By Rick Vecchio ✐
Peruvian Times Contributing Editor ☄
Happy Pisco Day everyone! Enjoy your Pisco Sours….
Since the post a few days ago about the evolving history of Peru’s national cocktail, the Pisco Sour, and whether it was truly invented by expat American saloon owner Victor V. Morris, we have started pouring through the archives of the West Coast Leader in search of answers.
And it isn’t looking good for Vic Morris.
The West Coast Leader, published by Peruvian Times founder C.N. Griffis, was Peru’s main English-language weekly during the early 20th century.
It indeed carried advertising for the Morris Bar throughout the saloon’s existence from 1916 until shortly before Victor Morris’ death in 1929.
We discovered something while cataloging the ads — an unrelated January 1924 article about Peru’s port of Pisco, with a reference that sharply calls into question the prevailing wisdom that Victor Morris was the inventor of the Pisco Sour.
The piece was written by then-West Coast Leader staff correspondent Nelson Rounsevell, the same Nelson Rounsevell who was friends with Victor Morris, and who published the first known ad mentioning the Pisco Sour, and did so in reference to the Morris Bar.
As noted by Peruvian historian Guillermo L. Toro-Lira, that ad ran in July 1924 in the South Pacific Mail, a weekly magazine in Valparaiso, Chile. It proclaimed that Morris’ Bar “has been noted for many years for its ‘Pisco Sours’ and its reputation for ‘Legitimate Liquors.'”
Neither that ad, nor any previous ads in the West Coast Leader made any claim that the Pisco Sour was invented in Morris’ Bar, however. And in fact, six months earlier, in his piece about the port of Pisco, Rounsevell identified the Barbary Coast of San Francisco as the famed source of the cocktail:
“One well known saloon on the ‘Barbary Coast,’ in the old pre-Volstead days in San Francisco, was famous for its ‘Pisco Sours‘; but probably one person in ten thousand who drank pisco in San Francisco had ever heard of the Peruvian port of that name.”
The earliest ads, which ran in the West Coast Leader from 1916 into 1921, extolled the virtues of Vic Morris’ sour cocktails, but not ones made with Pisco. Rather they were of the whiskey variety:
That was followed by a new ad for “VIC MORRIS’ BAR,” pledging its Oyster Cocktails “WILL PUT YOU RIGHT AGAIN … THE BEST PLACE IN LIMA FOR LIGHT REFRESHMENTS SERVED BY AN AMERICAN IN AMERICAN STYLE.”
As the Roaring Twenties started to roar, and competing saloons began opening in downtown Lima and in Callao, new ads appeared. One proclaimed Morris’ Bar as the “ONE PLACE IN LIMA WHERE ONLY LEGITIMATE LIQUORS ARE SERVED AND SERVED PROPERLY.”
Another announced that “MORRIS’ BAR HAS JUST RECEIVED A CONSIGNMENT OF PRE-WAR WEILAND’S SAN FRANCISCO BEER.”
And yet another ad heralded Morris’ Bar as the only source in Lima of “KING WILLIAM V.O.P. WHISKEY” and “ONE OF THE FEW PLACES WHERE YOU WILL FIND PRE-WAR FRENCH WINES.”
No mention of Pisco Sours, in spite of the fact that the bar did have a growing reputation for the cocktail, as documented by the historian Toro-Lira. But the preponderance of advertising suggests that the Pisco Sour was just one of several drinks served, not the bar’s signature cocktail.
Following his death on July 11, 1929, the West Coast Leader ran this obituary, which makes clear Morris was a beloved member of Lima’s expat community. Perhaps such a tribute counts for more, even, than the invention of an alcoholic drink, no matter how iconic that cocktail may ultimately have become.
As noted in our last issue, the death occurred on Thursday of last week of Mr. Victor Vaughn Morris, for many years proprietor of the Morris Bar. Mr. Morris was born some fifty years ago at Salt Lake City, Utah, of Welsh parents, prominent in the early history of the Mormon Church. When the late Mr. A.W. McCune, also a Mormon, first came to Peru in 1903 to break ground for the now greatly expanded enterprises of the Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation, Mr. Morris was one of the group of young adventurers who accompanied him. With the exception of two years in Chile, Mr. Morris remained in the employ of the Cerro de Pasco company for fifteen years. A decade ago he came to Lima and established the Morris Bar which for a number of years was one of the most widely known and popular establishments of its kind on the West Coast. Famed as a genial host and with a large following of friends and acquaintances, 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. Several months ago the Bar went into voluntary bankruptcy. Mr. Morris is survived by a widow and three children. Interment took place on Friday last at the English Cemetery, Bellavista.
Amongst hundreds of “old timers” on the Coast, the passing of the Morris Bar will be keenly regretted.
Rick Vecchio is also director of marketing and development for Fertur Peru Travel, which is owned by his wife, Siduith Ferrer, and is a commercial sponsor of Andean Air Mail & PERUVIAN TIMES. You can read more of his articles on the Peruvian Travel Trends blog.