Summer Beverages for the Thirsty of Gotham (1884)

Before I began my long hiatus on Art of Drink, I had accumulated hundreds of old newspaper articles about drink and cocktails in the 1800s. My intentions were to write about and share/transcribe them, but cocktail blogging kind of died with Facebook taking over, and I never wanted to post stuff to Facebook, because that would be like working for free. Anyway, I may do a few more of these if people enjoy it, otherwise, I’m going back on hiatus.

This article looks at the drinking trend for the summer of 1884. The bartender is John Mahon, a New York bartender who also worked at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans and in Cuba, as you will see. The cool thing about this article is that Mr. Mahon details 5 cocktails, with recipes and detailed descriptions on how to make them. The Montana Rainbow is classified as a “Dude Drink”, so add that to the drink list of slings, cobblers and fizzes. There are also two cocktails from the St. Charles Hotel, one is pre-Civil War called Port Wine Sangaree (not really new) and the other is called the St. Charles Spitfire.

Anyway, it is good reading.


Syndicated from N.Y. Mail and Express in the Daily Evening Bulletin (San Francisco, California), Tuesday, June 17, 1884

New Drinks

Summer Beverages for the Thirsty of Gotham

“New drinks? Of course. Lots of new names anyhow.”

The speaker was John Mahon, a well-known bartender and mixer of fancy beverages. He served in the St. Charles Hotel, in New Orleans, during its palmy days, and in the Cercle des Etrangers, in Havana, Cuba.

“I understand,” said the reporter, “that a great many new fancy drinks will be introduced during the coming season.”

“I hardly think so,” said Mr Mahon; “there will be some new fancies in drinks, but the greater majority of them will be some of the old Southern and Western mixtures under new names. I want to say as a beginning that one of the best drinks ever thought of for summer-time is coming into fashion this year, although it has been neglected since before the war. I mean the port wine sangaree. How I remember the time when planters came down the river and flocked to the St. Charles bar. “What will you have, gentlemen?” I would say. “Well, I think I will try a sangaree,” said the first one of the party, and all the rest followed suit. “How do you make a sangaree in the old way?” “Well, you fix your mixing glass with cracked ice, put in three spoonfuls of sugar, a dash of lemon juice, two strawberries or slices of pineapple, and fill with port wine. Shake well, so as to extract the flavour of the strawberries or the pines, strain and serve with fruit and straws. Price twenty cents.

“I think the next best is a Florida drink known as the orange cocktail. It’s very simple, but it makes a luscious drink. Fill your glass with ice as before, put in a pony-glass of orange bitters, then a slice of lemon or orange, shake well and strain, serve with three strawberries or pineapple. Price twenty-five cents.”

“Do all fancy drinks run about the same way?” inquired the reporter.

“Oh, dear no,” said Mr Mahon. “Here’s the famous St. Charles Spitfire, which very few men drink, but which is coming into favor as a winter nightcap. Fill your glass with a sufficient quantity of the finest brandy. Burn it with loaf-sugar, and when you have your brandy sufficiently burnt, and your sugar dissolved, then stir it thoroughly, add a slice of orange and lemon, cover with ice, shake thoroughly, strain thoroughly, and serve with straws and strawberries and pineapple dice. Price forty cents. This drink is only intended for old-timers and sporting men.”

“Is there anything especially out of the way, Mr Mahon?” said the reporter, with the deference due to such a master in the art.

“Well,” said Mr Mahon, “I have studied out a couple of drinks—one of them is square and the other is fancy. Though for the matter of that, both are fancy as far as the name goes. The first I call a strawberry cobbler. Take a dozen strawberries, picked and clean, bruise them against the sides of your glass until you have all the juice, take out the pulp with your spoon, add two spoonfuls of sugar, ice and a medium sized glass of Catawba wine, or California angelica if you have not the Catawba. Shake well, then add the strawberry pulp, fill up with milk, shake again, and serve with nutmeg if desired. Thirty cents for that luxury.

“You mustn’t go until I show you my dude drink. I spent nearly three months on this before I could get it to work right. Now watch me. I call this drink the Montana Rainbow. I fill this big tumbler with cracked ice, having previously placed four spoonfuls of sugar at the bottom. You see this stumpy bottle. It contains a cordial manufactured by a French chemist named Chalvin, in this city. It is sticky, and the secret of this drink is that I found out this cordial would leave a sticky film over the ice. Now I pour two glasses of this cordial over the ice, allow it to settle for a couple of minutes and then strain it off. Then I begin to build the drink. A layer of dark Burgundy comes first, then some light sherry, then a little fine claret, then some Chartreuse, and then some good brandy. The brandy permeates through the rest, but their relative positions do not change, because each one is lighter than the one below it; add the white of an egg at the top, shake well, and let it settle. See what you have got. The different colored liquors follow in rotation, the cracked ice retaining the color gives the glass the appearance of a kaleidoscope, and the white of an egg crowns the edifice like the snow on top of one of the Rockies. How much ought a drink like that me worth? Don’t know? Well, every dude that calls for a Montana Rainbow has got to lay down a half-dollar, and I expect to make money enough at that.”—N.Y. Mail and Express

Summer Beverages for the Thirsty of Gotham (1884)