‘A Proper Drink’ tells the history of the cocktail revival

'A Proper Drink' tells the history of the cocktail revival

Robert Simonson writes a cocktail column for the New York Times. Since he started covering drinks, he has seen dramatic changes.

“It’s hard to imagine that 15 years ago,” he said, “if you were an ambitious bartender and wanted to go buy a jigger or a bar spoon, those things were hard to find.”

The cocktail renaissance, Simonson decided, deserved a chronicle. In “A Proper Drink” (Ten Speed), he recounts the story of the world rediscovering how a good cocktail is made.

“We have reached the point where enough history has passed that it was time to put it all in order,” Simonson said. “All the players are still around.”

On Wednesday (Nov. 2), Simonson will be at Cane & Table (1113 Decatur St.) from 6 to 8 p.m. to read from “A Proper Drink” and answer questions. The French Quarter bar will also have a menu of drinks that, in his book, Simonson calls modern classics.

New Orleans has a unique role in the cocktail renaissance.

“It was one of the few cities that never forgot cocktails,” Simonson said.

But as forward thinking bartenders in cities like New York and San Francisco rediscovered pre-Prohibition classics and developed new drinks, New Orleans was slow to join in.

“Probably because they thought they were doing fine already,” Simonson said.

Katrina was the catalyst for change. Young New Orleans bartenders scattered across the country and saw what others were doing. And natives who had long been away, like Cure founder Neal Bodenheimer, decided it was time to come home.

Tales of the Cocktail, the cocktail convention held each July in New Orleans, also played a crucial role.

“Part of the story of the cocktail revival is that bartenders developed a community,” Simonson said.

Tales is the place where that community can gather in person each year.

Simonson notes that Tales, like the cocktail business itself, has become more serious over the years.

“It used to be more lighthearted. It was sort of a lark,” he said about Tales. “It has become more corporate, but there is still no event like it.”

Roughly a quarter century into the revival of the cocktail, Simonson thinks America is in a good place. Even smaller cities have a cocktail bar or two. And serious restaurants can’t ignore their cocktail lists.

“I don’t think an interest in serving good cocktails in restaurants and bars will go away,” he said. “Fads and trends don’t last this long. It’s permanent.”

Although “A Proper Drink” is not a recipe book, Simonson does include about 40 recipes for drinks he considers modern classics, such as the Red Hook and Tommy’s Margarita.

The Red Hook was created by Vincenzo Errico in 2003. “The Manhattan/Brooklyn cocktail riff that birthed a dozen others,” writes Simonson. “First served at the original Milk & Honey in New York, it inspired many another bartender to toy around with the Manhattan template. ”

Red Hook
Makes 1 drink

2 ounces rye
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/2 Punt y Mes

Combine ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into chilled coupe.

Julio Bermejo invented this drink in the 1990s. “The most famous Margarita variation of the 21st century,” Simonson writes, “this is simply a Margarita sans the curacao, and with agave syrup instead of sugar. Bermejo created it to showcase the flavors of the many brands of 100% agave tequila he carried at his family’s San Francisco restaurant, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant.”

Tommy’s Margarita
Makes 1 drink

2 ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce agave syrup

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe, or a rocks glass filled with ice, and rimmed with salt (optional).

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