First things first: we know that as a bar professional and experienced drinker, you would never intentionally overserve or overconsume alcohol. The truth is, though, that hangovers happen. Maybe you or a customer got dehydrated on a hike and then pounded too many beers, too quickly. Maybe that delicious cocktail contained more spirits or sugar than you realized, or maybe the champagne flowed a little too freely on New Year’s Eve. At brunch the day after any of these scenarios, you’re staring into the bleary eyes of a customer (or your own, in the bathroom mirror), and you see all the signs: a queasy exhaustion, a pounding head, and a cloud of regret. Hangovers are proof that we do not want to live in a just world, where we all get what we deserve.
Back away from the medicine cabinet, though! Over-the-counter painkillers can make matters worse, especially if you still have booze in your system. Used in large doses over time, acetaminophen can cause liver damage, and the risk is higher for regular and heavy drinkers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen may cause gastrointestinal distress and exacerbate conditions like ulcers, especially when combined with alcohol. Antacids like Tums can help to calm your post-binge belly, but they won’t do much for the other symptoms of a hangover.
This phenomenon was well known to the ancients: the first alcohol was probably made around 13,000 years ago, and the first hangover cure was probably made about twenty-four hours later. When you can bear to look at a lighted screen, check out this delightful Eater article about the history of hangover cures. While the suggestions vary by time and culture -- fermented herring in Scandinavia, tea made from rabbit dung in the Wild West, raw eel in the Middle Ages -- what they all have in common is a side order of desperation.
That has remained true in the modern era of drinking, and it’s not surprising that the rise of cocktail culture in the Gilded Age of the 19th century gave rise to one of the most famous hangover cures: the prairie oyster. Some sources suggest that it was created to ease the suffering of hard-partying visitors to the 1878 Paris World Exposition, while others say that both the formula and the name come from the prairies of the American West and the demand of one saloon customer for something to cure what ailed him. It has continued to make appearances in pop culture over the decades, from the books of British wit P.G. Wodehouse to the James Bond movie Thunderball. The basic ingredients have remained fairly standard throughout the years, though: Tabasco sauce or ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and a raw egg.
Typically taken as a shot, except by those who enjoy the sensation of chewing a raw egg that’s slithering around, oyster-like, in the mouth, the prairie oyster will at least make you realize that there are worse things than a hangover. Like consuming a prairie oyster. There may actually be a scientific basis for the concoction as well: the amino acids in the egg could help to break down the toxins in alcohol, and the capsaicin in Tabasco could help you to sweat it.
The same process may be at work in other beloved hangover strategies, like a spicy burrito or greasy brunch food. Bloody Marys offer both the heat and the “hair of the dog” that allegedly takes the edge off the worst symptoms, and early 20th bartenders like Harry Craddock invented “cures” like the Corpse Reviver #2 (see our Hall of Fame entry on Craddock for a formula!). A member of the BottleHound team swears by a wee bottle of the German digestive bitter Underberg, taken after a night out but before going to sleep, “delivers a smooth and easy wake-up call the next day.”
In prime drinking destinations, the hungover can resort to intravenous hydration at spa-like facilities (some New Orleans businesses will even bring the I.V. to your door). This is not a #goal. BottleHound hopes that you and your customers will scale consumption to what the human body can handle, and that you’ll take the opportunity offered by a hangover to reflect on what really makes for a great night out -- and a great morning after.