,” at the Occidental Grill.
Berry’s research began after reading Scialom’s obituary in the New York Times, in 2004. He tracked down Scialom’s daughter Collette and recorded his fascinating story.
Scialom, who was educated as a pharmacist, was born in Egypt in 1910. While working as a chemist for Lever Brothers in the Sudan, he began applying chemistry principals to mixing drinks to entertain his colleagues. Here he found his calling and set out to become a bartender. His career began at the opulent Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo, which was one of the most celebrated hotels in the world. Shepheard’s welcomed royalty, heads of state, and famous celebrities. Scialom, who spoke eight languages, dazzled the elite guests from near and far. He counted Winston Churchill, Charlton Heston, Charles de Gaulle, Conrad Hilton, and Egyptian King Farouk among his many guests.
During World War II, the hotel served as an unofficial officer’s club for the British and became an informal press club for war correspondents. When there was little news from the war, the media
wrote about Scialom’s amusing antics.
Due to wartime supply shortages, drinks were being mixed with poor quality alcohol, and guests began complaining of headaches. In response, Scialom created the “Suffering Bastard” as a hangover cure. According to Berry, the original recipe for the Suffering Bastard consisted of “Black market gin from South Africa, stolen British army-issue brandy, a homemade lime cordial, bitters brewed by a druggist across the street, and ginger ale from a Greek merchant of dubious character.”
The hotel bar, which was now referred to as “Joe’s Bar,” even featured a chart prescribing the number of Suffering Bastards needed to relieve a hangover based on its severity.
Another amusing anecdote that Berry shared involved Scialom making gallons of the Suffering
Bastard for a hungover British army that fought the battle at El Alamein. When the British won, the ever-present foreign correspondents reported Scialom’s hand in the victory.
Following these reports, the Suffering Bastard became internationally known. Trader Vic’s was the first to copy it. Then it began showing up at Tiki bars everywhere, even though the recipe was nowhere near Scialom’s original. According to Berry, Trader Vic’s version was very similar to a Mai Tai. Scialom was the consummate host at Shepheard’s.
When the hotel was destroyed, during the course of the civil unrest of the Egyptian revolution of 1952, Scialom continued to serve drinks and was one of the last to leave.
But Scialom’s popularity did not go unnoticed by the Egyptian authorities. They were suspicious
because he mingled consistently with so many important people. He was imprisoned as a spy and then later expelled from Egypt by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. While Scialom’s illustrious
bartending career continued in Puerto Rico, Havana, and New York, it was his time at Sheapherd’s Hotel that cemented his place in cocktail history.
The Suffering Baststard
Courtesy of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry
1 ounce gin
1 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce Rose’s lime juice cordial
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Add gin, brandy, Rose’s, and bitters to an ice-filled glass. Fill with ginger beer. Stir. Garnish with orange slice and mint sprig.
Ingredients to make the Suffering Bastard may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown. Scialom’s story will be published in Berry’s upcoming book, “Potions of the Caribbean: Lost Cocktails from America’s Playground”. For information visit www.BeachBumberry.com or www.MuseumOfTheAmericancocktail.com.