The unknown pedigree of the Tuxedo No. 2—an intriguing union of gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and absinthe that has long rode the coattails of the more famous Tuxedo—has done little to detract from its popularity. For Eric Alperin, who first tried the bone-dry Martini variation as a novice bartender in 2005, the drink has become a fixture of his repertoire.
The earliest recorded reference to the Tuxedo No. 2 appears in the 1900 edition of Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual. It was this iteration that Alperin, co-owner of Los Angeles bar The Varnish and author of Unvarnished: A Gimlet-Eyed Look at Life Behind the Bar, first tasted while working at Little Branch in New York’s West Village in the mid-aughts.
“Prior to that, I was mostly making Cosmos at The Screening Room,” he says. “So, hell no, I’d never heard of a Tuxedo or Tuxedo No. 2.” He recalls being enamored of the cocktail when he first tried it, appreciating its silky texture and aromatic finish.
Nearly identical to the version he first encountered at Little Branch, Alperin’s Tuxedo No. 2 adheres to the analytical approach to drink-making that characterizes much of the Sasha Petraske school of bars. “To come up with new recipes we use the Mr. Potato Head method, which allows us to swap out a whole, half or quarter portion of one ingredient and replace it with another ingredient to build a different cocktail,” he explains. Though the Tuxedo No. 2 is a classic cocktail, the practice still applies. As Alperin explains, “At The Varnish, we removed a quarter-ounce of dry vermouth [from a traditional Martini] and replaced it with the Maraska Maraschino. The absinthe and orange bitters are considered a seasoning.”
A popular call among Martini drinkers at The Varnish, Alperin’s recipe begins by misting a chilled coupe with atomized Pernod Absinthe, a technique that he claims distributes the spirit more evenly than the traditional rinse. Next, he adds two ounces of Beefeater gin to a chilled mixing glass. “Beefeater stands up to the maraschino liqueur,” he says. “I like a gin with a nice, peppery finish and some backbone that can also play well with the absinthe.” The gin is followed by three-quarters of an ounce of fresh Dolin Dry vermouth—a non-negotiable for Alperin, who insists that it be kept refrigerated and used within a week of opening, for the best flavor and aromatics. While Luxardo is often the default cherry liqueur for the Tuxedo No. 2, Alperin prefers Maraska Maraschino for a mellower rendition. “Luxardo can be pretty intense and funky; Maraska is a little nuttier and more elegant,” he says. The final component is two dashes of bitters—a split of Fee Brothers West Indian Orange and Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6.
Perhaps more than any single ingredient, however, it’s Alperin’s technique that sets his version apart. At The Varnish, he keep the mixing glass and maraschino in the freezer. When it’s time to make the cocktail, he fills the mixing glass with large shards of cracked ice and stirs for about five minutes, until the mixture reaches -8° Celsius (17.6° Fahrenheit). “Serving our drinks in the coldest state possible has always been a tenet of the Milk & Honey family,” explains Alperin. “A properly trained bartender will know that the temperature is right based on atmosphere temperature, the state of the cracked ice, the time it’s been in the mixing glass and lastly, the straw test before straining. Randomly, we’ll throw a digital thermometer in a mixing glass and it’s 90 percent [of the time] in the zone.”
Alperin then strains the drink into a chilled coupe. He expresses the oils from a lemon twist into the cocktail, then adds it to the glass along with a brandied cherry, the traditional garnishes in early versions of the cocktail. The result is an unquestionably refined cocktail with unexpected depth. According to Alperin, it’s a particularly dry Martini variation that “has a gentle kiss of fruit with an herbaceous bow-tie finish.”