26. Affinity cocktail (and the Sidewalk)

9 Sep

Brother Stevenson introduced the brothers to something new in the way of throat ticklers—an affinity cocktail. It consists of 12 beers, a woman and your wife as a chaser.

— “Chapter Letters”, Delta Sigma Delta Desmos, vol. 14:3 (May 1908), pp. 135-74 (p. 147).

The newest cocktail to hit Broadway in the autumn of 1907 was called the “Affinity”. Its arrival finally gave New Yorkers something to smile about, because, God knows, they were certainly in need of cheering up that fall: the city, and indeed the nation, was in the grip of a financial crisis, the so-called Panic of 1907, which saw the New York Stock Exchange fall 50% from its peak the previous year. The crisis had been triggered by an attempt in October to corner the market on stock of the United Copper Company. When that bid failed, banks that had lent money to the cornering scheme suffered runs that later spread to affiliated banks and trusts, leading a week later to the collapse of the Knickerbocker Trust Company. Fear spread throughout the country, and crowds rushed to withdraw their savings from institutions whose liquidity was now in doubt. So, yes, shaken New Yorkers could have done with a warm hug. Enter the Affinity.

Here’s how the venerable Hartford Courant reported on this novel prodigy:

One teaspoonful of powdered sugar, one dash of orange bitters, one jigger of Scotch whiskey, one half jigger of Italian vermouth. Stir in cracked ice until thoroughly blended and cooled, then drink, then—

Well, then the pianola sounds as good as the symphony orchestra. The second one convinces you that trust companies and savings banks are solvent and you want to put your money back. If you take three it seems like Summer, otherwise you’ll buy your wife—or the affinity—a new fur coat. Then it’s time to stop.

It moved the poet to the following:

In its glistening depth is the light of her eyes,

In its taste is her honey kiss.

There’s a victor’s crown for the man who tries

To build me another like this.

If you put another bright red cherry in the last one you will feel like a Belmont as you ride home in the subway.

— Hartford Courant, 29 October 1907, p. 14.

The original version of the story appeared in the New York Sun and was reprinted in several newspapers on the same day that the Courant ran its piece: “After drinking one, surviving experimenters declare, the horizon takes on a roseate hue, the second brings Wall street to the front and center proffering to you a quantity of glistening lamb shearings; when you’ve put away the third the green grass grows up all around, birds sing in the fig trees and your affinity appears” (Washington Post, 29 October 1907, p. 6).

There we have a clue to the name of the cocktail. “My affinity” was a phrase often seen on Valentine cards of the era. The composer John W. Bratton, who also wrote “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic”, had a hit in 1907 with “Molly McGinnity, You’re My Affinity” and that same year Maurice Levi and Harry B. Smith published the score for their musical extravaganza The Soul Kiss, which premiered on Broadway in January 1908 and contained a song entitled “My Affinity”. It was a phrase on everyone’s lips, so why not find solace, if not true love, in a drink named thereafter?
Somehow this ironic take on the genre—printed in 1907, by the way—seems more appropriate:

Anyway, the American banking system survived the panic and so too did the Affinity. It turns up in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and Duffy’s Official Mixer’s Manual a generation later in a slightly tweaked form:

1/3 French Vermouth

1/3 Italian Vermouth

1/3 Scotch Whiskey

2 Dashes Aromatic Bitters

Stir well with cracked ice, strain and serve with a Cherry and a twist of Lemon Peel over top of glass.

— Patrick Gavin Duffy, Official Mixer’s Manual (New York: Halcyon House, 1940 [1934]), p. 105.

******

A few years an earlier, the Chicago Tribune reported on a very similar concoction that had been recently invented by a Mr Johnson of Rector’s Bar. It consisted of equal parts Scotch, dry vermouth and sweet vermouth, with dashes of both orange and Angostura bitters (that combination of bitters is what distinguishes it from the Affinity). This summer drink, dubbed the “Sidewalk Cocktail”, was, the newspaper announced, “pleasing and cooling and insidious and in some cases overpowering. It tickles and flirts with one’s palate in such shameless fashion that unless the drinker is more than ordinarily level headed he will be forced to capitulate after about the fourth round”. It was improvised by the aforementioned barkeep when a doctor and his friends wandered into his establishment and demanded something novel, since they were fed up with their usual drinks. “Let us have something brand new—something that is a rare combination of hot and cold stuff,” were the doctor’s orders. They were suitably impressed by what the bartender threw together: it was a “hillylooloo”, no less, and apparently tasted like “a combination of champagne cup and rum punch”, which seems unlikely, but perhaps tell us something about the gustatory powers of the group. Only later, when the effects of the cocktail became manifest, did it receive a name: “I saw how it worked on a couple of your friends,” its creator confided in the physician, “and henceforth it shall be known as the ‘Sidewalk Cocktail’. It puts ’em there as surely as a banana peel” (“Here’s a Lovely Drink”, Chicago Tribune, 27 June 1901, p. 3).

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