Moving on to our next cocktail named after 1 of the 5 New York city boroughs, today’s Monday Classic is the Bronx cocktail. The original Waldorf Hotel (before it became the famous Waldorf-Astoria) was located in the space that the Empire State Building currently occupies. It was built in 1893 by Henry Hardenbergh, who was commissioned by William Waldorf Astor to design a hotel that would be the largest and most luxurious in the world. The Waldorf had a bar in it called The Big Brass Rail, which became a frequent hangout for turn-of-the-century robber barons, according to Dale DeGroff in his The Craft of the Cocktail book. In 1908, Johnnie Solon, a top bartender of the day, was behind the bar at The Big Brass Rail, and was challenged by a lunchtime customer to create a drink on the fly. His answer to that challenge is considered to be a riff on drink called the Duplex, which is a martini with orange bitters. Solon swapped out the bitters for fresh orange juice, and reduced the vermouths, resulting in a refreshingly drinkable cocktail that became an instant star. The Bronx remained popular throughout Prohibition when juiced-based drinks helped to mask the aroma of bootleg booze, but faded into obscurity by the mid-20th-century.
Because the Bronx cocktail is so light, it seems as though bartenders and mixologists are always trying to change it into something that packs enough punch to compete with the Manhatten. Esquire Magazine’s take on that is why bother? An article written by David Wondrich theorizes that Solon was likely to have created this cocktail in the summer because a visit to the Bronx Zoo would have been unlikely in winter. That means temperatures would have been warm, if not downright hot, and since air conditioning was yet to be invented, a crowded mid-day bar could be a sweltering place. That, coupled with the fact that it was lunchtime, would have prompted Solon to create something that was bracing rather than warming, and there’s no need to try to make the cocktail into anything other than that. I would agree. I found the drink to be very refreshing and enjoyable and really don’t see why it shouldn’t be accepted as such. I tried the drink 3 different ways: with Dolin dry and Dolin rouge, with Dolin dry and Carpano Antica (heavier, of course), and with the optional dash of Angostura bitters that DeGroff’s recipe suggests. I preferred the first version over the other 2, because it allowed the freshness of the orange juice to really shine, and I suspect it remains true to what were most likely Solon’s original intentions. Conduct the same taste test if you can and see which variation you prefer!
The Bronx Cocktail
1½ oz Plymouth gin
¼ oz Dolin rouge vermouth
¼ oz Dolin dry vermouth
1½ freshly squeezed orange juice
1 dash Angostura bitters (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in the bottom half of a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake for about 20 seconds until cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel. Enjoy!