That the Last Word, a now-beloved gin classic, is not an obscure footnote to cocktail history owes entirely to one person. The former Zig Zag Café bartender Murray Stenson first sampled the drink in the early 2000s, and quickly took to the equal-parts mixture of gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino and lime juice that he first encountered in Ted Saucier’s 1951 Bottoms Up! (though it was created decades earlier at the Detroit Athletic Club). After he placed the drink on the Zig Zag Café menu in 2004, it quickly graduated from bartender handshake to cult classic to bona fide classic—and the source of countless riffs.
While it may not grace as many menus as its pre-Prohibition brethren, such as the Old-Fashioned and the Manhattan, the Last Word’s challenging equal-parts formula has made it a favorite template for bartenders, and the source of several modern classics, like the Final Ward and the Naked & Famous.
Sticking to equal parts is key to most of today’s interpretations. In The Last Laugh, bartender Abigail Gullo keeps the exact recipe of the original intact, simply topping the mixture with a splash of cava (“the bubbles tickle your nose,” she says, hence the name of the drink). Chall Gray’s Electric Circus likewise keeps the equal-parts formula in play, but swaps out green Chartreuse and maraschino in favor of génépy and Midori while lemon stands in for lime; Sother Teague’s Oh, My Word! ditches fresh citrus altogether (in keeping with Amor y Amargo’s philosophy of eschewing perishables), letting Amaro Montenegro and lime bitters take its place in this spirit-forward rendition.
Phil Ward’s Division Bell takes a slightly different approach, swapping out gin for mezcal and trading Chartreuse for Aperol in a simple yet effective reworking of the Last Word formula. It bears a strong resemblance to Joaquín Simó’s Naked & Famous, which likewise marries mezcal and Aperol alongside yellow Chartreuse and lime juice, for a drink that Simó describes as “the bastard child born out of an illicit Oaxacan love affair between the classic Last Word and the Paper Plane.” Ward and Simó’s recipes are both now considered modern classics (as is the Paper Plane), inspiring the next generation of contemporary standbys, which goes to show that when it comes to the Last Word, there’s always more to say.