June 5th, 2005: I’m sitting in an aisle seat in the middle row of a plane destined for Paris. Two seats away from me is Toby Cecchini, a guy I called arrogant and over-educated in print. He’s also the bartender who invented the Cosmopolitan, though it can be tough to get him to admit it. “Why do you deny creating what must be the most popular drink in the country?” I asked him this a few days later as we rolled through the French countryside discovering the joys of Cognac. He had a good answer. Not surprising. He’s over-educated.
Cecchini’s book, “Cosmopolitan: A Bartender’s Life,” details how the Cosmo was created. Mesa, a woman who tended bar with Toby at Manhattan’s Odeon in 1987, introduced him to a drink called the Cosmopolitan that was made with vodka, Rose’s lime juice, and grenadine, and although he didn’t like the drink, he did like the way it looked, so he set to work to improve it. His version, made with Absolut Citron, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and cranberry juice, soon became a hit at Odeon, and other bars started to make the drink too. A star was born. Why doesn’t this arrogant soul admit to inventing it? “Nobody believed me when I lay claim to it,” he told me, “so I took to denying it instead.” Not a bad ploy.
It’s tough, and often impossible, to pin down the moment of birth for most of the classic drinks. The names of their creators are often lost to history, so we tend to rely on folklore rather than fact, in order to get a handle on where various drinks got their start. But some fanciful tales turn out to be based on recorded history, so it’s not good to dismiss them out of hand.
Take the Negroni, for example. This delicious mixture of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin is often touted as being the brainchild of a certain Count Negroni, a tale that, after researching many old cocktail books, I dismissed as being yet another marketing gimmick. A friend of mine recently proved me wrong, though.
David Wondrich, author of “Killer Cocktails” a great book that’s packed with seriously delicious recipes, and lots of attitude, to boot discovered the story of the birth of the Negroni in an Italian book. It’s called “Sulle tracche del Conte: la vera stroria del cocktail ‘Negroni,'” by Lucca Picchi, head bartender at Caffe Rivoire in Florence, Italy. Turns out, according to Picchi, there actually was an Italian count, Camillo Negroni by name, and he was the guy who took the soda out of the Americano made with Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda and added gin to the mixture to give it more of a kick. The bar he frequented in Florence circa 1920 was called Bar Casoni, and the bartender there went by the name of Fosco Scarselli. Well done, Mr. Wondrich. (I told you it wouldn’t be long before I stole this story.)
Who’ll Take Manhattan?
The birth of the Manhattan is lost to history. Recipes for the drink start appearing in cocktail books in the 1880s, but nary a word is printed about its origin. Some people say that it was created at the Manhattan Club, a classy place that used to stand opposite the site on which the Empire State Building now sits, and in “Straight Up or On the Rocks,” author William Grimes writes that the club’s official history states as much, but gives no other details save for a recipe that calls for equal amounts of whiskey and vermouth with some orange bitters.
The story I find most plausible about the creation of the Manhattan, though, lies within the pages of a book called “Valentine’s Manual: 1923,” wherein William F. Mulhall, a bartender who plied his trade at New York’s Hoffman House in the 1880s, wrote this: “The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the [eighteen] sixties probably the most famous drink in the world in its time.” In its time? The darned thing is still going real strong in 2005, nearly 150 years after “its time” in the 1860s. Why do I believe this story? It’s the only one I’ve heard that mentions a person, a place, and a period of time that makes sense. Plus a bartender wrote the story and we all know that bartenders never lie . . .
The story of the creation of the Dry Gin Martini must always follow the tale of the Manhattan since, as far as I’m concerned, the Martini started out as a variation on the Manhattan. It goes like this: Grimes states and I never argue with Grimes that a drink called The Martinez is detailed in an 1884 cocktail book by someone named O.H. Byron, “who described the drink as a Manhattan in which gin is substituted for whiskey.” So now we have a drink named the Martinez that’s made with gin, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters.
In the early 1900s the Dry Martinez, calling for dry vermouth instead of sweet, starts appearing in various cocktail books, and in 1906 the drink mysteriously changes its name to the Dry Martini in a book by Louis Muckensturm titled “Louis’ Mixed Drinks with Hints for the Care and Service of Wines.” Why did the name change? Hold on to your hat, this might be hard to take.
I think it was probably a result of marketing dollars spent by Martini & Rossi, the company that was importing more vermouth into this country than anyone else at the time. The company apparently placed newspaper advertisements detailing the Dry Martini Cocktail in the early years of the twentieth century. I believe, therefore, that the Manhattan begat the Martinez, the Martinez begat the Dry Martinez, and the Dry Martinez eventually came to be known as the Dry Martini. There’s no way to prove this, but it seems fairly logical to me. Orange bitters, by the way, remained a standard ingredient in Dry Gin Martinis right through the 1930s.
The Sazerac is another classic drink that’s been making a well-deserved comeback in recent years, and now that there are quite a few good straight rye whiskeys on the market, it’s easier to get the right ingredients to make this New Orleans marvel to the original recipe. That is, if you choose to ignore the fact that the original Sazerac was made with Cognac. Stanly Clisby Arthur, author of “Famous New Orleans Drinks & how to mix ’em,” credits bartender Leon Lamothe with inventing the drink, and the current Sazerac Company, an entity that owns the “intellectual rights” to the drink, puts its birth date at 1850.
At some point in the late 1800s, though, straight rye whiskey started to take the place of the Cognac in the Sazerac, and this could be due to the fact that France was in the throes of a phylloxera epidemic at the time, and most of the vineyards there were decimated. No grapes. No wine. No Cognac.
More than a couple of drinks that have stood the test of time were created at the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, prior to the onset of Prohibition in 1920 when it stood on the exact spot of today’s Empire State Building. The Rob Roy, for instance, first made its way into a glass there in the 1890s, and was named for a Broadway show of the same name. And the Bronx Cocktail, brainchild of Waldorf bartender Johnnie Solon, was the result of a customer challenging him to come up with a new drink on the spot. He called it the Bronx because he’d just seen some weird and wonderful animals at the Bronx Zoo, and he’d heard that people who drank too much saw such creatures without having to travel anywhere at all.
The Jack Rose, that delightful mixture of applejack, lemon juice, and grenadine try substituting Chambord for the grenadine, it works really well is another drink that made its debut at the Waldorf, a joint where the distinguished clientele included luminaries such as Colonel William F. Cody, otherwise known as “Buffalo Bill.” This famed hero of the Wild West reputedly never refused a drink, saying, when one was offered, “Sir, you speak the language of my tribe.” Albert Stevens Crockett, author of “The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar-Book,” wrote that the Jack Rose would be more properly named the Jacque Rose since, when it’s properly made, it should be the color of a Jaqueminot rose.
Now let’s address the Sidecar/Margarita question. Consider this: The Sidecar was created in Paris sometime between 1914 and 1918 by an unknown bartender at an unknown bar. Harry’s New York Bar has been cited as its birthplace, and so has the Ritz Paris hotel, but nobody knows for sure.
In “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” author David Embury claimed that the drink was created during World War I by a friend of his who traveled to his favorite “little bistro” in Paris in the sidecar of a motorbike. He names neither the bar nor the bartender, though. The Sidecar is classically made with Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. Take the Cognac out and use tequila instead; substitute lime juice for the lemon juice, and you’ve made yourself a Margarita. Use vodka instead of tequila and you’ve a Kamikaze on your hands.
But that’s not all, folks. Use a citrus vodka as a base, and add a little cranberry juice for color, and guess what you just made. That’s right. It’s a Cosmopolitan. There’s a good reason that the Cosmo has great staying power. It’s a great drink made to a classic formula. Being pink doesn’t hurt, either. And as for that Toby Cecchini guy, I must tell you that he freely ‘fesses up to his arrogance, but after spending almost a week in France with him, I’ve discovered that he’s a really swell guy, too. He currently owns and tends bar at a joint called Passerby in Manhattan. Pop in and get a Cosmo made by its creator one of these days.
Who Invented The Margarita?
The Margarita. Ah, yes, the Margarita. Who invented it? I can give you the names of five people who have been credited with first making this most popular of drinks, and all of the stories surrounding them are feasible to some extent, but we’ll probably never know who was the very first to marry tequila, lime juice, and triple sec.
The fact is that sometimes people invent drinks that have already been invented. They aren’t necessarily stealing the recipe from someone else, they just put in the ingredients because the combination seems to make sense. And it’s fairly easy to see how someone would eventually put the Margarita together. It’s just a variation on the Sidecar, after all. We’ll come back to that point later, but meanwhile, here’s a list of people who have been credited with creating the Margarita:
Daniel (Danny) Negrete is said to have created the drink for his girlfriend, a woman named Margarita, when he was the manager of Garci Crespo Hotel in Puebla, Mexico, in 1936;
Johnnie Durlesser, a bartender at the Los Angeles restaurant, The Tail of the Cock, in the 1950s, has also been credited with the drink;
Sara Morales, an expert in Mexican folklore, claimed that it was created, circa 1930 by Do