The bar at Lantern’s Keep in New York’s Iroquois Hotel is so committed to classic cocktails that it doesn’t even carry vodka. Something the lounge’s new drink menu, which launched in late September, does include is a section of nightcaps. Bar manager Rene Hidalgo says guests had been asking specifically for after-dinner drinks.
Hildalgo believes there’s a market for dessert drinks and old-school nightcaps. The demand from guests is there, he says, but many operators are reluctant to promote nightcaps like the Grasshopper and the Brandy Alexander, because they’re a bit too old-timey even for classic cocktail fans. As such, many after-dinner drinks don’t command a lot of respect.
But that sentiment is changing: Perhaps ordering a Grasshopper has been uncool for so long that now it’s cool. Hildago says that spirits from craft brand Tempus Fugit give Lantern’s Keep’s Grasshopper a fresh take on the classic.
The bar’s nightcap menu also includes a Chancellor, a rich, Scotch-based cocktail with port, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters; the after-dinner drinks are priced at $15. Guests can also opt for the “Bartender’s Choice” nightcap, in which they request a spirit, style or flavor and the bartender customizes a cocktail for them.
Hildago offers some insight on the current fascination with classic cocktails. The cocktail was the first contribution to international gastronomy for the U.S., when it became popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. “Then we lost that due to Prohibition,” when American bartenders left to seek work in Europe, South America and the Caribbean, taking their bartending knowledge with them, he says.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, all the American bartending talent was long gone, “and we had to start from scratch and build it back,” Hidalgo says. This would take decades: Since bartenders weren’t terribly skilled, people began making the same drinks at home in the 1950 and ‘60s. Cocktails of the 1970s and ‘80s (like the Harvey Wallbanger, Long Island Iced Tea and Tequila Sunrise) weren’t known for their artistry, either.
It really wasn’t until around 2000 that people started reading up on cocktail history “and they realized it was better before Prohibition,” when bartenders made drinks using simple, fresh ingredients and classic techniques. But Hidalgo is quick to point out that appreciation of the cocktail classics “is not about looking backward, it’s about moving forward.”