28. Brooklyn cocktail

17 Sep

“McNair, you haven’t been long on this seaboard and you might not take it as an impertinence if I try to tell you something: Society in New York is divided, like cocktails, into two general classes—Bronx and Manhattan, with a thousand varieties of each. Of course Manhattan cocktails are rather out of style, but Manhattan society is the whole thing, if you care about that kind of thing. If you come to New York and choose Bronx—by that I mean the upper West Side, from here to the Zoölogical Gardens—you’re welcome at once and as good as in. You won’t find us any more vulgar or foolish, taking us as we come, than the Manhattan set, and we spend almost as much money. We’re the brains of New York in this section—engineers, able business men, lawyers, surgeons.

— Wallace Irwin, Venus in the East (New York: Doran, 1918), pp. 72-3.

The Manhattan and the Bronx are classic mixes from the Golden Age of cocktails—delicious and nutritious, it goes without saying, but elegant and eloquent too. If each represented, in the minds of writers at least, the borough after which it was christened, then perhaps it was inevitable that, as the fortunes of The Bronx declined after its heyday in the early twentieth century, the cocktail, too, would fall out of favour. It was equally inevitable, as Brooklyn grew in size and importance, that someone would invent a drink to celebrate its rise. In 1910, just 12 years after Brooklyn’s consolidation with New York City, the New York Herald brought word of the first attempt:

There’s another new cocktail in town. This time Brooklyn Borough has the distinction of naming it.

It’s the Brooklyn cocktail. Manhattan and The Bronx have been similarly honored; Richmond [i.e. Staten Island] and Queens have yet to be heard from.

The inventor of this new drink is from the Rhine section of Cincinnati, and strangely enough now has his abode in Brooklyn, his lounging place being the Schmidt café, just at the right hand as one leaves the Brooklyn end of the bridge, first saloon you come to.

Brooklynites call the place it fronts on the plaza, but it looks like a back yard before cleaning-up day.

The name of this inventor who has made Brooklyn famous is Maurice Hegeman, of the “Follies of 1910”, and he says the idea came to him one night when he was in bed. “I could not sleep,” said the talented Maurice, “so I put my mind on inventing a cocktail for Brooklyn, one that would compare with the Manhattan and The Bronx. After I thought it out, I got right up and went to Schmidt’s place of business and made me a couple of them. After I drank them I went home and my insomnia was gone. Fact is, I slept 12 hours without waking up.”

Hard cider is the basis or body or life or whatever it is of the New Hegeman drink. The ingredients are as follows:

Half a whisky glass of hard cider emptied into a long glass in which are three good-sized lumps of ice.

Half a jigger of absinthe.

Fill glass to brim with ginger ale.

Only three ingredients, it will be seen.

When asked what his excuse was for naming a pint of liquid a cocktail, Herr Hegeman said: “I know a cocktail is supposed to be a small drink, but there is no law about it. And I wanted Brooklyn to be known by a cocktail.”

The inventor recommends the drink for hot weather.

— “The Brooklyn Cocktail”, reprinted in Mixer and Server, vol. 19:8 (15 August 1910), p. 39.

Cider. Absinthe. Ginger ale. Is it any wonder the Brooklyn 1.0 didn’t catch on? Still, it wasn’t long—just a month or so, in fact—before another proud Brooklynite, or a visitor at any rate, raised his own alcoholic monument to the former City of Churches. The Kansas City Star reported:

Gentlemen, the Brooklyn cocktail.

And with it a panegyric by its inventor, Henry Wellington Wack, a lawyer, who is at the Hotel Nassau, Long Beach.

Until yesterday Brooklyn struggled along without a cocktail named in its honor. Here is Mr. Wack’s appreciation of his handiwork:

“The Brooklyn is the nearest approach to the amborosial nectar of the gods that the magical compounder of liquid, ventricular inspiration has so far produced for the gustatory gratification of mankind. It fits the throat like a velvet flame and pumps into one’s stomach with a merry laugh. It sharpens the appetite and the wits and dulls the edge of malice. It sends worry scampering down the alleys of the past. When the Brooklyn becomes our national drink, riches and poverty will dance a can-can on the grave of trouble.”

Here is the recipe:

“Three parts gin, one part French and one part Italian vermouth, one-half or one-third raspberry syrup. Embalm in a shaker of cracked ice and shake the very life into it. Serve repeatedly, smoking cold.”

“It sounds all right,” said a bartender at the Hoffman House, “but it would take a steward to make it. Why not put vanilla in it instead of raspberry? Why clutter up a perfectly good cocktail with a lot of extraneous matter?”

At the Waldorf-Astoria, where “the cocktail hour” has been an institution ever since the hotel was opened, the sirup [sic] was also in disfavor.

“All he forgot was the ice cream,” said one of the bartenders.

At an experiment station far removed from the Broadway zone, a hard-working bartender was asked to give his verdict.

“If I lived in Brooklyn,” said he, testily, “I’d stick to beer.”

— “The Brooklyn Cocktail”, reprinted in the Washington Post, 6 September 1910, p. 6.

Despite the fond hopes of its cranky creator, Brooklyn 2.0 did not become the “national drink”. Only with its third iteration did the drink finally make a mark. A prototype can already be found in Jack’s Manual (which, like the two newspaper reports, was published in 1910), and after Prohibition, though with some alterations, the recipe was still included in many of the best bar guides of the time: Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, the Savoy Cocktail Book, the Café Royal Cocktail Book, and so on. This is the formula in Harry Craddock’s magnum opus (which is identical to many other contemporary sources):

1 Dash Amer Picon

1 Dash Maraschino

2/3 Canadian Club Whisky

1/3 French Vermouth

It’s basically an embellished dry Manhattan (oddly enough for a place that prides itself on being distinctive): as the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan occupy opposing banks of the East River, so the eponymous cocktails are mirror images of each other, one dry and the other sweet. Jack Grohusko’s recipe, though, is even closer to a Manhattan: he calls for 50% rye whiskey and 50% Italian vermouth, in addition to the amer picon and maraschino (Jack’s Manual [New York: McClunn, 1910], p. 31).

The Brooklyn is not to be confused with the Brooklynite, which is a completely different kettle of ball games: a combination of Jamaica rum and honey with a dash each of lime juice and bitters (Stork Club Bar Book, p. 112).

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