27. Yokohama cocktail

16 Sep

In China and Japan the American sphere of influence is defined by the cocktail, and it has an open gate. At Nagasaki and Yokohama,  in the latter country, as good a cocktail can be had at a few places as in San Francisco.

— “A Talk about Cocktails”, Seen and Heard, vol. 2:1 (1 January 1902), pp. 309-20 (p. 318).

“The cocktail has been an effective missionary,” remarked an American naval officer just back from a trip around the world. “In fact, it marks the boundaries of our spheres of influence and is the pioneer of American civilization . . . I am rather ashamed to confess that it is only since the army went into the East that a first-rate cocktail can be had there. When I was on the China station in Benicia as an ensign the American bars flourished at Yokohama, Nagasaki and at Canton, and especially at Yokohama, but the cocktails were vile.”

— “Cocktails and Seapower”, The United Service, vol. 1:4 (April 1902), pp. 444-46 (p. 444).

Until the middle of the nineteenth century Yokohama, now Japan’s second most populous city, was a small, sleepy fishing village. But after Commodore Matthew Perry and the gun-toting “Black Ships” of the US Navy arrived in 1854 to demand that the Tokugawa shogunate, which for 200 years had pursued a policy of isolationism (or sakoku), open itself up to foreign trade, this natural habour was transformed into the busiest and most important port in the archipelago. Yokohama quickly acquired a cosmopolitan character, as a growing colony of European and American nationals, who until 1899 enjoyed extraterritorial status (or “extrality”, as it was known in the local slang), influenced the architecture and culture of this booming settlement, even if they led a mostly separate existence on the eastern side of the town. Just two years after the port was completed in 1859, Japan’s first English-language newspaper, the Japan Herald, was published; 1863 saw the founding of the United Club, one of the bedrocks of this community of expatriate bachelors, who congregated there to sip cocktails before spending the evening sailing or golfing or playing tennis. Hotels sprang up, including the misleadingly named Hotel de Paris, the Belmont and the Grand Hotel, the latter known as “the best in all the Orient” (Burton Holmes, Travelogues [New York Mcclure, 1908] p. 128). The Grand, still around today (although it had to be rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1923), was another fixture in the social life of Yokohama and a true reflection of the city’s residents, both permanent and transient: in the dining room one could “meet Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Dutch, Spaniards, Russians, Hindoos and even Armenians there. The servants are Japanese, the steward is a Chinaman who speaks excellent French, the clerk in charge of the office is Portuguese, the comprador is of course a Chinaman and, if I remember rightly, the night watchman is a Wallachian.” (Simon Adler Stern, Jottings of Travel in China and Japan [Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888], pp. 44-5). Given its internationalism, there was something ersatz about Yokohama, something inauthentic. “At first glance this city seems thoroughly Japanese,” wrote a later visitor, “but, on knowing it better, I have found it to be in reality very European and not at all typical of the country or its people. It is rather a laughing-stock among the Japanese themselves, who call things ‘Yokohama’ as a term of derision” (Isabel Anderson, The Spell of Japan [Boston: Page, 1914], pp. 295-6).At one of the city’s bars, in the Grand perhaps, which was already the birthplace of the Bamboo cocktail, or in the United Club, or maybe in the Columbia Club, the Yokohama cocktail was invented. When, exactly, is unclear, but the drink is first listed in Harry McElhone’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails (1928) and turns up in the Savoy Cocktail Book and again in Duffy’s Mixer’s Manual (1934). It’s one of those relatively rare pre-war cocktails made with vodka, and I imagine that the red hue is meant to evoke the national symbol of Japan: the rising sun.

The recipe:

1 Dash Absinthe

1/6 Grenadine

1/6 Vodka

1/3 Orange Juice

1/3 Dry Gin


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