A Mickey Finn (or simply Mickey) is a slang term for a drink laced with a drug (especially chloral hydrate) given to someone without their knowledge in order to incapacitate them. Serving someone a Mickey Finn is most commonly referred to as slipping a mickey, sometimes spelled "slipping a mickie".
The Mickey Finn is most likely named for the manager and bartender of a Chicago establishment, the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden Restaurant, which operated from 1896 to 1903 in the city's South Loop neighborhood on South State Street. In December of 1903, several Chicago newspapers document that a Michael "Mickey" Finn managed the Lone Star Saloon and was accused of using knockout drops to incapacitate and rob some of his customers. Moreover, the first known written example (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) of the use of the term Mickey Finn is in 1915, twelve years after his trial, lending credence to this theory of the origination of the phrase.
The first popular account of Mickey Finn was given by Herbert Asbury in his 1940 book Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. His cited sources are Chicago newspapers and the 1903 court testimony of Lone Star prostitute "Gold Tooth" Mary Thornton. Before his days as a saloon proprietor, Mickey Finn was known as a pickpocket and thief who often preyed on drunken bar patrons. The act of serving a Mickey Finn Special was a coordinated robbery orchestrated by Finn. First, Finn or one of his employees, which included "house girls", would slip a drug (chloral hydrate) in the unsuspecting patron's drink. The incapacitated patron would be escorted or carried into a back room by one of Finn's associates who would then rob the victim and dump him in an alley. Upon awaking the next morning in a nearby alley, the victim would remember little or nothing of what had happened. Finn's saloon was ordered closed on December 16, 1903.
In 1918, Mickey Finn was apparently arrested again, this time for running an illegal bar in South Chicago.
The Chicago restaurant poisonings
On June 22, 1918, four people were arrested and over one hundred waiters taken into custody over the apparent widespead practice of poisoning by waiters in Chicago. Guests who tipped poorly were given "Mickey Finn powder" in their food or drinks. Chemical analysis showed that it contained antimony and potassium tartrate. Antimony is known to cause headaches, dizziness, depression, and vomiting and can be lethal in large quantities. W. Stuart Wood and his wife were arrested for manufacturing the powder, and two bartenders were arrested for selling the powder at the bar at the waiter's union headquarters. Wood sold packets of the powder for 20 cents and referred to it as "Mickey Finn Powder" in a letter to union bartender John Millian. A followup article mentions the pursuit of man named Jean Crones who was believed to be responsible for poisoning over 100 people at a Chicago University Club banquet at which three people died.
Tracing usage of the phrase "Mickey Finn"
The Oxford English Dictionary gives a chronology of the term, starting in 1915. The 1915 citation is from a photo of a saloon in the December 26 edition of the Los Angeles Examiner. In the photo is a sign that reads "Try a Michael Finneka cocktail". The first listed reference as a knock-out drop in the OED, "Wish I had a drink and a Mike Finn for him", is from a March 11, 1924 article in the New York Evening Journal. A description of a Mickey Finn is given in the January 18, 1927 issue of the Bismarck Tribune, "a Mickey Finn is an up-to-date variant on the knock-out drops of pre-war days". In the September 3, 1927 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the phrase appears in an article on the use of ethylene for artificial riping of fruit, "Applied to a human, ethylene is an anaesthetic as the old-time Mickey Finn in a lumber-jack saloon". The phrase also appears in the January 13, 1928 issue of Variety, "Mickeyfinning isn't describable, but it's easily worked, leaving its victims miserable. The work is accomplished mainly by bartenders... Mickeyfinning has been behind some of the nite club liquor trouble, with the victims so sore they don't care what their revenge might bring".
As a plot device, Mickey Finning first appears in the 1930 film Hold Everything and the 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon. Since that time it has been used many times in books, film, television, often occurring in detective stories and comedy scenes.
Other possible origins
Starting in the 1880s, the author Ernest Jarrold published a series of fictional stories about a boy named "Mickey Finn" growing up in the Irish section of bucolic Rondout, New York. The "Mickey Finn" stories were published in newspapers across the United States, bringing nationwide fame to Jarrold. Mickey is also a very old slang term for Irishman. The Oxford English Dictionary entry for mickey n1 lists the term as derogatory slang for an Irishman, with first known written usage in 1851. From these facts, some argue that by the time the term entered popular usage, Mickey Finn had become something of a generic Irish name, making any specific origin difficult to pin down.
In popular culture
Film, television, and literature
In the 1930 film Hold Everything, a boxer's manager attempts to slip a mickey in the challenger's drink.
In the 1930 novel and 1941 filmThe Maltese Falcon Joel Cairo slips a mickey in Sam Spade's whiskey.
The bartender in the 1937 Laurel and Hardy film Way Out West is named Mickey Finn.
Author P.G. Wodehouse repeatedly used Mickey Finns as plot devices. In the 1939 novel Uncle Fred in the Springtime, Baxter is slipped a Mickey Finn by Uncle Fred. In the 1951 novel The Old Reliable: "She had been about to suggest that the butler might slip into Adela's bedtime Ovaltine what is known as a knockout drop or Mickey Finn.". Character Joe Pickering is Mickey-Finned in the 1973 novel Bachelors Anonymous.
The 1939 mystery novel by Eliot Paul is titled The Mysterious Mickey Finn.
The 1940 film The Bank Dick, W.C. Fields has a bartender slip a mickey to a bank examiner
In the 1944 Daffy Duck short Plane Daffy, Courier Pigeon 13 falls into the clutches of the spy Hatta Mari, who slips him a "Mickeyblitz Finnkrieg", a takeoff on both "Mickey Finn" and "Blitzkrieg."
A Mickey Finn has been referenced in several Three Stooges shorts, including as the fake country, "Mikey Finlen". Moe tells Larry, "You, I shall give Mikey Finlen. Larry responds, "If I take Mikey Finlen, I better be Russian." Curly adds, "Then, quit Stalin." In another episode where the stooges purchase a beauty salon and think it is a drinking saloon, they enter the building for the first time and say in sequence "(Larry:) Where's the bar? (Curley:) Where's the pretzels? (Moe:) Where do they keep the Mickey Finns?"
Slipping a mickey is a common plot device that was used by Raymond Chandler in his Philip Marlowe detective novels. In the 1950 TV episode of The Adventures Of Philip Marlowe, "The Uneasy Head", Marlowe is slipped a mickey in a bar while looking for Sammy Archer, a second story burglar.
This was reflected by Lucille Ball in the first episode of the successful comedy I Love Lucy entitled 'Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Kill Her.' A series of events makes Lucy think that her husband wants to murder her. He trys to slip her some sleeping powder and she exclaims: "I got a mickey from Ricky!"
In Robert Bloch's 1955 novelette The Big Binge, there is a bartender named Mickey Finn.
In the James Bond novel (1957) and film (1963) From Russia with Love, Red Grant plants chloral hydrate in Bond girl Tatiana Romanova's Chianti so that she does not participate in the ensuing fight.
In the 1966 novel and James Bond 1987 film The Living Daylights, Bond is given a vodka martini by the Bond girl Kara Milovy and soon becomes disoriented. Once more tasting the vodka martini, he pronounces "chloral hydrate...", realizing his mistake and the secret ingredient in this vodka martini-Mickey Finn, before passing out.
In the 1974 M*A*S*H episode "A Full Rich Day", Hawkeye Pierce attempts to incapacitate a wounded Turkish soldier by adding chloral hydrate in a glass of prune juice; unfortunately, Radar O'Reilly drinks the spiked glass, and the Turk returns him to the 4077th and drives off.
In the 1982 film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which is a collage of and a homage to the 1940s and 1950's film noir and pulp detective movies, the protagonist Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) gets repeatedly served a Mickey.
In 1991 (Season 2) of the TV sitcom Seinfeld (episode "The Revenge"), George tells Jerry that, in order to take revenge on his former boss, he's "gonna slip him a mickey." Jerry quips "What are you, Peter Lorre?" (A reference to when Lorre's character Joel Cairo drugged Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon) He then gets Elaine to distract his former boss while he slips him the mickey. He hires George back before he drinks it but then George gets fired after he does.
In the 1998 film The Big Lebowski, The Dude is drugged with a Mickey Finn in a White Russian, at which point he has a musical dream sequence to Kenny Rogers' "What Condition My Condition Was In".
On the show The Venture Bros., a villain tricks Brock Samson into smoking a cigarette laced with chloral hydrate, which promptly knocks him unconscious just as he realises what it is.
In the Home Movies episode "Life Through a Fish Eye Lens", Brendon Small asks if his mother has heard the phrase "slipped him a mickey" in an attempt to convince her of the necessity of a fish eye lens for the production of his current film.
Gene Hunt in the BBC TV drama Life on Mars explains to Sam Tyler that he has been "slipped a Mickey" following a honey trap set up by local gangster Stephen Warren. Tyler had been handcuffed to his own bed by one of Warren's girls who had drugged him earlier in the night.
In Season 3 of Oz, the Irish American inmate Ryan O'Reily "slips the mickey" into the drinking water of the odds-on favorite in the sponsored prison boxing matches, either for advancing his brother Cyril O'Reily or big gains in underground bets.
In the Family Guy episode "Peter's Two Dads," it is revealed that Peter's real father is an Irish drunk named Mickey McFinnigan.
In Red Dwarf VIII, during a basketball match between the convicts and the guards, David Lister announces to his teammates, "We've Mickey Finned their drinks", alluding to the fact that he has spiked the opposition's half-time drinks bottles with a super-powerful virility drug.
In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang", Doctor Bashir slipped a holographic accountant a Mickey with ipecac so that they could get a mafioso in the holodeck program in trouble.
In the anime Naruto, Jiraiya returns to Tsunade's room at an inn after being asleep for the entire night at a bar. After narrowly missing Shizune with a kunai, he explains that Tsunade drugged his drink at the bar, weakly saying "She slipped me a Mickey".
In "Honeymoon", the finale of the first season of House, House doses his ex-girlfriend's husband with chloral hydrate in a half pint of beer.
In "The Search for Something More" - season 1, episode 8 - of "One Tree Hill", Peyton Sawyer gets slipped a Mickie at a party she was invited to by Brooke Davis
Mickey Finn was the percussionist and sideman to Marc Bolan in his band Tyrannosaurus Rex (on one album, A Beard of Stars), and later, the 1970s glam rock group, T. Rex.
In the song "It's a Hard Knock Life", from the musical Annie the orphan girls vent their frustrations behind Mrs Hannigan's back and threaten to 'make her drink a Mickey Finn.'
In the song "The Friends of Mr. Cairo" by Jon and Vangelis, the Sam Spade character is slipped a double gin Mickey Finn by "the double-crosser".
In her song "Certainly", Erykah Badu sings about wanting to escape a controlling love affair: "You tried to get a little tricky/Turned my back and then you slipped me a Mickey."
The Pogues song London You're a Lady, from the album Peace and Love, recalls a bar where "Chinamen played cards and draughts, and knocked back Mickey Finns."
An Irish band from New York is called The Mickey Finns .
A Mickey Finn is used in the song Lady T from the album A Night on Earth by Crazy Penis
Mickey Finn was the title of a 1960s comic strip by Lank Leonard. Mickey Finn is the name of the main character, a police officer living in a suburb of New York City. The action sometimes takes place in a bar named "Clancy's".
In the videogame Max Payne, when Mona Sax offers Max a drink, he accepts and says "I'm easy, as long as you don't try to slip me a mickey."
In Spider Robinson's book series Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, an extraterrestrial is named Mickey Finn after the events in the first story.
An Irish pub in Toledo, Ohio is named Mickey Finn's.
In the UK there is a drinks company called Mickey Finn's who manufacture fruit flavoured schnapps.
Herbert Asbury, Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940).
James A. lnciardi, "THE CHANGING LIFE OF MICKEY FINN: Some Notes On Chloral Hydrate Down Through the Ages", Journal of Popular Culture, Winter 1977 - Vol. 11 Issue 3 Page 591.
^ The saloon's exact location is usually said to be the on west side of South State Street, just north of Congress Parkway. The entire west side of South State Street, between Congress and Van Buren, is now occupied by Chicago Public Library's Central Library (also known as the Harold Washington Library at 400 South State Street). However, the December 16-17, 1903 Chicago Daily Tribune articles give the address as 527 State Street (Corner of State and Harmon Court), which is now the 1100 block of South State Street. The 500 block of South State Street is now between Congress Street and Harrison Street, which may be the reason for the confusion of the saloon's location. For the 1903 Chicago street names and numbering refer to "New map of Chicago showing street car lines in colors and street numbers in even hundreds", Chicago : Rufus Blanchard, 1897.
^ The area on State Street centered between Van Buren Street (to the North) to Harrison Street (to the South) was known as "Whiskey Row" from the late 1880's to the early 1910's. Just south of Harrison Street was a block known as "Hell's Half Mile". The area of State Street, south of Harrison was also known as "Satan's Mile".
^" ", Chicago Daily Tribune: 5, December 16, 1903. Quoting from the article, "Michael Finn, owner of saloon at corner of State Street and Harmon Court [now East 11 Street] ... Two former habitués—Mrs. Mary Thornton and Isabelle Fyffe—told that he gave 'knock-out drops' to customers suspected of having money and afterwards robbed them." Mary Thornton is quoted, "I worked for Finn a year and a half and in that time I saw a dozen men given 'dope' by Finn and his bartender. The work was done in two little rooms adjoining the palm garden in back of the saloon".
^" ", Chicago Daily Tribune: 3, December 17, 1903. Quoting from the article, "Lone Star Saloon, 527 State Street [now 1100 block of South State Street], managed by Micky Finn, closed by order of Mayor Harrison."
^Chicago Daily News, December 16, 1903. "The complete defense advanced by 'Mickey' Finn, proprietor of the Lone Star saloon ... described ... as the scene of blood-curdling crimes through the agency of drugged liquor."
^Inter-Ocean [Chicago], December 17, 1903. The Inter-Ocean was another Chicago newspaper in 1903. "Lone Star Saloon loses its license. 'Mickey' Finn's alleged 'knock-out drops' ... put him out of business."
^" ", Chicago Daily Tribune: 1, July 8, 1918. "Mickey Finn was arrested last night and lodged in the South Chicago police station. Mickey also known as Mike runs a hut at 115th Street and the Calumet River. He and his housekeeper Millie Schober and twenty customers were swooped down on by the police and all taken to the station. A wagonload of beer and booze was confiscated. Mickey and the woman were charged with running a disorderly house and selling liquor without formal authorization..."
^" ", The Kansas City Times: 3, June 23, 1918. "Evidence against the waiters was obtained by a detective agency employed by the Hotel Sherman after several guests had becomne ill suspiciously...Large quantities were found in a drawer behind the bar at the waiters' union headquarters.
^" ", Chicago Daily Tribune: 7, July 11, 1918. "Friend Johnny: Am enclosing two dozen packets of the Mickey Finn Powder...also find enclosed a couple hundred circulars...These circulars are not for use in Chicago...Whenever you have a man that is leaving Chicago talk Mickey Finn to him and give him a few of these circulars...
^" ", The Idaho Daily Statesman: 5, June 26, 1918.