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A Book Only San Francisco History Dorks Should Read

I also just finished Wings of Cherubs, a book that uncovers the history of Pisco Punch, a San Francisco cocktail famous at the turn of the last century. I’d stumbled across Pisco Punch in an article from an old California Historical Quarterly titled “The Secrets of Pisco Punch Revealed” (reprinted here). I then traveled to Chile and Peru and had many Pisco Sours, and have been smitten with the history of the concoction.

Wings is the strangest book I’ve read in a long time. The author has done some amazing research on the history of pisco and Pisco Punch in San Francisco, and a little bit about early bar scenes. Instead of presenting this in a straightforward fashion, he adopts the mode of a quasi-historical novel. I say “quasi” because he uses tales of his present-day research (poring through archives in the San Francisco Public Library, visiting the sites where the history happened) as mechanisms for transporting him to the past, meeting the various personages important to the story. Also, it’s clear that English is not the author’s first language, and that no copy editor was employed — sentences run on, the structure is clunky, and at times you’re unclear of what, exactly, is happening.

All that said, I eagerly recommend this book to SF history nerds. The poor diction is more than made up for by the passion, enthusiasm, and vigor with with the story is told, so the reader is swept along by the historical discoveries. It’s also one of the few histories of this period of SF that neglects the earthquake, which is fine by me. I also appreciated the insight into San Francisco’s early connections with Peru, which was an important port on the trip around South America to and from SF.

It’s a shame no bars in San Francisco make Pisco Punch any longer. A true San Francisco original, it speaks fundamentally to the development of the city in the world.