My first assignment from the Dining Section of the New York Times appears today. And nothing could have made me happier than to make my debut writing about a subject dear to my heart: the Old-Fashioned, a drink, I am glad to say, that is quite popular around New York these days. I mention a few places in town where you can get a good one; I recommend them all.
Take a Sip of History
By ROBERT SIMONSON
THE old-fashioned may finally be earning its name.
One of the most venerable of whiskey-based cocktails, it has a history that stretches back farther than the martini’s. For decades it has suffered under the reputation of something your grandmother drank — overly sweet, fruit-laden and spritzed-up. But grandma wouldn’t recognize what’s happened to it lately.
The old-fashioned is one of the most requested mixed drinks at some of New York’s newest and most self-consciously artisanal drinking dens, including Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; Elsa in the East Village; Rye in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Jack the Horse in Brooklyn Heights; and the White Slab Palace on the Lower East Side.
Cocktail aficionados say it couldn’t have happened to a nicer drink.
“The old-fashioned is one of the original cocktails, in the true sense of the word,” said Damon Boelte, bar director at Prime Meats. “It’s kind of like having a Model T on your menu.”
It’s so old that it was called a “whiskey cocktail” until late-19th-century parvenus like the martini and manhattan forced purists to order an “old fashioned” whiskey cocktail. But while the martini and the manhattan came through the cocktail dark ages of the 1970s and ’80s with much of their dignity, the old-fashioned developed a personality disorder.
Its majestically austere profile (basically a slug of rye with minuscule touches of water, bitters and sugar) was tarted up with a muddled orange slice and maraschino cherry, and a diluting dose of soda water. This rendition has its advocates, and remains popular in supper clubs across America. But it sends shudders down the spines of the new breed of cocktail classicists.
“A bastardization of the original drink,” said Kevin Jaszek, a bartender at Smith & Mills in TriBeCa who designed the cocktail list at Elsa.
Disciples of the cocktail renaissance, like Mr. Boelte and Mr. Jaszek, have restored the old-fashioned to what they feel is its rightful form — “back to integrity,” as Julie Reiner put it. The Clover Club, her Boerum Hill bar, opened last June with an entire menu section devoted to the old-fashioned and its variants.
Yes, variants. Devotees are not completely doctrinaire in their recipes, varying the type of bitters or sweeteners used.
And old-fashioneds built on bourbon (PDT in the East Village), rum (the Oak Bar) and tequila (Death & Co. in the East Village) are not unheard-of. Just keep that maraschino cherry well away.