In his 1922 book Cocktails: How to Mix Them , honorable barkeep Robert Vermeire provides the generally accepted story for how the cocktail came to be. Over a hundred years earlier in America, distressed over the loss of his prize-fighting cock, a squire offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to any man who brought the animal back alive. When a cavalry officer arrived at his door bearing the live cock in tow, the squire’s daughter, in her excitement, mixed up some drinks, blending whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and ice. The delicious concoction was christened on the spot, and the “cocktail” was born. With the holidays fast arriving, you might savor some tips from some storied barkeeps and writers. Click through for a small selection of vintage cocktail books, along with a few newer selections by writers we love, to help you get through the season of merry-making.
While this classic of mixology by Harry Craddock offers up an elaborate recipe for the otherwise simple Sazerac, its pages are also filled with elegant illustrations and anecdotes behind the cocktails. The Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail (No. 1) tells the story, by way of footnote, of Peter, ninth Earl of Savoy, who brought 83 of the most wealthy and beautiful women to England as his wards and married them to the most powerful noblemen. In conclusion, he states, “That is why he wore armour.”
The Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail (No. 1)
1 Dash Absinthe 2 Dashes Grenadine ⅓ French Vermouth ⅔ Dry Gin
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.
In this 1934 volume, R. de Fleury blends classic cocktails with stranger numbers like “One Exciting Night,” “Lulu’s Eyelash,” and “Saucy Sue.” It also includes a recipe for “Satan’s Whiskers [Curled]” a cocktail that we think deserves a resurgence, if for its name alone.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” As the celebrated writer of the jazz age was also a notorious booze hound, alcohol figures widely in Fitzgerald’s stories. On Booze collects into one slim volume the alcohol-imbued tales of debutantes, dandies, and rambunctious ragtime musicians taken from The Crack-Up, and other works never before published by New Directions. This completes the circle of the Prohibition-era cocktail craze with panache and pathos.
As Harry’s New York Bar in Paris is a storied location, and continues to be listed among the top spots worldwide (see Eater’s recent list of top 50 bars), we thought it only proper to include this guide by Harry McElhone, the bar’s famed owner. Opened in 1911 it was a favorite of American expatriates Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Sinclair Lewis and Rita Hayworth. While it’s rumored that the Sidecar originated in a bar in Paris or London, this book includes one of the first recipes for that cocktail, among many others.
1 teaspoon Sugar or Syrup of Gomme The juice of 1 Lemon 1 glass of Gin
Shake well, strain into medium-sized tumbler, and fill up with soda water.
Published around the same time as Harry’s ABC, Cocktails: How to Mix Them by Robert Vermeire — the well-known barman at the Royal Automobile Club, the Criterion, and the Embassy Club — likewise provides one of the first recipes for the Sidecar. Vermeire claims the drink was “introduced in London by MacGarry, the celebrated bartender of Buck’s Club.” Wherever its origins lay, Vermeire displays a large repertoire of beverages over and above the Sidecar including complete instructions on the art of mixing the various styles of the Absinthe cocktail (American, French, and Swiss). Here is one recipe passed down from a barkeep in New Orleans.
Fill a bar glass half full of broken ice and add:
3 Dashes Absinthe 3 Dashes Angost ura Bitters ¼ Gill French Vermouth ¼ Gill Irish Whiskey
Stir well with a spoon, strain into a cocktail-glass, and squeeze lemon-peel on top.
American historian and author Bernard DeVoto wrote a regular column for Harper’s Magazine, was a scholar of Mark Twain, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his popular history Across the Wide Missouri. Yet he is best remembered by The Hour, a little book about drinking in which DeVoto attempts to impose his moral philosophy of life on the martini and the cocktail hour.
A standard of Prohibition-era cafe society, this 1928 bartender’s drink recipe book contains a list by the author of favorite drinks by celebrities of that time period.
Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis is a compilation of three books by the author of Lucky Jim, which first appeared as columns. Like his forebears in this genre, Amis combines cocktail recipes with humorous anecdotes and advice — such as tips for curing both the physical hangover (“If your wife or other partner is beside you, and (of course) willing, perform the sexual act as vigorously as you can”) and its metaphysical counterpart (“…start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk”).
This wood covered Depression-era cocktail book published in 1939 offers recipes for drinks across America including The Bohemian Girl and The Coney Isle (¼ each Curacao, Chartreuse, Absinthe, fresh cream).
Journalist Lucius Beebe is often credited with having popularized the term “cafe society.” He used the term to describe the fashionable denizens of restaurants and clubs like the El Morocco, the 21 Club, and the Stork, whose activity he chronicled in his column This New York, which he penned for the New York Herald Tribune from the 1930s through 1944. Among the many books he’s authored is this compendium of recipes peppered with essays on cocktails and stories of the rich and famous.