In the past, the October installment of this column has been dotted with Halloween puns and some allusions to “spirits.” But 2020 is scary enough and COVID-19 is canceling costume parties, so we turn our attention to what you talk about when there’s nothing else to talk about: the weather. Fall has started its slow advance, carrying with it that nostalgic craving for simple, stirred brown-spirit drinks. But this year it also brings nostalgia for bars themselves, those lost sanctuaries of Before Times.
That makes “The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book” an indispensable drinking companion for right now. The newest edition, which came out in 2016, contains more than 800 recipes culled from the original 1931 “Old Waldorf Bar Days,” a cocktail manual and cultural time capsule of the historic Manhattan hotel, and the 1934 update, “The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book,” plus new ones. The 400-page volume is an epic achievement by Frank Caiafa, who managed the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley and La Chine before the storied hotel was sold and closed in 2017.
I have sat at Frank’s bars. With his depth and breadth of knowledge, he’s technically a bartender’s barman, but one with the demeanor of a favorite high school teacher who wants the best for all his students. His erudition is not delivered with a hint of self-importance but a conversational tone that lands like an invitation to ask questions and chat. That relaxed, engaging manner shines through in his prose. He recounts the hotel’s rich history and early-20th-century bar culture through the lens of a bar veteran and lifetime New Yorker who understands that a swish hotel bar is just as valuable as the corner pub.
About the cocktails. Many have been tweaked for a modern drinker, but retain their vintage charm. (The Loensky Cocktail, featured here, was originally made as a Pousse Café, a fussy layered style, and the kummel and Scotch proportions were in reverse.) Frank told me winter drinks of the era did not skimp on fortified wines and flavorful liqueurs and many such recipes are in its pages. It’s going to be a long winter. Make it one marked with Old World glamour.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces blended Scotch
¾ ounce dry vermouth
¼ ounce Kummel liqueur
1 dash Regans’ Orange Bitters
1. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds.
2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
3. Garnish with lemon peel.
Adapted from “The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book” (Penguin Books)