Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Great NYC Cocktails

Happy New Year!! In this installment we talk about some of the most famous potables which have been invented, or popularized, in our town. Even if you don't drink, these tales make great holiday party banter. All recipes cited here are from .

Much of cocktail history is folklore, legend or simply imagination. Let's face it, alcohol doesn't exactly help the memory process! And there are numerous variations on each recipe. In deciding upon which to list here, I have elected that which seems closest to the traditional.


The best-known of drinks named for our town, this concoction was allegedly invented by a bartender at the Manhattan Club in 1874 to celebrate the election of Governor Samuel Tilden. There are lots of variations, including a Spanish Manhattan, which is made with sherry. But the following seems pretty close to the Classic:

2 and 1/2 ounces blended whiskey
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
Dash of Angostura bitters
3 or 4 ice cubes
1 Maraschino cherry

Mix all the ingredients but the cherry in a mixing glass. Stir them well, then strain. Add the cherry.


Waladorf Astoria Hotel bartender Johnny Solon invented this one around 1900. Quoting the mixologist himself:

"No, it wasn't really named after the borough, or the river so-called. I had been in the Bronx Zoo a day or so before, and I saw, of course, a lot of beasts I had never known. Customers used to tell me of the strange animals they saw after a lot of mixed drinks. So when Treverson said to me, as he started to take the drink to the customer, 'What'll I tell him is the name of the drink?' I thought of those animals and said, 'Oh, you can tell him it is a Bronx.'"

1 and 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
2 tablespoons orange juice
3 or 4 ice cubs.

Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass. Stir well. Strain.


"Bald Jack" Rose, born Jacob Rosensweig, was a well-known Midtown gambling boss shortly before the time of World War I. He became heavily involved in the famous Becker-Rosenthal case, in which an NYPD detective was convicted of ordering the murder of a mobster who had gone to the press regarding police corruption. In later life Bald Jack became a caterer, and this drink is named for him:

1 and 1/2 oz applejack
1/2 oz grenadine
1 and 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Shake vigorously, and strain.


New York wit Alexander Woolcott reportedly came up with this drink in the 1920's. Speaking of its potency, actress Helen Hayes recalled:

"The lethal mixture tasted like ice cream....I drank one down, and took another and drank it down, and I was blind."

Ms Hayes at the time was looking to get rid of a large piano which she owned. But the alcohol content of her blood stream caused her to make the offer, "Anyone who wants my piano is willing to it." Hearing this, playwright George S. Kaufman replied, "That's very seldom of you, Helen."

See if you can speak a coherent sentence after a couple of these:

3/4 oz brandy
3/4 oz crème de cacao
3/4 oz heavy cream
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients; shake vigorously; strain.

There are some legends that the Martini was invented in New York. One popular tale has a Waldorf bartender creating it for John D. Rockefeller. Too bad old J.D. was a devout Baptist, and didn't touch the stuff.

Additional sources:
Robert Hendrickson, NEW YAWK TAWK, NY, Checkmark Books, 1998.