[Re-print of the original article published on December 11, 2009]
Guillermo L. Toro-Lira
The objective of this article is to clarify certain aspects of the history of the Pisco Sour and its creator that are wrongly circulating in the internet, as well as in the written press and other publications, using the recently found visitors register of the Morris’ Bar of Lima as the primary historical source. The register was located by Michael “Mike” Morris, Victor Morris’ grandson.
1. Birthplace of Victor Morris
Some sources indicate that Victor Morris was a Californian born in the city of Berkeley, close to San Francisco. In reality Morris was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and was a member of one of most prominent families of that city, at one time being one of his brothers the mayor of the city.
In 1903 Morris leaves Salt Lake City to travel to Peru to work as a cashier in the Cerro de Pasco Railway Company. Perhaps the confusion of his birthplace was because one of his sisters moves to California in 1907 and after marrying resides in Berkeley, city that Morris visits three times in 1923, 1924 and in 1925. In his trip of 1923, Morris also visits his relatives in Salt Lake City after twenty years of absence, event that was published in a local newspaper with the heading “Former Utahn In So. America Back for Visit.”
Finally, Morris clearly writes “Salt Lake City, Utah” as his home address in the visitor register, an evidence that is irrefutable.
2. Period of existence of the Morris’ Bar
The register indicates that the Morris’ Bar was inaugurated on the 1st of April of 1916, being its godfather the New Yorker Daniel C. Babbitt, a friend of Victor Morris since 1903. The last register entry is signed in February of 1929. Morris passes away on June 11 of the same year and, according to his obituary, the bar closes some months before when he enters into voluntary bankruptcy.
It is also known that in December of the same year Maria Vargas, Morris’ wife, leaves Lima with her three children to San Francisco, California, after trying to collect some debts owed to Victor without any success.
Given the above evidences, it is concluded that the bar of Victor Morris opened it doors in 1916 and closed them in 1929 after a period of 13 years of operation, and not from 1915 to 1933 as some sources wrongly indicate.
3. Morris’ Bar bartenders
There is an erroneous notion that the bartenders of the Morris’ Bar were Alfonso Bregoye, Graciano Cabrera and Alberto Mezarina and that after the bar’s closing, they went to work to the Maury Hotel where they made the Pisco Sour famous. This issue can be unequivocally clarified because Morris made all his employees sign the bar’s registry. These are, with the date of employment in parenthesis:
Leonidas Arteta (1916),
Augusto S. Rodriguez (1916),
Hernán B. Bruijet (1919),
Víctor H. Conde (1920),
Alfonso G. Matos (1921),
Rafael S. Vargas (1922),
Mario Bruijet (1924)
Juan de Dios Mejía (1927).
The first two names agree with the memoirs of Luis Alberto Sanchez, who in his “Testimonio personal – Memorias de un peruano del siglo XX” published in 1969, indicates that the bartenders Augusto Rodriguez y Leonidas Cisneros Arteta were the ones that went to work to other bars after the closing of the Morris’ Bar. Sanchez also mentions that a bartender named Mario starts working at the Hotel Maury, where he prepares Pisco Sour. This Mario could well be the Mario Bruijet shown in the registry.
The information contained in the registry, as well as in Sanchez’ testimony, leads to the conclusion that neither Bregoye, nor Cabrera or Mezarina were bartenders at Victor Morris’s bar.
4. The Morris’ Bar and its clientele
Some sources have inferred that the Morris’ Bar was a simple saloon and relatively low class. However, almost 90% of the signatures contained in the registry are mainly from English-speaking foreign citizens. Among them, there are diplomats, miners, engineers, archaeologists, aviators, businessmen, lawyers, journalists, writers, tourists, and even sportsmen, some of them with their spouses.
Among them are: Emiliano Figueroa, ex-president of the Republic of Chile and its ambassador in Peru; Alfred Louis Kroeber, archaeologist from the University of California Berkeley who worked with Julio C. Tello; Roger W. Straus, a millionaire and president of board of directors of the American Smelting Company; Elmer Faucett, founder of the Faucett Airline Company; Richard Halliburton, writer and cultural ambassador of the U.S. to Peruvian president Augusto B. Leguía; Carlos Campo Rencoret, former general consul of Chile in India; José R. Lindley and son, makers of soda beverages and future creators of Inca Kola; John Lannes, ex-bartender of the Bank Exchange saloon in San Francisco, California; and among several others, Daniel Craig Babbitt, Morris’ Bar inauguration godfather, member of the board of directors of the Peru and London Bank, of the Backus & Johnson Mining Society, and of the clubs National, Lawn Tennis de la Exposicion, Casino of Chorrillos, Casino of Ancon, and Phoenix Club.
Among some noted Peruvians one can find: Roberto Pflucker, former owner of several mines in Cerro de Pasco; Alberto Brazzini, future president of the Peruvian National Mining and Petroleum Society; Rafael Larco Hoyle, founder of the Museum Rafael Larco Herrera; Juan Ramón Montero, the first aviator to fly from Lima to Pisco; Andres Alvarez Calderon Olavegoya, a member of a prominent British-Peruvian family; and Federico Antonio Pezet, diplomatic envoy of Peru to the U.S. in 1913, among others.
The presence of such distinguished individuals in the Morris’ Bar is proof that the bar was of an acceptably high social level for the people of the time.
5. The Morris’ Bar Pisco Sour recipe
Victor Morris Pisco Sour’s recipe has not been found, but it is assumed that it was a crude mix of pisco with lime juice and sugar, as it was the Whiskey Sour of those days. The comments written in the visitors register sheds light on some important data. One, that Morris’s recipe was not static since an American frequent traveler wrote “the Pisco Sours keep getting better every trip,” implying thus an evolutionary process.
Another one, is the relatively high amount of positive compliments given to the Pisco Sours (a total of twenty six, three times more than to the Whiskey Sour). Is very unlikely that a simple mix of lime juice and sugar would have justified such amount of praise. By the other hand, it is not known if Morris used egg white or angostura bitters, but it is known that he used those two ingredients in other mixes.
The register shows that he served “Silver Fizz,” a popular concoction of those days that contained lemon juice, sugar, egg white, and soda water. Back then, the word “Silver” indicated that the drink contained egg whites. Similarly, the term “Cocktail,” which today is used to refer to any mix of liquor, it was before used only for drinks that had bitters in it, usually Angostura’s. The register shows that Morris served a “Pisco Cocktail,” which proves he mixed pisco with bitters.
By the other hand, Morris’ grandchildren remember that their father Richard P. Morris, Victor’s oldest son, prepared Pisco Sour with gum arabic. Many years ago, what today is called “gum syrup” was a syrup that contained gum arabic, thus its name. With the passing of time the gum arabic was removed but the syrup was still called the same.
As a conclusion, until the Morris’ Bar Pisco Sour recipe is found, it can not be inferred as it being “crude” with respect to today’s recipe. Given the limited historical data available, it could as well been the same.
6. Decadence of the Morris’ Bar
It has also been mentioned that the Morris’ Bar decayed because Victor Morris was a passionate gambler that ended wasting his fortune away. However, the visitor register does not contain any comment that could indicate that there was any type of gambling (dice, cards, roulette, etc) in its premises.
On the other hand, Morris’ obituary does indicate reasons for the demise mentioning that:
“… the Morris’ Bar prospered greatly for a number of years. Later the opening of the Hotel Bolivar, the Lima Country Club and other establishments diverted the large foreign trade from the Bar. For the past two or three years Mr. Morris had been in failing health.”
That is to say, it was the apparition of competition and Morris’ health which caused the demise of the bar and finally to its closing.
The Hotel Bolivar, located a short distance from the Morris’ Bar, was inaugurated on December of 1924 and the Hotel Lima Country Club on February of 1927.
Sometime in between 1923 and 1928, Morris decides to write a disparaging remark (“ladron”, thief) in the register at the side of the names of four of his bartenders . Although the reason for such action is not known, it must have been related to some type of material or intellectual theft, thus Morris found appropriate to make it noticed by the bar’s visitors. It has been speculated it was because those bartenders went to work to competitive bars.
7. The myth of the invention of Pisco Sour in Chile
In the mid-1980s, a newspaper article appeared in Chile that announced that the Pisco Sour was invented in 1872 in the city of Iquique, where an Englishman named Elliot Stubb mixed pisco with lemon juice and sugar for the first time and named it that way.
That story has been recently refuted when it was found that the original historical source, the newspaper El Comercio de Iquique, was mentioning instead the alleged invention of the Whiskey Sour and not of the Pisco Sour. However, that story is also incorrect since Whiskey Sour existed in th U.S. before 1872, as shown for example in the Wisconsin newspaper Aukesha Plaindealer of January 4th, 1870, where it describes a person drinking a “whisky sour.”
The truth is that the oldest evidence of the word “Pisco Sour” that has been found in Chile, comes from Victor Morris himself when he published an advertisement of Lima’s Morris’ Bar in the weekly magazine South Pacific Mail of the port of Valparaiso in July of 1924.
The South Pacific Mail was an English language weekly magazine published by Nelson Rounsevell, a friend of Morris since the days they worked together in the mines of Cerro de Pasco.
The advertisement asks in large letters: “Have You Registered in Morris’ Bar LIMA?” Then it describes the bar’s register and how it could be of value to locate friends. Obviously, Morris was trying to attract the English speaking clientele that travelled between Chile and Peru. The ad mentions that the bar “has been noted for many years for its ‘Pisco Sours’.”
FIGURE: Advertisement published by the Morris’ Bar in the South Pacific Mail of Valparaiso, Chile on July 1924, announcing the Bar Register and that it has been noted for many years for its “Pisco Sours.” (click here to see figure)
Incidentally, this Pisco Sour advertisement is the oldest that has been found and precedes by five years the one published by Cipriano Laos in 1929 in his directory Lima “La Ciudad de los Virreyes.”
Physical Description of the Morris’ Bar Visitors Register
The registry measures 23 inches wide, 12 inches high and 1-5/8 inches thick. It has a front cover of red leather and brown corduroy cloth with a label printed in gold ink that reads: MORRIS’ BAR VISITORS REGISTER. It has 82 signed pages for a total of more than 2,200 signatures. Each page has a total capacity of 27 signatures.
All the pages have the title of MORRIS’ BAR REGISTER in black ink and six primary vertical columns in red ink with the following titles in black ink: Registry Date; NAME; ARRIVED, which contains two sub-columns titled DATE and FROM; DEPARTED with two sub-columns titled DATE and FOR; HOME ADDRESS; and COMMENTS & REMARKS.
Angeles C., César, Peruanidad del pisco y la vendimia – Diccionario del pisco, A.F.A. Editores Importadores, Lima, 2008.
Morris , Víctor V., Morris Bar Visitors Register, 1916-1929, Lima, Perú, the original registry is in possession of the Morris’ Family. (There is a a photographic copy edited and published by G. Toro-Lira in February, 2009, in possession of the Academia Peruana del Pisco (Peruvian Academy of Pisco)).
Sánchez, Luis A., Testimonio personal, memorias de un peruano del siglo XX; Capítulo XIV; Lima : Villasan, 1969-1976.
Schiaffino, José A., El origen del pisco sour, el Morris Bar, el Hotel Maury y el Gran Hotel Bolivar, Heralmol S.R.I., Lima, 2006.
Toro-Lira S., Guillermo L.; Morris , Michael P.; Morris, Donna M., “La vida y pasiones de Víctor V. Morris, creador del pisco sour – 2nda parte”, (Research article presented in a magister conference organized by the Academia Peruana del Pisco, February 2009; National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru, Pueblo Libre, Lima, Peru.)
Toro-Lira S., Guillermo L.; Morris , Michael P.; Morris, Donna M., “Análisis del registro de firmas del Morris’ Bar (1916-1929)”, (Research article presented in a magister conference organized by the Academia Peruana del Pisco, February 2009; National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru, Pueblo Libre, Lima, Peru.)