At this point in cocktail history, more than two decades into the revival, just about every Golden Age recipe—and Dark Age recipe, for that matter—has been rediscovered, revived and re-introduced to the drinking public. But despite the endless poring over of Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book and Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks by bartenders seeking drink-making inspiration, a number of recipes have remained unappreciated—seemingly too odd, unlikely or downright weird to warrant a second look. But for the bartenders spotlighted in Drew Lazor’s “D List” column, who could see beyond the unorthodox ingredient list, these formulas possess the trappings of something worth keeping around.
For some, the intrigue lies precisely in each drink’s seemingly incongruous makeup. Take, for example, the Chauncey, a supercharged equal-parts combo of whiskey, gin, Cognac and sweet vermouth from the 1934 Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. “The whiskey-gin mix, you don’t see that too often,” notes bartender Frank Caiafa. “But then there’s also Cognac—three lead ingredients, in equal parts, softened and modified by vermouth. Anything like that really gets your eye.” His only tweak is to swap the called-for Old Tom gin for London dry to lend a more pronounced botanical profile.
Equally unlikely is the Yellow Parrot, another equal-parts mixture—this time of absinthe, yellow Chartreuse and apricot liqueur—that has stood the test of time to become a fan favorite at Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere. The Cloister cocktail likewise proves that what might sound overly bold on paper can, in fact, come together in the glass. When Christina Rando first served the heady mixture of yellow Chartreuse, gin, two types of citrus and simple syrup from the pages of Playboy’s Bartender Guide, she recalls, “The guest was so happy that she ordered three more.”
Other recipes would sound almost reasonable on the page, if it weren’t for a wildcard quirk. Mr. Boston’s Hot Pants, for example, consists of a mesmerizing mixture of tequila and grapefruit juice (so far, so good) accompanied by a hit of peppermint schnapps. Bartender Tammy Bouma maintains these flavors in her updated take that simply swaps mint syrup for mint schnapps. The Pancho Villa, meanwhile, is an easy-drinking tropical cocktail buried in Charles H. Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion that reads like an unbalanced Singapore Sling; Margo Gamora recalibrated the gin and apricot liqueur–heavy mixture into a rum-forward cooler.
But on paper, few drinks rival the absurdity of the Creole Rum Sazerac, a ’70s-era concoction of Pernod, two types of rum, Angostura bitters, lemon juice and a hit of bottled hot sauce. To bring it up to snuff without losing its character, bartender Drew Pompa leans on a split base of Guyanese and Jamaican rums. “The Sazerac is a very serious drink,” he notes of its namesake. But “flipping it, twisting it, and doing a total, all-out fuckup of the original … resulted in a very delicious cocktail I would be proud to serve to any guest.”