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Home » The Vine

The Vine: March 22, 2013

Submitted by on March 22, 2013 – 11:17 AM46 Comments


Two authors, two cocktails, cannot find out how to make them:

In one of the Fletch novels, Gregory McDonald has Fletch call down to the hotel desk for a Bath Towel (which they turn out not to have).

In Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco has Casaubon and Amparo in Brazil drinking mamaia.

I have researched cocktail recipe books. I have asked bartenders. I have asked Brazilians. Of course I have Googled — "Bath Towel" gives you links to Macys and Bed Bath and Beyond; "Mamaia" is a resort island; and when you type in "literary cocktails" you get two things: lists of authors and what they drank, or drinks made up after novels. I don't need to know that Ernest Hemingway really really really liked whiskey; and no, I don't want to make a "No Country for Old Fashioned" or a "Gryffyndor."

If Gregory McDonald were alive, I'd just email him. But, honestly, who emails Umberto Eco for a cocktail recipe???

Help me, Nation.

Love, Thirsty


Hi Sarah,

I've re-soled my cheapo pair of knee-high boots for the last time and am ready to invest in a quality pair. Are Frye boots really worth their $300 price tag? Are there any other awesome brands out there I should know about? I don't have any size requirements but I would like a knee-high boot and a flat heel, I chase around a toddler all day. Also because of said toddler my style is very…minimal, and so I would like the boots to be cute enough to help me look more stylish, but they can't be too too — they would look out of place with my ubiquitous Target T.

Anyone out there in TN have an amazing pair of boots that has them waiting for winter, just so they can wear them every day? Please tell me. These are the boots I want to buy.


Dear Elissa,

I can't say if Fryes merit the $300 price, because for boots that pricey, I head to eBay or wait for a steep sale on Zappos or Endless. It's a great time of year for those, though, because now the merchants want to shill the latest variation on the Liberty espadrille no matter how cold it still is outside.

I do have a pair of white Fryes, the Campus 12L, that go great with everything; I got them "previously owned" for $75 on eBay. That particular Frye line is comfortable, but does have a big block heel and some "movement" if you're not wearing thick socks; it might not be for you. My go-to boot this year is the Swedish Hasbeen — and it's going to cost you, but again, haunt Endless and you can probably find a good deal (my Women's Worker boot is like wearing a fuzzy cloud, it's gorgeous, and I got them for $165 when they were listed at $400; look for a color "nobody" wants, like red or kelly green, to get the big discounts, and then practice snorting, "Um, it's a 'new neutral,' so." Heh). They're classic, they're well-made, you can wear them with sweats or a dress…to me, they're worth it. Not quite knee-high, but flat and comfy. You could also try Bjorns, which are usually flat-heeled and dress up and down equally well.

My advice with boots is twofold: 1) don't settle, or buy a "name" boot that's "supposed to be" awesome if you're not feeling it; 2) when you find a three-season boot you love that fits great, invest. My Campers seemed like a splurge at the time; I still wear them eight years later (the Bjorns are even older). $120 for Docs back in college was a huge outlay, but I wore those bad boys every single day for 18 months. I totally sympathize with not wanting to spend $250 on a boot, and if you don't have experience with a brand, trying to get them for half price is probably a better move, but think about it: the right boot, you will wear seven days out of 10 and it won't need much maintenance. You price that out, $250 is cheap.

Readers, commence group boot therapy!

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  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Also: 1) I don't know what's up with the kookbag font sizing around here lately, so apologies for that, and 2) you can't email Eco about cocktails because why?

  • flora_poste says:

    Frye boots are absolutely worth it! I have two pairs of them, and I can't praise them highly enough. I've worn them practically every day during cooler weather for the last several years and they've been very durable.

  • Elissa, I looked high and low for a pair of comfortable knee-high boots this winter and finally found the Ecco Hobart buckle boot. Here's the link:

    They're incredibly comfy (I walk around a mile to work every day and they've been great for that), they're flat, the buckles are adjustable, and I think they're totally worth $230. If you happen to live near an Ecco outlet, though, I got a great deal on mine there.

  • Karen says:

    I swear by Clarks boots myself. I wore one pair everyday for 6 New England winters before they gave out, and my current pair has 4 years on them and still going strong. They're $200-$250 a pop, but well worth it.

  • Daisy says:

    I don't own a pair, but I've heard Frye boots are worth the cost. I have a pair of Timberland boots that have gotten the crap kicked out of them for eight years and still look great, but they don't seem to have a whole lot of knee-high options. For cute, simple, comfortable knee-high boots, my go-to is Aerosoles, and they have great end of season sales.

  • Renee says:

    Seconded on Fryes. Very comfortable, stylish, and durable. I hated the Campus style, but I love their riding and cowboy boots. They have leather soles, so they should be resoled with rubber to make them last, but that plus mink oil will have you good to go for years.

    I got great deals at Endless and Zappos, probably in the spring and summer IIRC.

  • Molly says:

    Elissa, try Ros Hommerson boots. I bought this one at this winter and love it – well-made, cute without having too much ornamentation, and I've gotten a bunch of compliments. Also, they pride themselves on making a wide selection of sizes and widths, including wide-calf and extra-wide-calf boots, if (like me) you have trouble finding your size. My boots have a heel, so they're not exactly what you're looking for, but I remember they also had flat-soled boots at the time. You might be able to find some at the brand's website or someplace like Amazon/Zappos.

  • CJ says:

    I have a pair of Keen knee high boots that I wear every day, all fall/winter long. They are flat heels and give good support. I got mine on an off season sale at Zappos for $150 and I love them beyond reason.

  • Erin says:

    I have the Frye Paige tall riding boots and I love them – super comfortable, cute with everything, and have gotten me through 3 Toronto winters so far (exciting mix of -30 and salty slush hellscape). Roots also makes great cute comfortable boots, but while they ship to the US I don't think they have any US stores (although their sizing is pretty true and they're good with returns). On a more reasonable price point I have some good black tall Steve Madden boots that I love and are very comfortable, but just got them this year so I don't know how they'll hold up.

  • Maryse42 says:

    I can't recommend La Canadienne boots highly enough. They're pricey, but they're beautiful, very comfy, true to size, and when they say waterproof, they mean it. You can even get some with removable footbeds (for those like me who need orthotics). As a Canadian, I like that they're made in Canada. (: I've been wearing mine all winter long and will be a little sad to set them aside when the warm weather hits… they were worth every penny. They have a sale on some of their winter stock right now:

  • KTB says:

    I have the Frye buckle (motorcycle-looking) boots, and I LOVE them. They got me through entire days of NYC sightseeing (including walking over the Brooklyn Bridge) with nary a blister or twinge. I wear them literally all. the. time. and they are worth every penny.

    That said, I am definitely of the school of thought that paying more for a really well made shoe is worth it, namely because feet have a bajillion bones and muscles and carry all of our weight. I'm happy to shell out a little extra to keep them happy and keep me out of the podiatrist or orthopedist's office.

  • Leigh says:

    Oh, man. I will look in my boots when I get home and see if there's any legible identification. No idea what they are–I bought them in NYC after spotting them in a store window, and I've had them for eight years. They are as comfortable as slippers and go with EVERYTHING. They did just this winter develop a hole in one heel, so it looks like I'll be entering the wonderful world of resoling soon…

    As for the cocktails, do you have any evidence at all to suggest those drinks aren't just made up for the purpose of the story? I mean, I don't think inventing a cocktail with a cool-sounding name would be particularly out of bounds for most fiction writers, and if nobody's ever heard of them…? (however, I agree with Sars: Authors are just people! What's the worst that will happen if you send off an email? He'd probably love it.)

  • Heather says:

    I've been wearing a pair of Rieker Liv boots for about 4 years. I think they would be great kid-chasing boots because the sole is flat and flexible and has good traction. The Rieker Astrid and the R3499 have the same sole.

  • attica says:

    On choosing a non-popular color for boots: I got a dandy bargain on some Merrell shearling boots a few years ago because I chose the olive color. I really do wear them with everything, and they always get complimented.

  • cayenne says:

    I have 3 pairs of Fryes in 3 different heights (Carmen high, Carson mid, & Vera low), all with low heels (but not flat). They are very durable, and other than having 2 of the pairs re-soled in vibram so I don't wipe out on Toronto sidewalks (aside: Toronto folks who live in my neighbourhood, FFS please salt your sidewalks before you see the bylaw officer coming, cos someone has probably already concussed him/herself in embarrassing fashion, kthxbai), they've lasted a number of years of frequent wear in crap weather with just regular cleaning & waterproofing. When I came to collect them from being re-soled, the shoe guy had clearly fallen in love with my Carmens because he sang the leather's praises like crazy for about ten minutes (not to mention the inappropriate stroking… creepy). You might like the Veronica slouch.

    I also like my Timberland Lexiss boots, which are low-heel, incredibly comfortable, and almost indestructible; however, I'm not sure if they still make them. Mine are about 7 years old.

  • Lisa M. says:

    I have a pair of Frye moccasins, and can attest to their comfort – they are GREAT! I haven't been able to bring myself to outlay for the boots yet…

    Less expensive: I have two pairs of Lucky brand riding boots (one in a chocolate/burgundy leather, and another in a camel). They are really really comfortable, leather inside and out (no synthetic materials to hurt your feet), go with everything, and I always get compliments on them. I can wear the same pair all day, every day, and not have any problems.

  • Kim says:

    Dansko makes some pretty, simple knee-high boots with not too much of a heel, basically the same sole as some of their clogs–not flat, but they'll give you that kind of rocking-motion support like the clogs if you find that comfy. My lanky sister has several pairs and loves 'em, though I must admire from afar because my Boot Issue is big honking monster calves that require a whole separate interwebs search paradigm. Sigh.

    Cocktail thoughts: not to be an uninspired dullard, but maybe the respective authors just made them up? On the plus side, that would make a Bath Towel anything you want it to be!

  • Shani says:

    Just in case anyone with a wide calf is also looking for daily-wear, versatile boots, I love mine from Bennetts Boots which is an Australian company (but they have worldwide free shipping). They are flipping awesome and I have two pairs I've alternated between nearly every day since October. I've waited all my plus sized little life for boots like this.

  • Cara says:

    I always thought that "Bath Towel" was a totally made-up drink. Perhaps you could invent one?

    As for the mamaia, I'm going to guess that it's some sort of shake/smoothie/agua fresca made from the mamey sapote. Please note that I have never read any part the book other than the snippet on Google Books that led me to this half-baked conclusion.

    Anyway, since you seem to have stumped the internet, why don't you create your own versions?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    And share them, so we can try them. In fact, anyone who wants to have a Bath-Towel-off, raise your hands. I will preside BUT please find a way to make the Towel white WITHOUT using cream, because gross.

  • Cara says:

    I am totally in on the Bath Towel-off and I second the veto on cream.

  • Bess says:


    I hit the point that you're at earlier this year, and splurged (for me) on a pair of Born suede boots. They were about $150 one sale – the most I've ever paid for shoes, but it was worth it. Two days after they arrived I wore them on a plane and then for 5 days around Chicago, everywhere from walking around museums to dinner at a fancy hotel restaurant. No blisters, no discomfort, they were comfy from day one. (I stopped by my local DSW and tried on other styles of the same brand to make sure I ordered the right size, which a totally recommend if you can do it.)

    So boiled down, my advice is this: the investment is worth it, especially if you can find a style that dresses up and down easily. For me, that mean a low heel and a dark brown color that I could mix with a lot of things, but it might be different for you.

    Good luck!

  • Bess says:

    Ack, found 3 typos immediately after submitting that last comment. Let's pretend that I've been drinking a lot of Bath Towels.

  • Jen M says:

    My dark brown Jane 14L Frye's easily got me through 10 days in Rome and Florence plus 3 additional years since then. Nordstrom's will often have Frye's on sale ($100 off or so) during their anniversary & half yearly sales. I occasionally see them at Marshall's (sadly never in styles that appeal to me) and Nordstrom Rack.

  • Kateebar says:

    I cannot say enough how much I love my Frye boots. I have the Jane, so they aren't flat, they have a bit of a cowboy heel and cowboy flair overall. If I could wear them every day the rest of my life, I would. I have considered moving out of Florida just for a longer Frye season.

    They do go on sale, too, as noted. I got mine at Macy's with one of their 20% off coupons and there was also a sale that day, so I paid well under full price.

    The name Bath Towel sounds like I'd drink it during a bubble bath. So, I'd go champagne cocktail – champagne, bitters, a sugar cube and healthy twist of lemon peel. Or, champagne with a splash of blackberry liqueur and a few drops of fresh lemon juice.

  • Ali says:

    Thanks for asking this question, LW! I'm also considering Fryes, but anyone know if they hug the calf? I like a slim fit to my tall boots—I usually buy boots that can barely zip up, knowing the leather will relax a bit. Last ones I got were Aldo, but a year later the sole is kaput. I walk a few miles a day, so it's time to invest in a better pair.

    Most of the Frye pics I see show a loose fit around the leg. I've been looking for a store to try them on before purchasing online, but this a bad time of year to find them in stock! (And Fryes are too spendy for a multi-pair Zappos order.)

  • Katharine says:

    I am going to differ on the Fryes; I have one pair, but would have to say that my Fluevogs and my Doc Martens easily trump the Fryes on all counts. Doc Martens are in general quite a bit cheaper, and the brand has been styling it up a good deal in the last while; on a quick glance at their site the Haley and the Robin seem to fit your criteria. They are also infinitely durable and repairable.

    Fluevogs are pricier, yes, and the styles vary in practicality and solidity, especially in these decadent days, sadly. (They also run very narrow in the calf off the shelf, but they ARE very stretchable.) Anything with an F-Shoe sole (eg the Bondgirl) should take you anywhere you need to go for years, though.

    My Fryes… well, the insole started to roll within a few months of wear, and the soles are slippery. They're…. fine. But I don't think they're amazing, and I strongly suspect if I wore them harder and more often than I do, they couldn't really take it. (Of course, that might vary by model. Fryes were hard to get here till very recently, and most of them are a bit cowboyish for my personal taste, so I haven't explored them as fully, too. Just my personal opinion.)

  • Jamie says:

    I was pretty sure Fryes would last forever because my dad had a massively disco seventies pair of wine-colored stacked heel Frye boots well into the eighties that never, ever wore out, but I waited years before caving and buying my (admittedly pricey) Amelia logo Fryes. They were so, so worth it. The footbed was comfortable immediately, but wore in even better and I'm really picky about that since I took up distance running and crap shoes play hell with my arches. I just keep up with the occasional polish and they're great. And, there's a 2-year warranty if you buy from direct from Frye or an official dealer, and beyond that the repairs like resoling, reconditioning, etc, don't seem ridiculous, especially since you'll have them forever. So get something classic. (Not wine-colored disco boots. Ahem.)

  • Wehaf says:

    Instead of shying away from writing to Umberto Eco, I would embrace it. Write a sonnet asking him what the drink is! Ask him in 4 different languages! Write in fancy calligraphy! Send a singing telegram! Seize the day!

  • Dinah says:

    Seconding La Canadienne. I have a pair of knee high boots that have lasted 3 winters of daily wear in Chicago. Mine have a low heel, but they're comfortable enough that I don't notice (and before these boots I never wore anything with a heel on a regular basis). I've also been really pleased with the quality of the leather on them. I got them for about $200 on sale around this time of year from zappos, but they were totally worth it. I also think some of their other boots are closer to $150 on sale, but I haven't looked lately.

  • Gwen says:

    I've been loving my Denver Hayes black, knee-high, flat heel boots this winter, from Mark's in Canada. They are hands down the most comfortable boots I've ever had. They were $160 at the beginning of the winter, but they're now $79.

  • Erin W says:

    The Bartender's Pocket Guide (New Holland Publishers, 2005) (no I've never been a bartender, I just wanted it) has no listing for either a "bath towel" or "mamaia." My guess would be that the bath towel is probably made up, and mamaia is either made-up or extremely regional.

    Easter is coming up, though, so:

    Easter Egg Shooter: Equal parts Chambord, Tia Maria, and half-and-half. Layer the ingredients, in the order given, in a pony or shot glass. (page 201)

  • CJ says:

    For this drink I thought something floral and beachy would be appropriate.
    Absolute makes all these flavored vodkas which are clear and work for this.
    Bath Towel
    2oz of Absolute Hibiscus (or lemon)
    1 scoop of lemon sorbet (preferably one with no colour added)
    2 oz of Fever Tree Bitter Lemon (like a lemony tonic water SO GOOD)
    Whir in blender and serve in a martini glass

    Sounds yummy!! I'll make one and report back. I'm betting that's going to be hella tart (which I like) but some simple syrup might make it in there to taste.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Ali, the Campuses ("Campi"?) aren't snug/fitted. I'm agnostic on that, but that model and the Harness (?) are kinda straight up and down.

    @Katharine's point about the soles is a good one, and I saved enough on my pair that I'm willing to invest some extra cash in having them re-soled with a grippier material, but if I'd paid retail, I'd expect them to be plug-and-play.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @CJ's sounds amazing. Maybe some rock sugar around the rim to cut the tart?

    @Erin W lost me at Chambord but if anyone else wants to try it, feel free/vaya con dios.

  • cait says:

    Boots –
    Adding an additional vote for La Canadienne. I schlepped around Chicago in mine for three years, put them in storage for two years while in southeast Asia, and hauled them out again a while ago for my current foray into flag- and cobblestones. They're super supportive, go with everything, and I have walked up to 12 miles in them with no ill effects. I'll get them re-soled this season (well, once the sleet stops), but they have been worth every penny.

  • CJ says:

    OK! Tested!! Very VERY yummy! It's not too tart because the ice kind of dilutes it down a bit. The bitter lemon is perfect with a little bite at the end. The smell of the hibiscus vodka is lovely.
    This would be perfect with simple syrup & a 1/4 shot of lemon juice in place of the sorbet.
    I encourage you all to make your own Bath Towel!

  • Kay says:

    I have a pair of Wolky boots that I got at my favorite "big girls'" (aka size 12 and up) consignment shop. I've got massive calves, so they are kind of between ankle and knee boots and I loooove them. I got mine for $80 but they run $200-$300 retail. It might be worth looking around on eBay or such sites.

    I got them 2 years ago and they're still going strong, and I am VERY hard on shoes.

  • meltina says:

    FYI, endless is no more. They're now owned by Amazon. Not sure how they affect the pricing. As a good alternative, I find worth it, though you really have to browse to find what you want sometimes.

    Can't help you there with knee high boots. I have somewhat dense calves (seriously, even when pregnant I'm losing weight in my arms and butt, but the calves do not budge), so I usually go for lower on the leg styles.

    All the brands other people mentioned are great. For Keen, I'd check out right now, since they always have end of season sales on winter gear at the end of March, and anything over $50 ships free (I've never bought anything at REI, be it shoes, hiking gear, backpacks, etc. that hasn't lasted me next to forever, btw).

  • Elissa says:

    Thanks for the suggestions everyone, I super appreciate it! Sounds like I'm going to have start haunting the sales, especially at this time of year.

  • Isabel C. says:

    As a related question: how long is it reasonable to expect somewhere-around-$100 boots to last? I live in Boston, so the streets are gross, and I walk about a mile a day, and usually whatever pair I get in November is scuffed and peeling and anything but waterproof by March.

    The Latest Ex was convinced that this was because I bought "cheap" boots, and that properly expensive footwear would last me ten years if I polished and waterproofed it regularly. Is that actually true? Do the home-polishing-and-waterproofing kits actually do anything for women's boots?

    Inquiring and somewhat soggy minds want to know.


  • @Isabel C – As a fellow Boston resident, I hate to say it, but I think it's worth putting extra cash into winter shoes. I can't speak to waterproofing kits (never tried one), but my Ecco boots still look brand-new, while a pair of boots I picked up for $60 last year barely lasted the winter before they started leaking.

    That said, I don't think you'll have to spend *all* that much more than $100 to get a good pair, if you identify good brands and then watch for sales.

  • Julia says:

    I loooove boots and discovered Hasbeens about a year ago and absolutely agree with Sars on this. I got the Low Water wedge boots for my birthday and adore them. Amazon has a Swedish Hasbeens store and they have very, very good sale prices on dc'd styles, colors, and extended sizes. I think almost all of them are eligible for amazon prime and you won't be surprised with a customs fee by the carrier, payable only by check, before they will hand them over. It doesn't happen every time you order from Sweden but you never know plus amazon offers free returns. I've purchased clogs and heels for $100 or less and everything is made to stand the test of time.

  • Katharine says:

    @Isabel C. – As a resident of Southern Ontario, where the road salt flows freely, I think ten years might not be in the cards no matter what you spend, but less than a winter does sound a bit vexing. I typically get about three years out of a pair of winter boots, and I take reasonably good care of them — but after three years, with a lot of walking on gross winter streets, the soles are losing their grip if nothing else.

    I try to get winter boots on sale where possible, but the brands I favour usually retail for between $100-200 without discount. A lot of brands offer between one and two years guarantee on waterproofing too.

    As for personal experience, the ones I've owned that have lasted longest are utilitarian, outdoorsy brands like Cougar and Columbia — but they are anything but fashionable. I'm talking the ski-slope stompers made mostly of heavy-duty nylon. I have a very attractive pair of leather, waterproofed Kodiaks, but they're just hitting the end of their third year, and I had to have a seam sewn up in them last month, and yeah, the waterproofing is getting a bit iffy and they're slippy after a freeze. Kodiak does have a nice line in good-looking, thermal-lined leather boots, and if I see another pair on sale I might well go for them. Sorels have a good reputation but I hate 'em; their particular brand of ugly is quite fashionable right now, though. My sister has worn a pair of Merrells into the ground in similar, challenging Canadian conditions. Brands like Merrell and Keen (as well as the Cougars and Columbias) have a hefty lot of rugged sole on them, too, which is something to consider if you're going to walk in them every day all winter long.

    So, mostly, I think your Latest Ex is a bit full of it, but you might want to look into more exacting selection for serviceability and sturdiness, too.

    My mother swears by regular coats of Dubbin for waterproofing winter boots, but I think Dubbin is disgusting. I use a silicone spray when the built-in proofing starts to fail; the best one I've found is a brand called Penguin.

  • Dawna says:

    Re: mamaia, the only hits my google-fu came up with that might make sense were for beer – but, you may have guessed – Romanian beer (brewed by Heineken). But really, based on the snippet from Foucault's Pendulum, I don't think you're looking for a cocktail here…since the speaker is asking for a "cold" one, and is told that it is "in the fridge" it doesn't strike me as a mixed drink. Cara's answer above about the mamey fruit seems more on point.

  • LauraBeth says:

    Thirsty: You've probably moved on with your life, but this month's issue of Saveur (no idea, I found it in the break room at work) has a recipe for a "Beach Towel."

    4 oz white rum
    3 oz simple syrup
    1 oz fresh lime juice
    10 strawberries
    1/2 oz heavy cream
    1 small banana, sliced

    Puree half the rum, syrup, juice, berries, and 1 1/2 cups ice in a blender. Pour into two glasses; freeze. Puree remaining rum, syrup, juice, cream, bananas, and 1 1/2 cups ice. Pour over strawberry.

    I would also veto the cream.

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