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New York City bars are serving potent cocktails from, or fitting for, the 'Great Gatsby' era
As the film of Fitzgerald's novel arrives, mixologists at spots like Gemma, Mulberry Project and the Plaza have concocted throwback drinks that pack a Prohibition punch
BY MOLLY FRIEDMAN / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
WEDNESDAY, MAY 8, 2013, 7:25 PM 108 19 0

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Amitabh Bachchan, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio imbibe in a speakeasy in the new movie version of 'The Great Gatsby.' “I was on my way to get roaring drunk,” says Nick Carraway, the first time he encounters one of Jay Gatsby’s epic parties in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, “The Great Gatsby.” And we’ll see Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan doing exactly that when Baz Luhrmann’s longawaited film version opens Friday. Most of the scenes in the “The Great Gatsby” are drenched in liquor, from lawn parties where “champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls,” to smoke-filled speakeasies in Manhattan, where Gatsby met with shady mobsters. “You would have a highball in the day, then maybe a sherry in the afternoon, cocktails after dinner, and then champagne,” says Frank Caiafa, bar manager of The Vault at Pfaff’s in NoHo. “They rolled pretty good back then.” But the flappers and barflies frequenting speakeasies in the 1920s had to do so in secret, thanks to Prohibition. And the ban on alcohol led to the concoction known as bathtub gin. “There weren’t real distilleries,” says Walter Easterbrook, the bartender at the Bowery Hotel. “Everything was shut down and people were just learning from friends. If you couldn’t get it from a bootlegger, you would try to make it yourself.”

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Bartender Walter Easterbrook serves a Corpse Reviver 2 (which is in a glass washed out with absinthe) at Gemma at the Bowery Hotel.

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So how did gin made in someone’s bathtub taste? As Easterbrook puts it, “It was probably something that they shouldn’t have been putting in their bodies.” Since liquor wasn’t made en masse back then, drinks were stronger, denser and more saturated with alcohol than modern-day cocktails. “Alcohol came in much higher proof,” says head mixologist at the Project Group, Scott Fitzgerald (no relation to the author). “Proofs were up to 140, or even 150 proof in some ryes and moonshines.” To put it bluntly, people were getting drunker, faster. These days, there’s no need to drink out of brown paper bags or stash absinthe bottles in your garter belts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t drink like Daisy Buchanan did. You can still find a strong, stiff cocktail in this town worthy of the hard-partying “Gatsby” crowd.
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Corpse Reviver 2, Gemma. At the Bowery Hotel, 335 Bowery, (212) 505-7300

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The Southside Rickey, at Raines Law Room, is made with gin, fresh mint, lime juice, simple syrup and club soda. Since drinking was typically an all-day activity in the ’20s, downing a quick highball first thing in the morning wasn’t unusual. That’s where Gemma bartender Walter Easterbrook’s Corpse Reviver 2 comes in. “It’s supposed to be something that wakes you up. It’s predominantly all booze,” he says. Made with gin, lemon roulet (an Italian aperitif), orange liqueur, and served in a glass washed out with absinthe, this drink will have you on your feet in no time. Good luck staying upright for long, though! Turf, The Vault at Pfaff’s . 643 Broadway, at Bleecker St., downstairs, (212) 253-5421 “It was a rougher product,” says The Vault at Pfaff’s bar manager Frank Caiafa of the alcohol

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served during the ’20s. “ ‘Smooth’ probably didn’t come to mind if you took a swig.” Luckily, the Turf will elicit no such complaints. Using gin, Geneva and vermouth, Caiafa’s take on the gin martini is simplistic and easy to replicate on your own.

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