The end of many years of war, a pandemic in retrograde, the rise of far right and left groups, global economies struggling, Congress all but ineffective, and conflict in the Ukraine, but hey that was 1922 and one hundred years later…well perhaps the old analogy about not learning from history runs true, but not everything was doom and gloom, especially when it came to the world of cocktails. In fact, “les années folles” or “the crazy years” are arguably the era of the greatest libations ever concocted, many that still hold our fascination to this day.
So, what are the greatest cocktails from the 1920s? As with anything, it largely depends upon who is asked. However, conducting a very unofficial poll of various websites run by adult beverage organizations, I was able to identify five that made the list every time. Some may be familiar, but I would wager others are not, which can be a good thing, as it only requires a bit of additional research on your part, either at home, or better yet, at one of the many classy establishments around the Monterey Peninsula. Probably the best homework a person could ask for.
The top five, in order of what are arguably the best to least well known are: the Sidecar, the French 75, the Bees Knees, the Southside and the Mary Pickford. There were two others that almost made the list, those being the Boulevardier and the Hanky Panky (one the best names ever). So, what is it about these drinks that, one hundred years later, has kept them so popular? More importantly, where can they be found locally? Well, read on, hopefully with a drink in hand.
The Sidecar is built upon cognac and Cointreau, to which is added lemon juice and originally simple syrup (but over time has changed to a sugar rim). The origin story of this drink is a bit murky as to whether it was first made at Harry’s New York Bar or the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, both based in Paris, France. It is said to have been named after the sidecar of a motorcycle ridden by a U.S. Army Captain from New Orleans. Regardless, the drink thankfully continues to be widely offered and appreciated, but not all are made the same.
Recently my lady and I enjoyed what is perhaps the best Sidecar we have ever had…twice. So blown away were we that I searched out the bartender to inquire about the recipe. Frances, at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club at Pebble Beach, held her cards close, only giving up the standard ingredients. Yet, it proved to me that while the ingredient amounts may be the same, it ultimately is the quality of the alcohols and, I would argue, quantities used. To this day, it remains the best we have ever had, but there is a hurdle before you can get your hands on one, you must either be a member of the club or a guest.
So, where can you more easily find one for your taste buds to explore? While you can always ask for one, there are currently three locations on the peninsula that have a Sidecar on the menu. They include Bud’s at La Playa Hotel in Carmel (they refer to it as the “Platitude”), Terry’s Lounge at the Cypress Inn, also in Carmel, and it can also be found at the Monterey Peninsula’s only speakeasy, Savvy Bar in Monterey—just make sure you get the code word!
The French 75 is built upon gin along with lemon juice and simple syrup. However, what really sets it apart is the splash of champagne added on top. As with the Sidecar, it traces its origins to Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Harry MacElhone, the Scottish born bartender who worked there until he purchased the joint in 1923, likened the champagne kick to that of a French 75mm field gun used during the Great War. It is reported to have been a favorite of Ernest Hemingway.
The locales offering the French 75 as part of their normal menu include Savvy Bar in Monterey and Terry’s Lounge at the Cypress Inn in Carmel. It is also offered at Brophy’s Tavern in Carmel (they refer to it as the Crosby), the Sardine Factory and the Linda Rose Bar & Grill at the top of Hotel 1110, both in Monterey.
The Bees Knees, like the 75, is built upon gin and lemon juice, but interestingly, honey syrup is used. The origin story has been lost with time, but there are three intriguing possibilities. Was it created at the Ritz Café Parisian by Frank Meier, or was it “the unsinkable” Molly Brown of Titanic fame that created it following the disaster, or was it a U.S. Prohibition era recipe developed to mask the taste of horrible bathtub gin? Regardless, the name alone is one that instantly recalls the Roaring ’20s beyond any other.
Only three places were found to offer this interesting libation and all three were in Monterey. Not surprisingly, they include Savvy Bar, which almost seems like a given, and Pearl Hour in New Monterey, a place known for making intriguing cocktails. The last location is a bit surprising, given that it is the Whiskey Club of Monterey. While a gin drink, it was so well received there that it has become part of their normal line up for the foreseeable future.
The Southside Fizz is also built upon a combination of gin, lemon juice and simple syrup, before mint leaves and soda water are added. It is credited as having been first made at the Southside Sportsman’s Club in Long Island, New York. However, it is also rumored to have been created by Al Capone’s gang who controlled the South Side of Chicago during prohibition. Given the latter, it only seems fitting that the only location to offer it is the speakeasy, Savvy Bar. Just be forewarned, they call it a Gin Ricky.
The Mary Pickford is a combination of white rum, maraschino liqueur, pineapple juice and grenadine. It is credited to Fred Kaufman from the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana, Cuba, in honor of a visit by American actor/producer Mary Pickford and her then husband Douglas Fairbanks. This drink is also part of the line up at Savvy Bar.
The Boulevardier is a combination of bourbon, Carpano (vermouth) and Campari. It is also credited to Harry MacElhone of Harry’s New York Bar and was made for American writer living in Paris, Erskine Gwynne, a member of the Vanderbilt family and then editor of the monthly periodical, The Boulevardier. It can be found only at the Sardine Factory in Monterey; however, it is well known enough that most bartenders are familiar with it.
Which leads us to the last and perhaps the best named drink, the Hanky Panky. As with many of the others, it is built upon gin, with additions of Carpano and Fernet-Branca. It is credited to Ada “Coley” Coleman, a pioneering female bartender who worked at London’s Claridge’s and later at the Savoy (she is listed as one of the nine most important bartenders of all time by Liquor.com). She created the drink at the behest of Charles Hawtrey, a famous Victorian and Edwardian actor. The story goes that he would often come to the bar requesting something with “punch” and so with some experimentation, she developed the concoction to which his response was “By Jove! This is the real Hanky-Panky!”
Unfortunately, there is currently, not a single place to be found offering this libation. Thus it falls upon you, the reader. The recipe is simple, stir 1.5 ounces gin, 1.5 ounces Carpano and three drops Fernet-Branca with ice. Pour into a cooled coupette glass and garnish with an orange slice. As you relax to enjoy, perhaps listen to some Ella Fitzgerald and let your mind wander back to what must have been some amazing times. Cheers!