The Cardboard Box on the Rocks

Posted by in April's Magazine

It splits out like Rashomon I suppose, inconsistent multiple interpretations of the same event; how Chris –a local Leith everyman – created Leith’s most famous cocktail, the Cardboard Box on the Rocks, one surprisingly momentous day in the Pond Bar. There are opposing stories of drinks accidently spilled into one another, thus creating a fortuitous result, like penicillin. The Leither queries this trip and spill theory while meeting up with the inventor himself, but is it self corrected, “I think you’re tripping mate!”

Further tales are told of jars of old coppers spread upon the bar with a demand for all and any booze of equal or greater value to be deposited in one glass. Perhaps the confusion comes from the fact we’re discussing it on a Friday night at the back end of a bevvy session, luckily our Dictaphone records the resulting garbled nonsense, playing back horribly the next morning like Duke’s savage tape in Fear & Loathing. Chris plots a curious timeline of the advent of his drink some eight years before:


“I went home one day, got out of bed, brushed my teeth and ordered a pint of Fruli Strawberry Beer.” (What, you have a bar in your toilet?). “I hadn’t seen it before. We all had a pint… then I got half way down my second, thought how do I make this more palatable – it was a tad sweet – so we put a gin and tonic in it. Something bitter to go with the sweetness, then ice, then crushed limes, and invented the cocktail.” And against all odds, dear reader, it works; in fact it shines.

Off his tits
Welcome to the Cardboard Box on the Rocks. A refreshing and delicious concoction, fashioned in the Pond Bar on the corner of Bath Street, but now sampled further and wider afield within Leith’s contentious borders – a summer cooler rather than winter warmer, suitably partaken of by locals during Wimbledon. (On the aforementioned night of drunken drivel the Editor fondly recalled his own cocktail, invented at the very dawn of time, in honour of the self same Wimbledon: “a dimpled pint glass half filled with dry martini and a whole sliced lemon topped up with a glug of gin and lashings of lemonade, rather amusingly called a Martini Navratilova.” To which I can only say – fuck off, Ed.)

Anyhow, let us shift our focus from the ramblings of an Editor plainly embracing his anecdotage, and return to the semi-legendary, erm, CBOTR. Think the fresh summer flavours of strawberry beer, sharpened by the pine taste of gin and fragranced by citrus. And if we could anthropomorph this fine drink it would become what, a bruiser in velvet gloves or a high-class hooker with a heart of gold? Both of the above methinks. Admittedly its origins are less monumental than Cuba’s libre, less specific than Manhattan’s The Manhattan, but it is surely geographically and characteristically tied more deeply to its origin.

You see, the origins of its naming offer up a mysterious man, possibly drunk (“off his tits,” suggest Chris, helpfully), patrolling Salamander Street for some unknown reason with an, ahem, cardboard box on his head. A sliding door moment if ever there was one, for at that very instant, the aforementioned drink was being created, however haphazardly, in the Pond Bar. And a name for the newly minted cocktail was singularly unforthcoming.

Fate, beautifully, intervened. At the very instant the drink’s birth was being toasted (again) and the concoctions putative christening reached the top of the ‘to do’ pile, the knight errant in the cardboard box head armour charged the Pond Bar door with considerable velocity.

Shiny brain pan
Managing, in no particular order, to give himself a severe concussion, wedge himself in the doorframe to the exclusion of all others, and to suffer a bout of ‘talking in tongues’ before careering back out into the Salamander night. In the best traditions of Leith folklore this mysterious stranger had left his mark on the community without ever remembering he had done so. Cardboard Balaclava Man we salute you…a true and proper Leith legend.

Sadly, whilst a bronze statue of Hemingway now props up the bar at the home of his Daiquiri cocktail – El Floridita in Havana, a similar monument to Chris, the inventor of the semi-legendary CBOTR cocktail (with a little help from Max Headroom) is singularly unforthcoming. Is it enough that Iggy Pop has referred to the drink as something that “polishes your brain pan shiny?” I think not. Isn’t it about time the multifarious Leith ‘associations and committees’ (not to mention Government in Exile) gave Chris a title of some sort? I suggest a sainthood. Yup, Saint Christopher sounds about right.

– Alan Bett

2 responses to “The Cardboard Box on the Rocks”

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