“New York City is probably the only metropolis since Imperial Rome where who eats what and with whom is top column news to millions,” wrote Lucius Beebe in the introduction to 1946’s The Stork Club Bar Book. Unfortunately for “Luscious Lucius”—a writer who covered Manhattan’s social scene in the 1930s and ‘40s—Instagram had yet to pop up in the heyday of The Stork Club, whose bar book he penned with a great level of fanfare and name-dropping. Were he alive in 2015, Beebe’s Instagram account (@LusciousLu, probably) might look a lot like Derek Blasberg’s.
While the city’s drinking and eating scene is now fragmented and forever mutating, The Stork Club thrived in a simpler time, when you could rely on celebrities and titans of industry to all be at just a handful of places. Very often that place was the VIP room at The Stork Club, the exclusive nightclub-slash-restaurant on New York’s 58th Street that played host to a rotating cast of well-known names, like Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra, for nearly four decades, from 1929 to 1965.
During this era, Beebe wrote a column called “This New York” for the Herald Tribune, where he documented the goings-on at The Stork Club and its contemporaries like El Morocco, the 21 Club and The Colony, popularizing the phrase “café society” to describe his subjects. (He was also a contributor to many prestigious publications, including Gourmet, for whom he wrote about his discovery of the Caesar salad in 1948.) He was stylish, influential and prolific, and also a railroad historian who owned a private railcar that he used to travel the country with his longtime partner Charles Clegg and their Saint Bernard, T-Bone Towser.
The Stork Club Bar Book is part recipe collection, part anthropological text, part Page Six. Broken into sections based on the time of day—Morning, Noon and Night—The Stork Club Bar Book includes many standard classics, from the Ramos Fizz to the Black Velvet to the Manhattan. But it’s the drinks that bear the names and descriptions of their fans, creators or muses that allow a more anecdotal sense of the time. Take, for example, the eponymous Rosalind Russell, a shaken combination of aquavit and vermouth, 2 to 1. A quick Google will reveal Russell to be an actress, but Beebe gives us no such hints, thus turning the book into something of a digital scavenger hunt for the modern reader—one that leads deep into bowels of Wikipedia and spits you back out an expert on the who’s who of 75 years ago.
The writing alone—which is as flamboyant as Beebe’s famous wardrobe—is reason enough to read. He describes New York’s bars as places of “sumptuous doings and monster skirmishes,” depicts the Stork’s patrons as “guzzling with a panache of chic and elegance.” The Stork, Beebe tells us, “means fame; it means wealth; it means an elegant urban existence.” Almost 70 years after its first publication, it’s as hilarious and voyeuristic as it surely was in its day.
While some bar books attempt to carefully acknowledge the perils of drinking, The Stork jumps over them as if hopping over a large puddle while trench coat-clad and outfitted with the sturdiest of galoshes. Here, drinking is to be grasped by the face and kissed with gusto.
As such, there are certainly more than a few flawed drinks that perhaps weren’t subject to proper scrutiny, and even more that read like double-dares, such as the Golden Slipper, which simply calls for yellow Chartreuse and the yolk of an egg, topped with Goldwasser. But there are also more than a few drinks that read suspect on paper but can easily be adjusted for the modern palate.
To see how well the book has stood the test of time, we called on a few of our favorite drinkers and bartenders, along with PUNCH Editor-in-Chief Talia Baiocchi, to taste five drinks that showed unorthodox promise (or just sounded irresistibly weird). Without further ado, our esteemed panel: Kat Kinsman, editor-at-large of Tasting Table; Dan Saltzstein, committed cocktail drinker, drinks and travel writer and editor at the New York Times; Tom Richter, creator of Tomr’s Tonic, wearer of bold shirts and bartender at Dear Irving; and Meaghan Dorman, head bartender/mama hen at Raines Law Room, Dear Irving and The Bennett. To the drinks.
Niesen Buzz Bomb
The favorite drink of singer-actress-comedian Gertrude Niesen, patron of the Stork Club, who apparently liked her cocktails boozy as hell, despite Beebe’s description of the drink. Writes Beebe: “…when thirsty, she does hone and hanker for a conservative little toddy.”
“I don’t like that!” —Marian
“It’s all over the place. There’s too much lime.” —Tom
“It’s like a Long Island Iced Tea gone horribly wrong.” —Kat
“Niesen was a big lush, huh?” —Talia
“I think using lemon instead of lime would soften it a bit.” —Dan
“More Champagne.” —Marian
Verdict: With a few adjustments, this turns into a really lovely, Bénédictine-forward Champagne cocktail. No need for vodka. But respect to Niesen on that front. See the Editor’s Note in the recipe for Tom Richter’s modern riff.
This appears in the book’s “Morning” section, listed as one of the Stork Club’s “less lethal and drastic cures” for what may be ailing you when you wake up. It’s creamy, rich and true to name in flavor.
“It tastes like a custard I had last night. It’s lemon custard!” —Kat
“I think a little bit of nutmeg would be good on here.” —Tom
“I wonder if, at the time of this book, eggs were in a different … state.” —Kat
“They were smaller. So nowadays, if you want to get close to that size, you have to get medium eggs.” —Tom
“We need to repackage those as cocktail eggs.” —Kat
Verdict: A rich and wintry sour. Use the smallest eggs you can find. Maybe start a cocktail egg business. Give us a few shares.
Alexander the Great
Consider the marriage of a White Russian and a mocha-flavored milkshake, with a heavy-handed pour of vodka, and this is what you will get. “More than three of these,” Beebe warns, “gives the consumer a wolfish appetite.”
“It’s a proto Espresso Martini.” —Talia
“It’s got that Tom & Jerry thing going on.” —Kat
“It’s got that sharpness from the vodka afterwards—in a way that’s good because you could just kind of, like, drink three of these real fast.” —Meaghan
“See, the warning was warranted.” —Talia
Verdict: A great drink to get drunk right quick. Dial back the vodka and swap it out for brandy. See Editor’s Note in the recipe for suggested adjustments.
Considered a noontime drink at The Stork Club, this minty-fruity concoction promises to “abate the grief of a stormy morning.”
“It’s like drinking punch after you brush your teeth.” —Kat
“It has that kind of Andes mint flavor to it. It’s like eating an Andes mint and drinking some wine. It’s challenging.” —Marian
“If you lived in the Midwest you would say, ‘Well, that’s different.‘” —Kat
“I think you’d have to drink like four of these to figure out how to fix it.” —Talia
Verdict: In its original state, it’s good for the sort of person who intentionally brushes their teeth before opening up a bottle of red wine. For everyone else, see the Editor’s Note in the recipe.
Rocky Mountain Cooler
This unorthodox low-alcohol combination of dry cider, a whole egg and citrus comes from the “Night” chapter, but it might as well be a morning pick-me-up.
“It’s really tart.” —Kat
“It needs more sugar.” —Tom
“It’s not very boozy at all.” —Dan
“My ears are ringing. If it were less tart and a little more balanced it would be delicious.” —Talia
“It’s a very extreme experience.” —Marian
Verdict: In its original state, this is indeed an extreme experience. But with the addition of cinnamon simple syrup, this tasted like a modern, and very delicious, winter cider cocktail.