The D List: Bringing Back the Bizzy Izzy Highball

With its split-base of whiskey and amontillado sherry, this pre-Prohibition cocktail feels surprisingly modern.

If there is one bartender well-suited to make bold proclamations about the permeability of time, it’s Al Sotack, whose futurist Bushwick lounge, Jupiter Disco, looks like the type of place where Rick Deckard would rendezvous with underworld sources. It’s a natural fit, then, for the Bizzy Izzy Highball—a cocktail that tastes distinctly modern, despite having existed for more than a century.

The Bizzy Izzy originates with pre-Prohibition barman Tom Bullock, the first African-American to author his own cocktail manual. Equal parts whiskey and sherry, plus pineapple syrup and lemon (soda water is not cited in the original text, despite the highball designation), the drink is among the more precocious creations found in Bullock’s 1917 book, The Ideal Bartender.

Among the better-known recipes, like the Old-Fashioned and Mint Julep, that occupy the pages of Bullock’s book, it was the appetizing make-up and catchy name of the Bizzy Izzy that caught Sotack’s eye in his earliest perusals of the manual. (Sotack cites Bullock’s Ideal Bartender as one of his biggest professional influences.) “It’s a wonderful cocktail, but it also strikes me as a fairly modern cocktail,” says Sotack, who first grew fond of the recipe around 2009, while helming the bar program at The Franklin Bar in Philadelphia. In New York, he continued to advocate for it through stints at Death & Co., Pouring Ribbons and Donnaahead of opening Jupiter Disco with partner Maks Pazuniak in 2016.

Taken individually, none of the Bizzy Izzy’s ingredients are obscure or esoteric. What’s more, they provide an approachable template that’s allowed Sotack to subtly alter the formula to his tastes, swapping in fresh pineapple juice for syrup and adding a hit of aromatic bitters. “It’s very easy to understand,” he says of the timeless mixture, which reads as unusually contemporary due to its split-spirit base

While the moniker might seem obscure to a modern audience, at the turn of the century the rhyming couplet would have immediately recalled a well-known theater troupe of the same name based in the St. Louis area. It was there that, as Bullock made a name for himself as the head barman at the St. Louis Country Club, a vaudeville comic by the name of George Sidney was enjoying a certain level of celebrity for the creation of the character Izzy Mark—a role he reprised multiple times on stage in the years preceding the passing of the Volstead Act. 

A populist performer, Sidney’s musical productions were known for their affordable ticket prices and high-energy, escapist approach. “If you are looking for a show that really makes your troubles vanish… ‘Bizzy Izzy’ is the show you’re looking for,” read a 1913 review in the Springfield News-Leader. It’s not hard to imagine that Bullock was inspired by the hottest ticket in town: much like his drink, it was easy to get into—and even easier to enjoy.

Related Articles