The best-selling biography The Hemingway Women looks at the swaggering, brutish man's man through the eyes of the fairer sex. His legend looms large: war correspondent, hunter, fisher, adventurer to exotic places, and author of a body of work that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of American literature. Ernest Hemingway the actual person, revealed through his difficult relationship with this mother, his wives and lovers, seems small by comparison: philanderer, homophobe, misogynist and drunk (depending on who you ask).
However flawed he may have been, the man had good taste. Two of his four wives were St. Louis natives. Problem is, when it came to women and booze, our boy could never have just one. Their allure is not so different. Like a good woman, a good drink is strong, complex and intoxicating. But both impair a man's judgment.
At Ernesto's (yep, named after that Ernest) you won't find the daiquiris and mojitos he famously drank while living in Cuba, but you will find an ultra-femme take on a cocktail that usually belongs to the old boys' club. The fig-hattan is the Jessica Rabbit of manhattans. Made with fig-, clove- and cinnamon-infused bourbon, sweet vermouth and orange bitters, it is sweeter, spicier and sultrier than the old standby.
A classic manhattan is tobacco brown, brown as an old leather chair, brown as the worn wooden bars in the establishments where they never went out of style. The fig-hattan is deep plum, served up, with an orange wedge resting on the lip of its cocktail glass. As the first sip saunters over your tongue, it's clear: This drink could get you in trouble.
Don't think of figs as sexy? Fig leaves may be a symbol of modesty going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, but the fruits of the fig tree are unabashed. Whole, the dangling globes look, well, masculine. Split one open, and the pulpy, pink flesh seems decidedly feminine. The texture is soft, yielding. Is anyone else feeling flush?
Fig fossils have been discovered that date to 9400-9200 B.C., suggesting they were one of the first plants to be cultivated by man. In traditional medicine they are considered to have aphrodisiac properties. Eating this fruit stokes a flame more ancient than fire itself. Infusing it in inhibition-relieving alcohol makes for some potent sauce.
Ernesto's Wine Bar (2730 McNair Avenue; 314-664-4511) is hardly a den of iniquity. It's a small, welcoming Benton Park neighborhood café and wine bar. Wine flights give you the opportunity to educate your palate. A Sunday brunch gets your day off to a smooth start with Grand Marnier-spiked coffee topped with cinnamon whipped cream and candied ginger. The truffle grilled cheese may be a bit sinful, but that's about it.
Then again, Papa Hemingway himself once said, "All things truly wicked start from innocence." Even the most beguiling seductress was once a little girl. It takes a few years to figure out how to pout those lips, how to swing those hips. We can't all pull off satin gloves and stiletto heels, but even the most demure among us eventually learns to bat her eyelashes just so.
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