A Drink in Time
April 1, 2011
Bearers of the spirit of life, bars are faithful witnesses to the dance of time and the significant moments in history. These watering holes, and their iconic cocktails and drinks, have inspired, sheltered and comforted many an influential figure – from presidents and revolutionaries to Beat artists and notable writers. CAMPER ENGLISH takes a step back into the past.
More than simply liquor dispensaries, bars are public spaces in which to connect with others, or simply to watch the world go by. But some – because of a special ambience or X factor, perhaps – become the backdrop against which revolutions are plotted; lovers meet (and quarrel); politicians greet their constituents; and where writers and artists find inspiration.
These eight fabled spots have seen history written in their premises and famous personages crossing their thresholds. All of them hold on to their storied pasts and invite visitors to relive it all with a cocktail.
CAFFE FLORIAN, VENICE
At 291 years of age, Caffe Florian may be the oldest operating coffeehouse in the world. Famed master of seduction Casanova was said to have frequented the place, which should come as no surprise as it was the only cafe to admit women in his day. Writers such as Lord Byron and Charles Dickens, along with composer Igor Stravinsky and artist Amedeo Modigliani, frequented it too. The plan for the Venice Biennale was also conceived at this very location. So were various schemes and plots to achieve Venetian independence and Italian unification, as noblemen and ambassadors drank here just as often as artists. Today, locals and tourists soak up its historic atmosphere – and the sun at the plentiful outdoor tables – accompanied by live music and cold cocktails.
BELLINI Invented by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, and first served in 1948, it is popular throughout Italy. Stir together 90ml chilled Prosecco and 45ml white peach puree. Float 15ml peach liqueur on top.
LONG BAR AT WALDORF ASTORIA, SHANGHAI
Back in the early 1900s, the exclusive Shanghai Club was reputed to have the longest bar counter in the world, hewn from raw mahagony. Back then, a seat at the coveted east end of the bar (with a view of the Huangpu River) meant you had arrived, while newcomers were relegated to the back end of the bar. Having been destroyed in various events, it was painstakingly rebuilt by Waldorf Astoria to original specifications using photographs and original blueprints. Reopened in late 2010, the refurbished Long Bar has recaptured this old world elegance perfectly, thanks to its brown leather chairs, live jazz and extensive menu that includes an oyster bar and a selection of fine whiskeys.
THE WALDORF COCKTAIL Into an ice-filled shaker, add 25ml of sweet Vermouth, 60ml of whiskey, 10ml of absinthe and two dashes of Angostura Bitters. Stir well and strain into a chilled glass.
OLD EBBIT GRILL, WASHINGTON DC
Since its 1856 opening, this bar has relocated several times, but retained many of the original decorations including stuffed animal heads supposedly shot by former US president Theodore Roosevelt. Other American presidents who’ve reportedly stopped by for a drink include Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland and Andrew Johnson while William McKinley is said to have lived in a room here at one point. Today, the Old Ebbitt Grill is a large building with several rooms, all furnished in Victorian style. The marble staircase, antique clock and collection of vintage beer steins here are era-appropriate but in sharp contrast to the more plush public and private dining rooms with classical club-style furniture. Today, Washington power players meeting for martinis share space at the bar with tourists and presidential history buffs.
GIN RICKEY The most famous cocktail created in Washington in the late 1800s, it is named after government lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey. In an ice-filled highball glass, add 45ml gin, 15ml lime juice and top with soda water. Garnish with a lime wedge.
THE BAR HEMINGWAY AT THE RITZ, PARIS
Ernest Hemingway’s favourite of the Ritz’s bars, this cosy and elegant little room with wood panelling and leather armchairs was renamed in his honour. He was one of many writers who frequented the bar, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Jean-Paul Sartre. Helmed by one of the world’s most respected barmen, Colin Peter Field, The Bar Hemingway is the perfect destination in which to sample Parisian luxury without splurging on a room upstairs. The drinks, priced at €30 (US$41) each, are mostly simple but original concoctions served with the care and grace of one of the world’s finest bars.
CIDER RITZ A modern creation from the Ritz Paris, it is designed as a light cocktail for the early evening. Add equal parts apple juice and Champagne to an ice-filled wine glass. Garnish with an apple slice and rose petals.
This former Beat poet hangout is located across the alley from the City Lights bookstore that published the controversial Allen Ginsberg book Howl and Other Poems. Here, the likes of On the Road author Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady (better known as the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road) drank and talked literature, which is what customers do today at the sunny tables upstairs or the dark wooden booths on the ground floor. Not much has changed in the 63 years that the bar has been open, except for the addition of organic cocktails attuned to the present mood of the city.
NEGRONI This slightly bitter classic Italian cocktail is exceptionally popular in San Francisco, especially in the Italian North Beach neighbourhood where Vesuvio stands. Stir equal parts gin, sweet Vermouth and Campari with ice. Serve in a cocktail glass garnished with orange peel.
LONG BAR AT RAFFLES HOTEL, SINGAPORE
Few cocktails are more closely associated with their place of creation than the Singapore Sling and the 124-year-old Raffles Hotel. Created in 1915 by bar captain Ngiam Tong Boon, the cocktail achieved worldwide fame and is still mixed at the Long Bar today. With its earthy tones and intimate atmosphere, this two-storey bar inspires a journey back to the colonial days. Enjoy the live band, sip on the sweet cocktail and relax in one of the old-fashioned bamboo chairs as the leaf-shaped ceiling fans rotate lazily above.
SINGAPORE SLING In an ice-filled shaker, add 30ml gin, 15ml Cherry Heering Liqueur, 120ml pineapple juice, 15ml lime juice, 7.5ml each of Cointreau and Dom Benedictine, 10ml grenadine and a dash of Angostura Bitters. Shake and strain into a hurricane glass and garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry.
AMERICAN BAR AT THE SAVOY, LONDON
With Prince Charles in attendance, The Savoy hotel reopened last year after a US$348 million renovation. First opened in 1893, the American Bar is said to be the oldest surviving cocktail bar in England. Both the hotel and the drinks served therein have attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. Famous for hundreds of cocktails, the recipes of these creations were published in 1930 in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Still in print today, this is one of the most important and influential cocktail books of the 1900s. This bar helped popularise the hanky panky, white lady and clover club cocktails that are currently enjoying a second wave in the spotlight of the classic cocktail craze. While the decor may have been updated to a modern lounge style, most of the drinks menu is devoted to the historic cocktails made famous on-site.
HANKY PANKY This was created by Savoy bartender Ada Coleman in 1925. Stir 50ml each of gin and sweet Vermouth and 5ml of Fernet Branca with ice and serve in a cocktail glass with an orange twist.
EL FLORIDITA, HAVANA
The El Floridita was, and still is, as famous for its cocktails as its guests, but Cuba’s barmen were once local celebrities themselves. They served vacationing Americans during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s, creating new drinks like the blended version of the daiquiri made famous here. The drinks attracted the likes of Ernest Hemingway who, in turn, brought pals like Ava Gardner, Tennessee Williams and Spencer Tracy to the bar. In 1953, the El Floridita was listed as one of the most popular bars in the world and it remains a hit today with celebrities including Jane Fonda, Giorgio Armani, Naomi Campbell and Pierce Brosnan, who stop by for drinks when on the island. Of all the famous guests, only Hemingway is immortalised here with a life-sized statue of the author. Though the real Hemingway preferred a drink nicknamed the papa doble, which was a daiquiri with twice the rum and no sugar, the cocktail named after him (also invented at El Floridita) is likely to please more palates.
HEMINGWAY DAIQUIRI It was created at the Floridita in honour of the author. Into a shaker or blender, add 45ml white rum, 8ml maraschino, 15ml grapefruit juice, and 23ml each of lime juice and cane syrup. Shake or blend with ice and serve in a cocktail glass.