Tuesday, March 17, 2009

And So We Learn

We here at Off the Presses at times buy ridiculous and fascinating items of our shared drinking heritage on eBay. Do not judge us.

A recent acquisition is this, a 1952 cocktail menu from the Astor Bar in the Astor Hotel. Nobody talks of the Astor Bar anymore, but it was hugely important watering hole for the Times Square crowd (which means Everybody Who's Anybody) for much of the 20th century. Everyone went to the Astor Bar.

First of all, you have to love the cover design, with its view of the hotel and Times Square through the silhouette of a cocktail glass, against a black background. Perfection.

Inside, what do we learn? Well, that the Astor Bar liked its stereotypes. On the left we see a caricature of a Fine Ol Sothin Gennelman drinking a julep. On the right page, we have a bearded Scotsman enjoying his whiskey.

It's nice to see that cocktails are still at such an evolved state in the '50s that they are divided into categories such as Sours, Fizzes, Rickeys and Punches. Beer hasn't changed much. We still have Beck's, Heineken, Guinness and Pabst, just as they did.

It's interesting to see how the whiskeys are ordered. Canadian tops the column, after it American, then finally Scotch. Blended Scotch dominates that final list. No single malts. And beyond the Four Roses and Wild Turkey, few of the bourbons are familiar brands today.

At the far left column, we have the mixed drinks so familiar that they are listed under the simple heading of Cocktails. The Bronx is still well known. So is the Jack Rose and Rob Roy and Clover Club and French "75" (the most expensive drink on the menu). The Southern Comfort-based Scarlet O'Hara's presence we must chalk up to the fact that the immortal movie was only 13 years old at the time. At the bottom we find the "Zazarack." Interesting spelling.

Relegated to the shabby "Miscellaneous" section are the Ward 8, Horse's Neck, Angel's Kiss and—shudder—the Old Fashioned! What's that great cocktail doing in this sad location?

In a box are two sections labeled Summer Specials and Suggestions. Of the Summer Specials: it's nice to see the Singapore Sling on display; surprising to see the Sea Breeze was so popular way back then; saddening to see that the Daiquiris the Astor served were of the frozen sort. Most interesting is the Times Square Cooler, a drink I do not know. Was it perhaps a house drink? It contains gin, lime juice and raspberry syrup.

Under Suggestions are the Cuba Libre, Grasshopper, Planter's Punch, Rum Collins, Apple Jack Collins, Sloe Gin Fizz and something called the Cloak and Dagger, Frozen Drink. It has Dagger rum, golden rum, lime and sugar.

The cheapest drink on the menu? A Pabst (50 cents). Some things never change.

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