Every year, the instant the weather turns even remotely warm, Jillian Moore starts dreaming about the Jersey Shore. Her thoughts drift back to childhood afternoons stomping along the whirring Wildwood boardwalk, crushing hot, saucy slices from Mack’s Pizza and gravity-defying cake cones of quick-melting ice cream.
This interminable pandemic, of course, has a way of turning even the sweetest memories sour. “The nice days feel incredibly nice, but you can’t really go outside,” says the Philadelphia-based bartender, who’s worked at the Israeli restaurant Zahav since 2016, but travels back to New Jersey every year. “This summer, we have no idea how much of the Shore we’ll be able to have.” Deprived of beach and bar alike, Moore is occupying herself with at-home R&D, digging in the crates and using what she has on hand to stay sharp.
In paging through The Savoy Cocktail Book, Moore happened upon a drink she’d never encountered on either side of the bar: the Grand Royal Fizz, a mixture of gin, maraschino liqueur, orange and lemon, with cream and powdered sugar forming a fluffy, cloud-like crown, topped with seltzer. She expected this variation on the standard-bearing Ramos to taste good. She didn’t expect it to have a Proustian effect on her senses, instantly teleporting her to the head of the line at Kohr Brothers, the OG frozen custard stand that doles out the orange-vanilla twist she’s cherished since she was a kid. “When I tried it, I instantly thought, ‘Oh my god—this is a Creamsicle,’” says Moore.
The fizz—simply a sour-style cocktail topped with carbonated water—has been part of the lexicon since the 1876 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tenders’ Guide (though he spelled it “fiz”). The “Grand Royal” designation, meanwhile, seems to have been popularized by William Schmidt, the 19th-century barman renowned for his skill at the tall, sparkling format.
In an 1888 feature in the New York Sun, Schmidt led a reporter through an elaborate pantheon of deviations on the template, starting with a “plain” fizz consisting of Old Tom gin, lemon, sugar and seltzer, and culminating in the Grand Royal, requiring all the aforementioned ingredients, plus “the whole of an egg [and] a flavoring of some liqueur like Benedictine or maraschino.” In his 1891 book, The Flowing Bowl, Schmidt cranks the recipe to 11, adding “a little orange juice … and a dash of parfait amour or crème de roses” on top of the already-extravagant recipe.
The Grand Royal Fizz detailed in Savoy cuts down Schmidt’s convoluted spec considerably—losing the egg and all the modifying liqueurs aside from cherry, keeping the OJ, but throwing in cream. This was the template Moore found so transportive. With a Creamsicle, “you get the tartness of the orange, paired with that really great creaminess of vanilla [custard],” she says. To make a liquid interpretation pop, “I wanted to up the citrus and balance it with the sweet cream, but still keep it boozy.”
Starting with two ounces of gin softened with a half-ounce of Luxardo maraschino liqueur, Moore goes with near-equal measures of lemon and orange to hammer home the lip-puckering part of the experience. And just as an Orange Crush should never be made with bottled Tropicana, here, only fresh juice will do. According to Moore, the flavor and texture that fresh-squeezed orange juice adds to a shaken cocktail simply cannot be replicated with the store-bought variety. “There’s something about how citrus kicks you behind your teeth,” she says. “If I’m putting powdered sugar, cream and simple syrup in this, I needed to make sure the acid was in there.”
To that point—while a drink featuring dairy and two forms of sugar may scream “dessert,” Moore emphasizes that harmony is king. “Guests in general love to say that they don’t like things that are sweet—what you’re really saying is you don’t like something that’s imbalanced,” she says.
Though it remains to be seen whether she’ll make it down the Shore this season, Moore knew that “Grand Royal” was too haughty a name for a cocktail so evocative of Wildwood, a shore point stuck in time. “There’s a campiness to it that I really love,” says Moore of the resort town, renowned for its post-war Americana atmosphere and kitschy, neon-heavy ’50s architecture. “It was this place, growing up, where the kids got to be kids and the adults got to be adults,” she says.
To the dismay of locals and loyalists, much of that charm has been razed in recent years to make way for modern condos. To honor the Wildwood of yesteryear, Moore has dubbed her rejiggered fizz the Thunderbird, a nod to the Thunderbird Inn, a much-missed motel and poolside bar at 24th and Surf that ran from the 1960s up to its demolition in 2005.
Given its age, the Grand Royal Fizz objectively recalls the past. But by working her own memories into the mix, Moore manages to make something far more evocative. “As soon as I got it, I was like ‘This is it,’” she notes of her update. “I made a drink that’s nostalgic.”