When enforcement of Prohibition began on Jan. 17, 1920, the golden age of American mixology effectively was put on the rocks.
"One of the only good cocktails to come out of the United States during Prohibition was the Last Word," says Joseph Fredrickson, beverage director at Society Lounge. Created in 1920 by a vaudeville actor at the Detroit Athletic Club, the drink contained equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, lemon juice and maraschino liqueur. "The Last Word became a favorite of the very politicians who were telling people not to drink," Fredrickson adds.
But that was an exception. Many bartenders, faced with the realization that their chosen profession was now illegal, had a choice to make: Do I go against the law or do I become a soda jerk?
Others opted to take their talents overseas. Among them was Harry Craddock, an American who left the States to work at the American Bar at London's Savoy Hotel. His 1930 guide The Savoy Cocktail Book was so influential that it remains in print today. Craddock's most notable contemporary was Harry MacElhone, a Scotsman in Paris whose New York Bar was a favorite of Americans during the First World War and later of American expats and the literary set. Together they created and honed a host of legendary cocktails that are still enjoyed to this day.
December 5 is Repeal Day in the United States, the day in 1933 that the 21st Amendment was enacted to end our long national nightmare. In honor of that triumphant occasion, Society Lounge is celebrating with a blow-out bash, replete with a big band, "cigarette" girls passing out hors d'oevres, and a towering champagne pyramid. All night long, Fredrickson and his crew will be serving a bevy of Prohibition-era cocktails immortalized by the two Harrys. We sat down with him to talk about a few of them.
The French 75
(1 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. simple syrup, and 1/2 oz. lemon juice, topped with champagne)
Harry MacElhone first debuted the French 75 in his 1922 book The ABC's of Mixing Cocktails, naming it for a quick-firing 75-mm field gun that was popular during the war. MacElhone's version of the French 75 called for Calvados (apple brandy) in place of gin, while a version that appeared in Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book eight years later had the drink served in a Collins glass filled with cracked ice instead of the now de facto champagne flute.
"The French 75 is a hardcore drink with a smooth finish," Fredrickson says. "Any time someone tries to suggest that it's a drink that's strictly for women, I remind them that the drink was created back when women couldn't drink at bars."
Blood and Sand
(1 oz. blended scotch, 1 oz. orange juice, 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth, 3/4 oz. Cherry Heering)
Named after a 1922 movie about a matador who beats the odds, gets a little cocky and then gets gored to death, Blood and Sand first appeared in Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930.
(equal parts brandy, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, lemon juice)
"The Sidecar was named for an American Army captain who liked to be driven to Harry's New York Bar in the side car of a motorcycle," said Fredrickson.
The Monkey Gland
(1 part gin, 1 part orange juice, a dash of grenadine, and a dash of absinthe)
First appearing in Barflies and Cocktails, MacElhone's 1927 book, "the Monkey Gland was named for a [Russian expat] French surgeon named Serge Voronoff, who attempted to graft skin from a monkey's testicles onto a man's testicles to provide a bit more oomph where it counts," Fredrickson explains. "Needless to say, he became an object of national ridicule."
The Great Lakes Science Center (216-621-2400) and The Black Pig over on West 25th (216-862-7751) are also throwing Repeal Day parties on December 5. Call for more details.