Cocktail of the Month: Searching for Livingstone

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“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

On Nov. 10, 1871, journalist and explorer H. M. Stanley muttered these words to David Livingstone in a small town on Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, giving rise to this still-popular quotation.

The quote has dubious connotations, as it describes Stanley’s words upon completing a long and treacherous journey in search of Livingstone, one of the most popular explorers of the 19th century. When he spotted the only white man, the legendary question was posed

Livingstone, who had a near-mythical status in Victorian England, was on the forefront of a period of geographical discovery that led to the colonization of Africa.

Throughout Africa today, monuments of Livingstone abound. His name is attached to many places, including the city of Livingstone, Zambia, where he became the first European to visit Victoria Falls. Even a cocktail bears the name of the British hero.

I stumbled upon this by accident. As a cocktail nerd, whenever I travel to a new place, I Google the city name along with ‘cocktails,’ in an attempt to find the top local watering holes.

When I Googled ‘Livingstone’ and ‘cocktail,’ I didn’t find any lounge recommendations, but I found a number of sites with recipes for the Livingstone cocktail. My interest was piqued. I wanted to try this new cocktail, but the websites seemed to disagree on its ingredients.

The ingredients were sometimes listed as Mount Gay rum, orange juice and tonic. To me, a drink made with Barbados rum did not seem fitting for an African pioneer.

Another site had a photo of a drink looking much like a 20th-century cosmopolitan made with pomegranate syrup. I didn’t picture Livingstone hanging with the “Sex and the City” gals.

The recipe that came up the most was a drink similar to a classic martini, made with gin, vermouth and sugar syrup. This timeless combination was something I could imagine as a colonial drink.

I decided to take the search into my own hands when I landed in Livingstone last September. However, I quickly found that the hunt for the Livingstone cocktail in Livingstone was almost as challenging as Livingstone’s search for the source of the Nile.

I started with the bar at my hotel, Fawlty Towers, named after the John Cleese Britcom. Since my expectations were formed by the antics of Basil Fawlty and Manuel, I wasn’t too surprised when the staff hadn’t heard of the drink. They recommended some nearby places.

My first stop was Zambezi, a happening African joint. No luck. I headed to a long stretch of nightspots. I dutifully tried them all: cafés, outdoor bars, a seafood restaurant and even an Italian restaurant. Dr. Livingstone’s cocktail was nowhere to be found.

Finally, I upped the ante and headed to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, the ritziest place in town. I assumed they must serve the cocktail that bears the name of their hotel.

The Royal Livingstone exudes colonial elegance with its stylish design, graceful lobby and well-designed lounging areas. The expansive grounds around the hotel are home to a number of safari animals. I caught glimpses of zebras and giraffes on my taxi ride there.

Since it was early in the day, the refined bar was empty. I was handed a thick menu of drinks. Surely Dr. Livingstone would make an appearance soon. But once again he was absent. I quizzed the bartender, who brought me his supervisor. I was told that at one time they had a cocktail called the Livingstone, but they no longer served it. I asked him if I could order it. He eyed me suspiciously and said he would have to check.

He returned with a recipe for the elusive elixir and began to whip it up. Its ingredients were puzzling to me: mint muddled with a double of Jameson, apple juice topped off with soda water. A drink named after a British national hero forged from an Irish whiskey?

The drink was surprisingly interesting. The mint complimented the vanilla undertones of the Jameson, while the apple juice provided a hint of sweetness.

However, it seemed a bit heavy to be drinking after a warm day on safari, so I decided to compare it with the gin version I found online.

For the next round, I requested the bartender to mix a recipe I took off the internet. This drink was light and refreshing, and the London gin gave it a bit of regal twang. Here was a cocktail that could inspire new adventures.

After downing my drink, I found myself doing just that, hopping a boat from the hotel’s marina to visit the top of Victoria Falls and take a swim to the very edge in the Devil’s Pool.

Thank you, Dr. Livingstone, for the liquid courage!

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