New York Times: Raising Glasses to Celebrate the Toast
Originally posted in the The New York Times on April 25th, 2012
Written by: Robert Simonson
Oscar Eustis was among the speakers Tuesday night at Brasserie Pushkin, the new Russian restaurant on West 57th Street, for a dinner celebrating the art of the toast. He didn’t know the toast he would be giving; it would be handed to him some time before the spotlight hit. But he wasn’t nervous. He’d had some practice at this sort of thing.
More Lapham's Quarterly event photos by: Lucas Stoffel
“I was toastmaster general of Rhode Island for many years,” said Mr. Eustis, who was artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I., for 11 years before taking the same post at the Public Theater. It was an unofficial, unpaid title given to him by the mayor of Providence. Was he ever actually called upon to make toasts? “Constantly,” he said. “In a state that small, if you’re a public figure, you are drawn upon incessantly. I have spoken to every Rotary Club in the state of Rhode Island.”
Mr. Eustis ended up delivering a handful of words from Lord Byron: “Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter/ Sermons and soda-water for the morning after.”
The event was thrown by Lapham’s Quarterly, the literary journal founded, edited and published by Lewis Lapham. “It’s a fun thing to do, an expression of good will,” said Mr. Lapham, who was for many years the editor of Harper’s Magazine. “It’s not a fund-raiser or political event. It’s an expression of fondness for friends of the Quarterly. Four or five times a year, we do something for them.” As you might expect from a man whose family line can be traced back to the Jefferson administration, Mr. Lapham has known his share of skilled toastmasters. “George Plimpton did it beautifully. Calvin Trillin does it very well.”
Kira Brunner Don, executive editor of the Quarterly, said the choice of venue was appropriate, because Russians like to toast. “I lived for many years in eastern Russia and I’d say there’s definitely an art to toasting there,” Ms. Don said. “Everyone, at some point in the dinner, toasts. That’s my favorite thing about good drinking and good Russian meals.”
To wash down the fine words, the guests — who included the film producer Jean Doumanian and Jackie Drexel, an Astor family descendant whose grandmother survived the sinking of the Titanic — were given a choice: an Argentinian Malbec, an Italian Pinot Grigio, prosecco and two house vodkas, one infused with cranberries, the other with horseradish.
Many of the toastmaking duties were taken up by the Quarterly staff. Most recitations were brief, a few lines or so. Ms. Don recited a rhyming couplet by Thackeray. Hugh Malone, the journal’s associate publisher, relayed a William Jennings Bryan toast originally aimed at a Japanese admiral. Since Bryan was a teetotaler, the statesman chased the salute with water, reasoning that the admiral had won more victories on water than on Champagne. Timothy Don, the Quarterly’s art director, uttered a glass-raiser by the brasserie’s namesake, Pushkin, which ended with the hope that “wine will make us less uncouth.”
Things got even more Russian with the turn of the Quarterly’s associate editor, Aidan Flax-Clark. His toast was in the mother tongue. “It’s rather rude in Russian,” he explained. “I’m going to translate it more gently.”
The general gist: Here’s to us; to heck with them.