Lingering Thoughts on Lincoln: Does History Ever Matter When You’re Hungry?
"You think anyone in there is thinking about history?" Civil War scholar Harold Holzer asked me recently as we exited downtown's crowded Lincoln restaurant after an evening of eating, drinking and critiquing the venue's historical bona fides for this week's Young & Hungry column. I later mentioned that parting comment to the restaurant's proprietor, Alan Popovsky, for his take. "Does anyone really think about history when they go out to dinner?" he replies. "I don't think so."
A self-described Civil War buff, Popovsky says he conducted his own historical research prior to opening the place. Despite selling cocktails named "Lincoln Sour" and "Honest Abe's Moonshine," he concedes that Lincoln wasn't much of a drinker. Popovsky describes the moonshine moniker, for one, as more of a fun, tongue-in-cheek sort of title. "Drinking is not so honest, or for a while it wasn't, so the antithesis is 'Honest Abe's Moonshine' as opposed to just moonshine," he laughs. "It's just a name."
However, Popovsky takes exception to the notion that the nation's 16th president was a complete teetotaler. "He did like to drink champagne," Popovsky asserts, "so we made sure we had a champagne cocktail." Hence, the "Lady Lincoln," a blend of Hendrick's gin, St. Germain, and prosecco with a sprig of lavender. "Now, he didn't drink it every night," the restaurateur says, "but according to historians, there were several occasions a year when that's what he would drink." (Holzer, the Lincoln scholar, disputes this: "In his dreams.")
Lincoln is, of course, a restaurant. Not a museum. Still, Popovsky maintains that some diners might nonetheless come away with something resembling a learning experience in addition to their meal.
"At least it gives people the idea to think about history when you go in there," he says. "The quotes on the wall going down the hallway, those are all part of trying to engage the customer into thinking, 'Hey, maybe I'll go back and Google this president and see what he was all about.'"
Photo by Darrow Montgomery