PREFACE

I S AT AT T H E C I R C U L A R

Carousel Bar of the Hotel Monteleone, one

of those bars that slowly rotates—in this case counterclockwise, at the rate
of four revolutions per hour. With its merry-go-round décor and absurd
mobility, there was perhaps no better introduction to the circus atmosphere
of New Orleans’ French Quarter. It was 11 a.m., but that didn’t seem to be
stopping the barflies around me. So I ordered a Sazerac. I am compulsive
about starting off new experiences correctly, and of all the drinks intrinsic
to New Orleans culture, the Sazerac was the name I had heard most often
since landing at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
And I had never had one.
It was 2006. I wasn’t much of a cocktail drinker at that point; more of a
wine man. I’d order an occasional Gibson or Martini, and I had been known
to play around with Gimlets and Tom and Jerrys at home. None of this prepared me for the Sazerac. The drink that was brought to me was startling:
weirdly red (the Peychaud’s bitters, I later learned) and oddly fragrant (the
Herbsaint liqueur). It was ice cold and had no garnish. I took a tentative sip.
The edges of my vision suddenly blurred and my focus trained on the
glass in front of me. I was simultaneously tasting three things I never had
before: rye whiskey, spicy and bright; Herbsaint, as herbal as the name
hinted; and Peychaud’s bitters, which—well, what the hell were they anyway, and what did they do? But, more importantly, I was tasting them
1

A PROPER DRINK

together, along with a bit of sugar and the effects of a lemon twist. It was
a seamless, cultivated, elegant whole, and like nothing I’d ever experienced
before. It was a drink with a story, a past, and more depth than most people
I know. The world stopped.
Where had this cocktail been all my life?
The entire week at Tales of the Cocktail was like that. Tales was a cocktail convention. That phrase, “cocktail convention,” sounded even more
silly then than it does now. People had actually gathered from all over the
nation to talk seriously about cocktails and mixology. Its founder was a
scrappy blonde Southerner about the size of a whippet named Ann Rogers;
I had met her by chance at an Illy Espresso pop-up in SoHo in New York,
where she was working temporarily as a PR hired gun.
“I do this little cocktail thing down in New Orleans,” she said. “You
should come down.”
New Orleans was something. I had been writing about wine for a few
years. I loved wine and vineyards, but the wine world was a buttoned-up
one. The cocktail world, while also dealing in intoxicants, was nothing like
that. Hugs. High fives. Hawaiian shirts. Seersucker suits. Two-toned shoes.
Hats on every head. Flasks full of wondrous potions, freely shared. Every
time I stepped into the lobby of the Monteleone, I was handed a drink by
someone. Thanks to tasting rooms, seminars, bars, and other events, I had
many drinking opportunities at Tales. I made a list of all the cocktails I
drank or sampled that first day. The total was sixteen. In addition to the
Sazerac at the Carousel Bar, they included:
Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House
Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s
Milk Punch at Brennan’s
Champagne Cocktail at Arnaud’s
Ramos Gin Fizz at Carousel Bar

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P R E FA C E

I sampled six vodkas at a seminar about that spirit and tasted absinthe, a
spirit I thought was extinct and legally banned (it was), in a seminar led by
absinthe authority Ted Breaux.
I learned to pace myself better the second day.
When I returned, newly converted to the cocktail, I scoured New York
City for Sazeracs, my new favorite drink. Ten years earlier, I would have
found no bars serving the exotic concoction. In 2006, however, it wasn’t difficult. I could get one at a bar called Brooklyn Social, not far from where I
lived in Brooklyn. I found a better one at The Good Fork, a restaurant in
Red Hook, made by bartender St. John Frizell. I found other Sazeracs at
bars in SoHo, Tribeca, and the Lower East Side.
Something was obviously afoot. When I had moved to New York in the
late ’80s, brew pubs and wine bars were hot. No one, bartender or patron,
knew what a Sazerac was. When cocktails were drunk, Cape Codders and
Cosmos and Dirty Martinis were the orders of the day. Now, unfamiliar
libations like the Martinez, Aviation, and Corpse Reviver No. 2 were being
called for. What was going on? A lot, I soon discovered, as, over the next
year, I shifted my reportorial focus from wine to spirits and cocktails. It was
nothing short of a revolution in the way people made mixed drinks and consumed them. And it wasn’t just happening in New York and New Orleans.
The world was revisiting the cocktail hour.

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ABOUT THE “MODERN CLASSICS”

AT T H E   E N D O F M A N Y

of the following chapters, you will find a cocktail

recipe or two. A couple dozen of these are what I have determined to be
“modern classics”—that is, drinks created during the cocktail renaissance
that have been embraced by both bartenders and drinkers, and have shown
some staying power. Most of them are served at bars worldwide.
I have tried to be unsentimental and impartial in compiling this list.
There are many cocktails I admire that did not make the cut for various reasons: they remain popular, but only in one country or one city; they were
ubiquitous for a time, then inexplicably faded from view; or they remained
steadily ordered cult classics but never became full-fledged stars. Cocktails
that made their mark but are not found herein are the Revolver (Jon
Santer), Silver Lining (Joseph Schwartz), Wibble (Dick Bradsell), Russian
Spring Punch (Bradsell), Greenpoint (Michael McIlroy), Waylon (Eben
Freeman), Death Flip (Chris Hysted), Kentucky Buck (Erick Castro),
Gordon’s Cup (Toby Maloney), Porn Star Martini (Douglas Ankrah), and
La Perla (Jacques Bezuidenhaut).
The drinks in the chapters “Bringing It All Home” and "Taking Back
Tiki" are cocktails from the past that were once obscure or altogether
unknown, but have been given new life and popularity through the efforts
of cocktail bartenders and historians. Finally, the cocktails found at the back
of the book are personal favorites that I feel deserve greater attention. 
5

PROLOGUE

“There’s this guy up in the Rainbow Room . . .”

IN 1988, DEL PEDRO,

an affable Bermudan who had fallen in love with

New York, was bartending at Sam’s, a lavish restaurant inside the Equitable
Center in midtown Manhattan. It had been built for $2 million and was
owned by actress Mariel Hemingway, who christened it with her nickname.
Though not as posh as its neighbors, Le Bernadin and Palio, it was opulent
enough. There was a mural by James Rosenquist. Chandeliers hung from
the twenty-eight-foot-high ceiling. And standing above Del atop the circular bar was a bronze bison. Sam’s was certainly a change of environment
from Pedro’s previous bartending gig, a 125th Street dive under the West
Side Highway called the 712 Club, where hardworking meatpackers and
construction workers also drank hard, and a gun was kept in a drawer. It
was there not to keep the patrons in line but to shoot the occasional intruding river rat.
The customers at the 712 Club wanted beer and shots. People at Sam’s
had different tastes. The headquarters of Time Inc. was nearby. Often, oldschool publishing types, people who remembered the drinks of another era
and hadn’t lost their taste for them, wandered in. They called for Martinis,
Manhattans, Negronis, and Gimlets. Occasionally, there’d be an order for a
Sidecar or Stinger.

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A PROPER DRINK

One night, a guy named Tommy came in. A well-lubricated Connecticut
commuter straight out of a Cheever short story, he asked Del for a Negroni
on the rocks. Pedro gave it to him in a highball. “Del, uh, what the fuck is
that?” asked Tommy. “All right. Throw it out. I’ll show you how to make a
Negroni.’”
The women were no less exacting. One, coming in after brunch at
Mortimer’s, asked for a Sidecar. “Young man,” she said to the blinking barman, “I can tell by looking at you, you have no idea how to make a Sidecar.
For God’s sake, don’t put that lemon mix in it. Do you have fresh lemons?”
And the lesson began.
Being dedicated and discerning drinkers, the customers at Sam’s also
knew where to drink. “One night this woman came in and asked for this
crazy drink,” remembered Pedro. “It was an old drink. I said, ‘Well, I have
the stuff to make it. I’ll try.’” As Del went about his work, the woman
added, “You know, there’s this guy up in the Rainbow Room making these
old drinks.”
“This guy” was a former actor with a head of thick dark hair, an
ever-present grin, and the marquee-ready name of Dale DeGroff.

8