But above all, we owe the Mayans for one human innovation that soars above all others: chocolate. Without the Mayans we'd all be drinking strawberry Quik, Twix bars would suck, and Milton S. Hershey would have died penniless and alone.
Bless the Mayan woman who, 1,500-odd years ago, ventured deep into the rainforest, basket in hand, searching for a change of pace. Corn on the cob. Corn tortillas. Corn fritters. Cornmeal. Creamed corn. Cornbread. "Jeezy-creezy," she must have thought, "if I have to cook one more dang corncake, I'm gonna slit my wrists."
And lo, there near the waterfalls was Theobroma cacao, a tree with sunset-orange pods that just screamed dessert! She had a notion and filled her basket with the magic pods, then made a beeline for the kitchen and started grinding the seeds.
Soon enough the first cup of Swiss Miss was born, which the Spanish conquistadors swiped and presented to the king back home, who rejoiced as he drank it up. Then he retired to his sleeping chambers, where he advanced the cause of chocolate a step further by pouring it all over his lover and licking him clean.
Then the French got ahold of it, and a miracle was born. Which brings us to Lafayette Square, St. Louis, where chocolate is king and where Bailey's Chocolate Bar has assumed the space once occupied by Blake Brokaw's Chocolate Bar.
Dave Bailey's version is very, very different. Bailey, who cut his teeth at Sasha's Wine Bar and Market in the DeMun neighborhood, has a liquor license and knows how to use it. He offers fifteen different chocolate martinis, ranging from White to Sexual to Nutty to Fuzzy to Mexican to Very Dark. He also has a solid wine list, an incredible beer list and, joy of joys, both Lindemans Framboise and Peche on tap. Yowza, life is good.
The only thing that's remained of the former establishment is the rolling hardwood shelves. Bailey's built a massive bar, gussied up the front and back rooms with deep reds and browns, added light food and an impressive cheese list, and gone hog-wild with the dessert menu.
The Chocolate Bar's signature martini is smooth and velvety. Bailey makes it with 72 percent pure chocolate, whole milk, Cointreau and handcrafted chocolate vodka from Goldenbarr, a Ukranian concern that distills natural cocoa directly into the vodka rather than simply flavoring it after the fact. The result is one beast of a chocolate concoction, pleasurable on so many levels -- as a drug, as a dessert, as a sexual side dish and as a reminder that all great and eternal things rise from a tiny little seed of an idea that sprouts in the spirit of one ephemeral human.