Kublai Khan 

Upstairs Lounge, 3131 South Grand Boulevard, 314-773-3388

At the Upstairs Lounge on South Grand, they make this drink called the Kublai Khan, a fact that sets the mind reeling in many directions simultaneously. Reeling because it's named after a Mongol emperor, grandson of Genghis; reeling because this Mongol emperor is also the subject of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's opium-hazed masterpiece "Kubla Khan." Reeling because this drink has soy milk in it and still it tastes fantastic. Reeling because history makes for some funny bedfellows and can result in some very odd cultural collisions.

So what you have is the following image: a Romantic-era farmer, wheat stem poking out of the corner of his chapped lips, face ravaged by wind and mediocre cleansing cream, trousers reeking of pig shit, sitting on his porch, examining the glorious bounty of his first soybean harvest, feeling proud, reading contemporary poetry written by a dopehead, drinking some ferment. Little does he know the future of his magic bean. Fast-forward 200 years: Dancers at a south-city club imbibe a drink, the Kublai Khan (variant spelling), consisting of a soy byproduct, named after an emperor, recalling an opium-drenched literary masterpiece.

Behold the soybean! With it, modern man has created amazing new concoctions like Tofurky, veggie burgers, soy creamer, soy cheese, Vegenaise (one of the greatest creations known to man, by the way), soy overalls. And now, this little pearl has created a vegan White Russian. (A classic White Russian uses half and half, or straight cream, rather than soy milk.)

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree," writes Coleridge, who then proceeds to describe in glorious imagery this pleasure dome: gardens bright with sinuous rills; incense-bearing trees; forests ancient as the hills, sunny spots of greenery. He moves on to a vision of Hell -- "a savage place!" -- with a woman wailing for her demon lover, ceaseless turmoil, fountains of molten lava, earth "in fast thick pants" (that must be the opium talking, because we've yet to fully decipher it), before returning to a hot young damsel, she with the dulcimer banging out the hits of the day, playing for an audience much like the young dudes and damsels at the Upstairs, all fertile and girdled and sinewy, dancing while drinking nectars so deliciously decadent.

Behold the ladies, and the soybean, and the emperors, and the opiates, and the joy. Rejoice! The music loud and long! The DJ's flashing eyes, his floating hair! "Weave a circle round him thrice/And close your eyes with holy dread/For he on honey-dew hath fed/And drunk the milk of Paradise."

Who's got the opium?

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