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How it's Done at the Astor House by Jonathan F. Kelley


People often wonder how a man can manage to drink up his salary in liquor, provided it is sufficient to buy a gallon of the very best ardent every day in the year. How a fortune can be drank up, or drank down, by the possessor, is still a greater poser to the unsophisticated. Now, to be sure, a man who confines himself, in his potations, to fourpenny drinks of small beer, Columbian whiskey, or even that detestable stuff, by courtesy or custom called French brandy,—which, in fact, is generally aquafortis, corrosive sublimate, cochineal, logwood, and whiskey,—and don't happen to know too many drouthy cronies, may make a very long lane of it; but it's the easiest thing in the world to swallow a snug salary, income, mortgages, live stock, and real estate, when you know how it's done.

Managing a theatre, publishing a newspaper, or keeping trained dogs or trotting horses, don't hardly begin to phlebotomize purse and reputation, like drinking.

“Doctor,” said a gay Southern blood, to a famed “tooth doctor,” “look into my mouth.”

“I can't see any thing there, sir,” says the tooth puller.

“Can't? Well, that's deuced strange. Why, sir, look again; you see nothing!”

“Nothing, sir!”

“Why, sir,” says the young planter, “it's most astonishing, for I've just finished swallowing—three hundred negroes and two cotton plantations!

Four young bucks met, some years ago, in a fashionable drinking saloon in Cincinnati. It was one of the most elegant drinking establishments in that part of the country. The young chaps belonged over in Kentucky—daddies rich, and they didn't care a snap! says they, let's have a spree! The “sham” came in, and they went at it; giving that a fair trial, they took a turn at sherry, hock, and a sample of all the most expensive stuffs the proprietors had on hand. Getting fuddled, they got uproarious; they kicked over the tables and knocked down the waiters. The landlord, not exactly appreciating that sort of “going on,” remonstrated, and was met by an array of pistols and knives. Mad and furious, the young chaps made a general onslaught on the people present, who “dug out” very quick, leaving the bacchanalians to their glory; whereupon, they fell to and fired their pistols into the mirrors, paintings, chandeliers, &c. Of course the watchmen came in, about the time the young gentlemen finished their youthful indiscretions, and after the usual battering and banging of the now almost inanimate bodies of the quartette, landed them in the calaboose. Next day they settled their bills, and it cost them about $2200! It was rather an expensive lesson, but it's altogether probable that they haven't forgotten a letter of it yet.

A small party of country merchants, traders, &c., were cruising around New York, one evening, seeing the lions, and their cicerone,—by the way, a “native” who knew what was what,—took them up Broadway, and as they passed the Astor House, says one of the strangers:

“Smith, what's this thunderin' big house?”

“O, ah, yes, this,” says the cicerone, Smith, “this, boys, is a great tavern, fine place to get a drink.”

“Well, be hooky, let's all go in.”

In they all went; taking a private room or small side parlor, the country gents requested Smith to do the talking and order in the liquor. Smith called for a bill of fare, upon which are “invoiced” more “sorts” and harder named wines and liquors than could be committed to memory in a week.

“That's it,” says Smith, marking a bill of fare, and handing it to the servant, “that's it—two bottles, bring 'em up.”

Up came the wine; it was, of course, elegant. The country gents froze to it. They had never tasted such stuff before, in all their born days!

“Look a here, mister,” says one of the “business men,” “got eny more uv that wine?”

“O, yes, sir!” says the servant.

“Well, fetch it in.”

“Two bottles, sir?”

“Two ganders! No, bring in six bottles!—I can go two on 'em myself,” says the country gent.

The servant delivered his message at the bar, and after a few grimaces and whispering, the servant and one of the bar-keepers, or clerks, carried up the wine. Says the clerk, whispering to Smith, whom he slightly knew:

“Smith, do you know the price of this wine?”

“Certainly I do,” says Smith; “here it's invoiced on the catalogue, ain't it?”

“O, very well,” says the clerk, about to withdraw.

“Hold on!” says one of the merry country gents, “don't snake your handsome countenance off so quick; do yer want us to fork rite up fur these drinks?” hauling out his wallet.

“No, yer don't,” says another, hauling out his change.

“My treat, if you please, boys,” says the third, pulling out a handful of small change. “I asked the party in, an' I pay for what licker we drink—be thunder!”

In the midst of their enthusiasm, the clerk observed it was of no importance just then—the bill would be presented when they got through. This was satisfactory, and the party went on finishing their wine, smoking, &c.

“S'pose we have some rale sham-paigne, boys?” says one of the gents, beginning to feel his oats, some!

“Agreed!” says the rest. Two bottles of the best “sham” in “the tavern” were called for, and which the party drank with great gusto.

“Now,” says one of them, “let's go to the the-ater, or some other place where there's a show goin' on. Here, you, mister,”—to the servant,—“go fetch in the landlord.”

“The landlord, sur?” says Pat, the servant, in some doubts as to the meaning of the phrase.

“Ay, landlord—or that chap that was in here just now; tell him to fetch in the bill. Ah, here you are, old feller; well, what's the damages?” asks the gent, so ambitious of putting the party through, and hauling out a handful of keys, silver and coppers, to do it with.

“Eight bottles of that old flim-flam-di-rip-rap,” pronouncing one of those fancy gamboge titles found upon an Astor House catalogue, “ ninety-six dollars—”

“What?” gasped the country gent, gathering up his small change, that he had began to sort out on the table.

“And two bottles of 'Shreider,' and cigars—seven dollars,” coolly continued the bar-clerk; “one hundred and three dollars.”

A hundred and three thunder—”

“A HUNDRED AND THREE DOLLARS!” cried the country gents, in one breath, all starting to their feet, and putting on their hats.

The clerk explained it, clear as mud; the trio “spudged up” the amount, looked very sober, and walked out.

“Come, boys,” said Smith, “let's go to the theatre.”

“Guess not,” says “the boys.” “B'lieve we'll go home for to-night, Mr. Smith.” And they made for their lodgings.

If those country gents were asked, when they got home, any particulars about the “elephant,” they'd probably hint something about getting a glimpse of him at the Astor House.


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