So Ogden Nash wrote almost these words in a poem for the New Yorker in 1931.
He was, of course, referring not to the cocktail (which I can only assume that the writer of “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” would have wholeheartedly approved of), but to one of New York’s five boroughs when he wrote “The Bronx? No Thonx” a witty but cruel sentiment he publicly recanted some decades later.
Nash wasn’t alone in deriding The Bronx, and for years it had a reputation of being a rough, working class borough.
In Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, the problems start for Wall Street Bond Trader Sherman McCoy when he takes the wrong exit and finds himself in The Bronx. McCoy panics and hits a young African-American man with his car before fleeing the scene.
The book was a reflection of the excesses of Wall Street and the social inequities in NYC in the 1980s (a bit like Sydney in 2016).
Incidentally, McCoy drinks Sidecars not Bronx Cocktails.
I don’t know what Roxy Jacenko drinks.
Rather than watching the just ok 1990 movie of the same name though, I’d highly recommend a bit of a Bronx history and language lesson in the form of 1989’s movie True Love about a young Italian-American couple Donna and Michael planning their wedding in The Bronx.
Watch it if only for the genius idea of dying the mashed potato the colour of the bridesmaids’ dresses. In their case, a rainbow palate.
If I hadn’t eloped, I would totally have made my nearest and dearest enjoy pale blue mashed potato.
Being the 80s, the drinks would have been terrible too. Not a Bronx Cocktail in sight.
I had not heard of the Bronx Cocktail until recently, in preparation for World Cocktail Day on May 13.
Breaking with usual SSM protocol – yes, we have protocol here, rich traditions dating back as far as last December – I One-for-the-road-tested a cocktail that is not on the International Bartenders Association’s list of Official Cocktails.
If you’re worried that I’m getting ahead of myself here, let’s borrow some wisdom from one of The Bronx’s finest, J-Lo – don’t get put off by rules I break, I’m still Carolyn from the blog.
Described by David Wondrich (in his 2007 book Imbibe!) as having done in the early 20th century what the Cosmopolitan did at the end – made it safe for a “nice, middle-class person to have a Cocktail before a meal” – I stumbled across the Bronx Cocktail in descriptions of the very first cocktail party.
We’ve touched on this briefly in THIS POST, but in May 1917 in St Louis, Missouri, a Mrs Julius S. Walsh Jnr invited a few people over for drinks at midday on a Sunday.
The whole shooting match finished – as planned – at 1pm, but in that single hour, The St Paul Pioneer Press reported that the 50 guests downed cocktails including Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Clover Leafs, Gin Fizzes, Mint Juleps, Sazeracs and Bronx Cocktails and had a rip-roaring time.
How could they not have?
The Bronx is essentially a Perfect Martini with some orange juice.
A Perfect Martini (as we’ve discussed in one of my favourite posts HERE) has equal parts sweet and dry vermouth.
It also has a gin to total vermouth ratio of 2:1, compared with the IBA’s recipe for a Dry Martini which calls for a 7:1 ratio with the vermouth being exclusively dry (with other recipes calling for 10:1 or 15:1).
A Perfect Martini is a little sweet for my liking but a great way to have a Martini if you find the other too astringent.
It’s also not as strong as a Dry Martini. Generally speaking, the alcohol content of vermouth is 15-18%, compared with gin’s alcohol content which is 40 – 50%.
My maths career was short-lived, but if you have a perfect martini, you’ll have a drink that’s somewhere north of 32% alcohol by volume (ABV), compared to a Dry Martini that weighs in at more than 37% ABV.
Compare them both with a glass of wine which is about 12.5% ABV.
The Bronx doesn’t seem as strong as a Perfect Martini because of the juice, but that’s deceptive.
So much so that the first alcoholic drink one William Griffith Wilson can remember having was when a socialite pressed a Bronx Cocktail into his hand during WW1. After his second, the shy Wilson said he felt that his “gaucheries and ineptitudes magically disappeared”.
If the name doesn’t seem familiar, the organisation he founded certainly will. Better known as Bill W, Wilson was a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.
So take it easy.
Here’s your basic Bronx Cocktail recipe – it’s an easy to cocktail to make at home and to make well.
15mL Sweet vermouth
15mL Dry vermouth
30mL Orange juice – squeeze it yourself (or get your guests to do it), the finished product is so worth the additional effort
Shake or stir with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with orange slice or twist
In 1934 film, The Thin Man (a bit like Hart to Hart with a wealthy husband and wife crime-solving team – and if you watch THIS CLIP, aren’t they just the teensiest bit like Malcolm and Lucy?), William Powell coaches the bartenders to shake cocktails with a rhythm – martinis in waltz-time and Bronx in two-step time.
Watch and learn.
Back in 1934, the first full year post-Prohibition, the Bronx came in 3rd on a list of the 10 most popular cocktails, behind only Martinis and Manhattans (which you now know to shake to foxtrot time).
It was an official IBA cocktail but has since been dropped (for reasons unknown and doubtlessly unjust) and has fallen into relative obscurity.
Its origins are disputed but there is credible evidence to suggest that it wasn’t named after the borough, rather the Bronx Zoo. The theory behind this is that one of the bartenders who claims to have invented it (Johnnie Solon at the Waldorf) had been to the Zoo earlier in the week and made some parallel between animals in the zoo and the behaviour of some of the Waldorf regulars.
What a wag.
Regardless, there are five cocktails for the five boroughs of New York.
Manhattan – rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, maraschino cherry (pictured)
Brooklyn – like a Manhattan but with maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon bitters instead of Angostura (I’m not trying that and you can’t make me – send me a photo if you do though)
The Bronx Cocktail
Queens – like a Bronx but with pineapple instead of orange juice
And finally, deliciously…
Staten Island Ferry – simply a Malibu Rum and pineapple juice. I love this because at about the same time as Donna and Michael were considering potato hue options, I was favouring quite a zany drink order when I’d go to Friday’s on Brisbane River every Friday night.
I’d order, not one, but TWO drinks – a Malibu and pineapple (I wish I’d known to ask for a Staten Island Ferry) and a Southern Comfort and Lemonade. (This was long before anyone asked – and failed – to get me to call it SoCo).
I’d put one in each hand and sip simultaneously through two straws for a sugary-sensation and a super-cool image-builder in one hit.
You can totally use it if you want.
Ah, the 80s.
Setting aside this delightful stroll down memory lane, from a cocktail perspective, there’s only two NY boroughs worth exploring, the Manhattan and its less-known but delicious cousin, the Bronx Cocktail.
PS Hey, we’ve got a Facebook page now – upload your cocktail adventures. Sharing is caring folks