The Bar Tab

Every great drinker has one great original cocktail in them, just bubbling to get out

Rhode Island Russian

In a whiskey tumbler or a coffee mug:

     1 part cold milk/soy milk
     1 part vodka
     5 good squirts of Autocrat
          (available at
Every great drinker has one great original cocktail in them, just bubbling to get out. When I was in high school, I invented a drink made from Gummy Bears, brewed with Sprite through a coffee machine, chilled, and mixed with vodka. It was awful, and that is why the History of Booze will never remember me as anything more than a girly-drink dipshit.

My friend Taylor Flannagan, however, is a great drinker, a prince among winos. His Irish surname sings his greatness, but the giveaway is the way he walks through life, a coffee mug of whiskey always in hand, never spilling a drop, as if a nuclear accident gifted him with a hyper-sensitive vestibular system and perfect drunken equilibrium. Flannagan’s great original drink: the Rhode Island Russian.

The first Rhode Island Russian was mixed a little more than a month ago on a secret beach, where the grass runs down to lapping waters, on the Seattle side of Lake Washington. The three of us — Flannagan, our pal Peterson, and I — trekked across 20 blocks, through the poor neighborhood, then the rich, and finally felt our way through the dark of a moonlit woods to reach this part of the lake. Last time Peterson had been there, college girls were skinny-dipping.

This time the beach was empty, and as Peterson and I lit consolation cigarettes, Flannagan sat his mug aside for the first time all night. He knelt on the grass, unzipped his backpack, and laid out an entire minibar: Three more coffee mugs, a half-gallon carton of milk, a bottle of bargain vodka, and a tall squeezy bottle of a dark coffee syrup called Autocrat.

Flannagan’s syrup came in a care package from his family back in Rhode Island, where the official state beverage is a concoction called “coffee-milk,” just milk mixed with Autocrat. Made from real coffee grounds, the syrup is chock-full of caffeine and sugar, and has therefore, since the 1930s, been the perfect way to get New England children to drink their calcium.

“For me growing up, every day it was coffee-milk with grilled cheese,” Flannagan explained, handing each of us a mug. “It tastes more like coffee-flavored ice cream than coffee.”

As far as Flannagan knew, no one had ever mixed coffee-milk with vodka, but since Autocrat is pretty much Kahlua with caffeine instead of alcohol, it just made sense.

Flannagan forgot to bring spoons, so we stirred our drinks with our cigarette lighters.

Then, coffee mugs in hand, we watched the lights of the police boats patrolling the lake and longed for grilled-cheese sandwiches and naked girls.

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