It being my birthday, and my friends knowing me all too well, most of the presents I got were alcohol-related. The Loved One gave me a classic martini shaker and glasses (thanks Dian): late fifties or early sixties we’re guessing. The glasses are especially fine, decorated with cockerels, and small enough that you might use them to have a three martini lunch.
The shaker has various cocktail recipes embossed on the glass and it’s interesting what’s there and what’s not. Present and correct are the Martini, the Manhattan and the whiskey sour, among others, but there’s no margarita for instance, and certainly no screwdriver, which I think is the first “cocktail” most of us ever drink, especially if we’re girls. Maybe you could argue it doesn’t even count as a cocktail, just orange juice with vodka in it.
And there on my shaker is a recipe for the Bronx. I had certainly heard of the Bronx but just as certainly I couldn’t have told you how to make one, and now that I do know, it frankly doesn’t sound all that exicting, essentially a not very dry Martini with orange juice in it. My shaker’s recipe involves 3 parts gin, one part French vermouth, one Italian vermouth, one part orange juice.
Fortunately I was able to compare and contrast this recipe with one inside the PDT Cocktail Book, one of my other birthday presents (thanks Elina, thanks Anthony). PDT is a “speakeasy bar” in St Mark’s Place in Manhattan and access is via a phone booth in the back of a hotdog joint named Crif Dogs, and you have to have reservation before they’ll let you in. Honest. One of my journo pals in New York did offer to take me there but it all seemed too much bother. PDT apparently stands for “Please Don’t Tell,” which reminds me there used to be a beer bar in the East Village named DBA – which meant “Don’t Bother To Ask.”
The book is written by Jim Meehan, who’s Mr. Cocktail in New York right now, and it’s a beautiful thing, illustrated by Chris Gall with images like this:
According to PDT, the Bronx cocktail was named after the zoo, not the borough and “was one of the most popular drinks of its time,” that time possibly being the first decade of the twentieth century. The book gives a recipe from William Boothby’s The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them, from 1908.
The Boothby Bronx cocktail contains 2 oz gin, half an once dry vermouth, half an ounce sweet vermouth, three quarters of an ounce orange juice, so it would be a little sweeter than the one on my shaker, but then many early cocktail recipes do sound surprisingly sweet.
That being the case, and me being an old school guy who likes a dash of bitters in his martini, I could see no harm it having bitters in my Bronx, orange bitters seemed the obvious way to go, and I did in fact find a recipe that demanded them, in A to Z of Cocktails, published by Ward Lock in 1980. Yes, yes, I do collect books of cocktail recipes, the quirkier the better.
The 1980s were a dodgy period for cocktails, there was quite a fad for them, but everybody seemed to drink Harvey Wallbangers, surely the sweetest cocktail anybody’s ever tasted: vodka and orange juice, plus Galliano and castor sugar, according to the boys at Ward Lock. Come on. Nobody needs a drink THAT girly.
My Bronx looked just a little pale and anemic, and it did taste like a slightly diluted Martini, but then of course it had all the bang of an actual Martini so it felt a lot better than it looked or tasted.
Now I had the bit between my teeth on this cocktail lark and I happened to come upon a used copy of Hollywood Cocktails by Tobias Steed, with recipes by Ben Reed. It was published in 1990 but it’s satisfyingly old school, illustrated with classic black and white stills from the golden age of Hollywood: Shelley Winters, David Niven, Vincent Price, Better Davis et al, slugging back cocktails from surprisingly small glasses. It seems to come in multiple editions with different covers. Why not collect the whole set?
The book doesn’t have a recipe for the Bronx, but it does contain a line from The Thin Man, Nick Charles addressing the barman, “A Manhattan you shake to foxtrot time. A Bronx to, er, two-step time. A dry Martini you always shake to a waltz time.” Which must have been pretty annoying for the barman.
The book doesn’t have an actual recipe for the Screwdriver either, but it does have a word about its origins, “Supposedly, it was devised in the 1940s by an American who found himself without a swizzle stick and turned to his utility belt for assistance.” Supposedly indeed.
My other present (above) was three miniature bottles of Kah tequila (thanks Scott, thanks Gina), the bottles shaped like Mexican Day of the Dead skulls. As I’ve said before, and as I’m sure I’ll say again: Everything tastes better out of a skull. This stuff tasted great, far too good to use in a cocktail.