36. Jack Rose and Royal Smile cocktails

15 Oct

The next round was ninety-five Jack Rose cocktails, but the audience was beginning to get out of hand.

— Christopher Morley and Bart Haley, In the Sweet Dry and Dry (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), pp. 101-2.

If it is elevating to the soul to observe the fine colors of a sunset, then why is it not quite as elevating to observe the fine colors of a woman’s hair, the silk of her frock, a piece of old mahogany, a Jack Rose cocktail?

— H.L. Mencken, “The Niagara of Novels”, Smart Set, vol. 67:4 (April 1922), pp. 138-44 (p. 140).

“Shall we talk business over a little gentle lunch,” says Steinwilly pleasantly. ‘Course that’s a way they have down there; they think if they buy you a five-dollar meal you’re going to come down a thousand or two. So I nodded and we sauntered out. “Ever try a royal-smile cocktail?” says Steinwilly. I knew that game, too, but I looked him over and sized up his capacity, and I said to myself, “Two can play at that”.

— Owen Johnson, The Woman Gives: A Story of Regeneration (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1916), p. 371.

How did the Jack Rose cocktail get its name? I’m with Albert Stevens Crockett on this one. “Lots of readers about racketeers,” he declared from his familar barstool in  1931, “and such as read only that sort of news in the papers, have believed for years that this cocktail was named after a character who turned state’s evidence in the famous Becker case, which sent a Police Lieutenant to the chair.” That story about the notorious underworld figure “Bald” Jack Rose (1875-1947) is still passed around pulp historians of crime.¹ It is, as Crockett suspected, hogwash. “The name [of the cocktail] is really Jacque Rose,” he continued, “a corrupution of Jacquemot. It was named because of its pink color, the exact shade of a Jacquemot rose, when properly concocted” (Albert Stevens Crockett, Old Waldorf Bar Days [New York: Aventine Press, 1931], p. 143). Well, close.  Crockett was a drinker not a horticulturalist, so his knowledge of matters botanical probably stretched no further than rye, the grape and the juniper berry. For a start, il nome della rosa is actually Général Jacqueminot, after a commander of the Napoleonic era, not Jacquemot. Introduced in 1853, and popularly known as “General Jack” or the “Jack Rose”, it was the first long-stemmed variety and, as the constituent of countless Valentine’s bouquets,  “one of the most famous roses of all time”  (Richard Thomson and Helen Van Pelt Wilson, Roses For Pleasure [Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1957], p. 43). And its blossom is not pink exactly, but rather dark-red—just like the cocktail, in fact, which, at least according to the recipes in my possession, is deep crimson in colour. But here’s the kicker: for a brief moment all three Jack Roses—the cocktail, the flower, the ne’er do well—were indeed brought together in the fall-out from the aforementioned Becker case of 1912; but not in the way that Crockett’s “readers about racketeers” had supposed. More on that in a moment.

What’s clear is that the Jack Rose cocktail was invented before 1912. By whom? Well, I seriously doubt it was George T. Summerlin, the US State Department’s Chief of  Protocol from 1938-1944—on whose behalf that bizarre claim is made, in passing, by Jim Christy in his biography of Charles Eugene Bedaux (The Price of Power [Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1984], p. 175). It might have been a New Jersey bartender called Frank. J. May, who, for reasons lost to posterity, assumed the nom de guerre “Jack Rose” and was reported to have created a “a very popular cocktail by that name” (“An Athletic Mixologist”, National Police Gazette, 22 April, 1905). But whether Jack Rose’s Jack Rose was the same Jack Rose that would enter the early twentieth-century mixological repertoire is uncertain. The earliest published recipe for a cocktail called “Jack Rose”, as far as I’m aware, appeared in Jack’s Manual, and it bears only a passing resemblance to later versions: 1 teaspoonful of sugar, 10 dashes raspberry syrup, 10 dashes lemon juice, 5 dashes orange juice, the juice of half a  lime, 75% cider brandy, all of which was then topped off with “fizz water” (J. A. Grohusko, Jack’s Manual [New York: McClunn, 1910], p. 51). Compare that with Craddock’s formula in the Savoy Cocktail Book:

The Juice of 1/2 Lemon or 1 Lime.

1/4 Grenadine.

3/4 Applejack or Calvados.

By this time the ingredients were more or less settled, although, oddly, the choice of lemon or lime juce was never fixed. (I personally think lemon works better, at least with Calvados.) Some mixers recommended a little less grenadine, resulting in a pinker, Crockett-approved hue; Charles Browne, for example, was happy with a “teaspoonful of grenadine syrup” (The Gun Club Cook Book [New York: Scribner’s, 1930], p. 264).

But let’s get back to the tale of Bald Jack Rose. On 16 July 1912, Herman Rosenthal, a small-time crook, was gunned down as he left the Hotel Metropole in Manhattan. A few days earlier, he had signed an affadavit, subsequently published in the New York World, which claimed that NYPD detective Charles Becker, who headed the “Strong Arm Squad”, a unit detailed to suppress illegal gambling in the city, was systematically shaking down the very people he was supposed to be arresting. After Jack Rose, known to his mother as Jacob Rosenzweig and the dirty cop’s bag man, was identified as the man who’d rented the hit team’s getaway car, he became the target of a police hunt, but quickly turned himself in. Under interrogation, he identified the four exotically monikered gunmen, Gyp the Blood Horowitz, Lefty Louis Rosenberg, Whitey Lewis and Dago Frank Cirofisi, confessed to hiring them on Becker’s orders and was one of the star witnesses at the subsequent trials, which resulted in the conviction and execution of all five men. (There is some doubt, though, about the safety of Becker’s conviction: although a generally unpleasant piece of work and clearly guilty of corruption, he may have been falsely implicated in the murder by Rose and others.)

The investigation and the evidence of graft that it uncovered electrified the city of New York. While Jack Rose clearly enjoyed the notoriety that daily appearances in the press brought him, thirteen-year old Brooklynite Franco Domerico, who, like the older snitch suffered from alopecia, was not having as much fun. Fed up with the playground taunts of  “Baldy”, “Jack Rose” and “Squealer”,  he skipped school, got caught and was summoned before  the magistrate (“Called ‘Jack Rose’, Boy Quits School”, New York Times, 6 February 1913). Rose’s bad reputation had other unexpected consequences. “The murder of Herman Rosenthal has seriously affected the business of florists in Brooklyn, and perhaps a good deal in Manhattan,” announced the Washington Post just before Christmas 1912. Sales of the Jack rose  were down “just because it bears the same name as the informer in the famous trials”. Florists concluded that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and, to spare the blushes of the flower-buying public, changed it to “Richmond”. Supposedly there was also “a serious slump in cocktails, which were known as Jack Roses.” The bartenders, too, thought a little rebranding might be in order:

“What’ll we call it?” suggested a bartender to another.

“Call it?” he answered, pausing for a rich name. “Call it a Royal Smile. That’s about as different as anything that I can think of, for Jack Rose’s smile only could be called royal now from the feeble attempt there is to be appear happy.”

“Good,” said the bartender, and when a customer entered the bar to get something to whet his appetite the bartender suggested a Royal Smile.

“What’s that?” asked the customer.

“Mysterious drink,” was the response. “It’s composed of one jigger of gin, one jigger of applejack, half a jigger of grenadine and half a jigger of lemon juice, and guaranteed to—“

“Give me one.” There was a shaking and a clinking of ice against the thin glass, a gulp, and the Royal Smile had disappeared.

“Guess I can do with another of those,” said the customer.

After the second Royal Smile he was as merry as old King Cole, and now those Royal Smiles are the thing when it comes to cocktails. But there are always persons who don’t care what they call a drink. John O’Connell, at the Van Cortlandt Park hotel, has a “Gyp the Blood” cocktail.² From those who have had “just one” they find it as the poet did Sir Hudson Lowe, “by name as well as nature so”.

— “Rosenthal Murder Changes Names of Famous Flower and a Cocktail,” Washington Post, 23 December 1912, p. 4.

According to this account, then, the cocktail was not named after Bald Jack Rose but renamed to avoid any guilt by association. But that’s not quite right either; the Jack Rose did not simply adopt a new alias. Assuming we accept the kernel of the newspaper’s story as true, that Jack Rose cocktails temporarily fell out of favour and enterprising bartenders tried to something about it, then what presumably they must have done is replace the Jack Rose with an almost identical but nonetheless distinct cocktail. Note the ingredients of the Royal Smile mentioned in the article:  more or less the same, and in roughly similar proportions, as those of the Jack Rose, but with the important addition of gin. Well, then it’s no longer a Jack Rose. What’s more, the Royal Smile already existed in 1912: it wasn’t created in response to the Becker-Rosenthal Affair. A brief item in The Chef Magazine on a banquet given at the Hotel Astor in New York concluded with the remark: “The ‘Royal Smile’ cocktail, lately introduced at the Astor, was part of the decoration, which also included pink roses” (“International Menu for a Dinner Party”, The Chef Magazine, vol. 1: 3 [April 1910], p. 26). Here’s a recipe for the Royal Smile as served at Baltimore’s Hotel Belvedere in 1914:

Juice of half a lime

One-fourth Grenadine Syrup

One-fourth Gordon gin

One-half Apple Brandy

Beverages de Luxe (Louisville, KY: Wine and Spirit Bulletin, 1914).

If the fortunes of the Jack Rose really did dip in 1912 or thereabouts, they soon recovered and it became one of the more popular cocktails in the years immediately before and after Prohibition. So too did the Royal Smile—Webb Waldron listed it alongside the Bronx and the Clover Club as one those “American achievements” in which tired businessmen would seek solace before the Volstead Act (Webb Waldron, “Where is America going?, III”, The Century, 100:3 [July 1920], pp. 425-32 [p. 428]). Despite their similarity, which even extended to their flexibility on the question of whether to use lemon or lime juice, and despite the fact that the gin adds very little to the mix, both cocktails received separate entries in later bar guides such as the Savoy Cocktail Book, the Café Royal Cocktail Book and The Stork Club Bar Book.

*****

¹ See, for example: “Jack Rose left off preaching and the cinema in favor of a successful catering career. In the course of this he gave his name to the Jack Rose cocktail, a combination of lemon juice, grenadine and apple jack that has mercifully disappeared from most bar lists” (Andy Logan, Against the Evidence: The Becker-Rosenthal Affair [London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970], p. 333).

² A letter-writter to the New York Times, who signed himself “Cogitator”, confirms the existence of such a cocktail: “Dining with a friend in a Broadway restaurant last night, the question of what to drink was being pondered, when the waiter suggested that a new cocktail was being mixed and proving immensely popular—the ‘Gyp the Blood’ cocktail. Of course, we ordered it. Every one about us ordered it. Now, why in the world should a cocktail with the name of that eminent miscreant prove so exhilarating?” (“‘Gyp the Blood Cocktail’”, New York Times, 30 August 1912).

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