The Bronx Cocktail
3/4 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2/3 oz fresh orange juice
Shake well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel
- This recipe is from Dining in Chicago – An Intimate Guide, by John Drury (1931), which instructs us to “shake well, and then note the results upon imbibing.”[i]
[i] John Drury, Dining in Chicago – An Intimate Guide (New York: John Day Co., 1931), 15
CAPTION: 1929 Gordon’s Gin magazine ad (UK), from the author’s collection.
Since this chapter deals with the Bronx, I’ll obviously spend most of my time talking about one of the greatest of American cities, … Chicago. The Bronx cocktail is an all-time classic, going back over a century; it likely first appeared in William “Cocktail” Boothby’s 1908 The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them. As is often the case with the classics, you’ll find wide variations in the recipe and proportions of each ingredient. Sometimes the vermouth is on equal footing with the gin, sometimes far less. David Embury noted that in the somewhat similar Orange Blossom (gin and orange juice), which he considered “one of the horrors of Prohibition,” the juice is the modifier, whereas vermouth played that role in the Bronx, with the orange merely adding flavor and color.[i] Note that by adding Angostura Bitters to the Bronx, it becomes an Income Tax Cocktail. Now you know.
- Scott Fitzgerald included the Bronx in his 1920 classic novel This Side of Paradise, where it factors in a rather drunken evening for protagonist Amory Blaine. He’s at the old Knickerbocker Bar in New York, drowning his sorrows after a romantic breakup, and having more than a few belts with some fellow Princetonians. He’s drinking Bronxes, “his head spinning gorgeously, layer upon layer of soft satisfaction setting over the bruised spots of his spirit.”
The Bronx Cocktail claims a degree of infamy, as well. After all, it was the first drink ever enjoyed by a nervous young World War I lieutenant named Bill Wilson who, during a party in Newport, found that the Bronx “tasted wonderful, sweet and airy at the same time. … My gaucheries and ineptitudes magically disappeared. … I had found the elixir of life.” Well, perhaps that’s a bit of a mischaracterization; booze became something other than an elixir for Bill Willson. See, he went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous. For Hemingway, it was likely that his first taste of the almighty Bronx came around the same time as both Fitzgerald’s noveland Bill Wilson’s Newport soiree.. In October of 1920, having returned from World War I and spending some time “up in Michigan,” Hemingway moved to Chicago. He’d share an apartment with his friend Bill Horne, at 1230 North State Street. 1920 was a big year for him; he also began writing stories for the Toronto Star. And it was in Chicago that Hemingway would meet his first wife, Hadley Richardson, that very same October.
According to a letter Hemingway sent to his pal Bill Smith on October 25, Horne “throwed a party the other nocturnal at which a group of young people” were present, notably Katy Smith, Hadley, Horne and Hemingway. After dinner at the Victor House, which included “two Rounds of Bronix’s (sic),” they then “went to the College Inn and danced. We were in the finest of shape. It was a jovial affair.”[iii]
CAPTION: The College Inn, Chicago, where young Ernest and Hadley, fortified with “two Rounds of Bronix’s,” danced the night away in October, 1920, and fell in love. 1919 postcard, from the author’s collection.
`Note that it was October of 1920, and Prohibition was supposed to have been in force. Not so in Chicago. Indeed, in a November 16 letter to his friend Grace Quinlan, Hemingway observed “[t]he town is in no sense dry.. in fact it’s a long ways wetter than this time last year.”[i] A month later, writing in the Toronto Star Weekly, Hemingway noted that “the Wild West hasn’t disappeared. It has only moved. Just at present it is located at the southwestern end of Lake Michigan, and the range that the bad men ride is that enormous smoke jungle of buildings they call Chicago.” At the core of this evil, of course, was the rapid rise in organized crime in the wake of Prohibition. “Chicago is supposed to be a dry town,” he observed. “But anyone willing to pay twenty dollars a quart for whiskey can get all they want. … Now most of the whiskey you buy has a Kentucky label. Canadian whiskey costs too much and there is too much American liquor on hand.”[ii] Everybody, sing with me… “Myyyy kind of town, Chi-ca-go is…”
Anyway, Ernest and Hadley’s love blossomed. They married the following November, and moved to Paris thereafter. Perhaps it was the “Bronix’s” that helped warm Ernest to Hadley, and finally expunge the pain from his World War I romance with Agnes Von Kurowsky, his nurse in Milan while he recuperated from that Austrian mortar attack. Hemingway and Hadley became quite the drinking buddies; you see that throughout A Moveable Feast and his letters, and he often boasted about her prowess. In a letter to John Dos Passos sent from Paris in 1925, he wrote, “Wish you were here to drink. There’s a girl named Hadley that’s showing a lot of promise as a drinker and she wants to meet you.”[iii] And to think, The Paris Wife got her start in Chicago with the Bronx. You can’t make this stuff up.
[i] The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, ibid, 252.
[ii] Ernest Hemingway, Dateline: Toronto – The Complete Toronto Star Dispatches, 1920-24, a reprint of a news story appearing in the Toronto Star Weekly November 6, 1920 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985), 58-59.
[iii] Letter to John Dos Passos, April 22, 1925, in Ernest Hemingway – Selected Letters, 1917-1961, edited by Carlos Baker (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981), 158
[i] David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3d Ed. (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958), 25-26
[ii] Eric Felten, “A Toast to April 15,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2006, online at http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB114504694150826369.
[iii] letter to William Smith, October 25, 1920, in The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 1, 1907-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 248.