It’s been well established that writing and drinking go together, but not all pairings are as elegant as Oscar Wilde and champagne, or as cosmopolitan as E.B. White and his martinis. Some concoctions are born less out of delectability than out of necessity: specifically, a need to get epically sloshed, then somehow wake up the next day ready (or at least able) to work. Raymond Carver was an expert in both.
“I know you like to drink, and I like to drink, but I never met a guy who likes to drink like Ray likes to drink,” Carver’s peers would gossip amongst themselves. Getting drunk didn’t require any glamorous cocktails for Carver; a fifth of vodka in the morning and a fifth in the afternoon was what he preferred to do the job.
He was known for out-boozing even his fellow writers—no strangers to the bottle—including John Cheever, a fellow professor at the University of Iowa. “He and I did nothing but drink,” Carver wrote. “I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters.” Their students became the responsible ones, cooking dinner for the duo to ensure they got down a few bites of solid food.
But although they shared a fondness for late-night partying, the two writers differed on their approach to another writerly affliction: the hangover. Cheever preferred to nurse his with a deliciously greasy sandwich, but Carver took a “hair of the dog” approach. “Most mornings, Ray woke everyone by calling out ‘Hot doughnuts! Steaming hot cups of coffee!’” his biographer claims. “But when they got to the kitchen, ‘heart starter’ Bloody Marys were the main offering.” In other words, Bloody Marys aren’t just a typical Carver drink; they are a full Carver meal—with just enough nutritional value to qualify as breakfast.
Bloody Marys also played a role in one of the biggest moments in Carver’s career. When the publisher of McGraw-Hill called to invite him to lunch, Carver wasn’t in the most … professional of mindsets: “I was drunk and hungover both,” he wrote. But he made it on time and downed two Bloodys before learning the news: McGraw was offering him his first advance, for a novel he hadn’t even written yet. He immediately celebrated with an ideal Carver lunch: with a double vodka on the rocks, and a couple cocktail shrimp on the side.