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H.L. Mencken called the martini the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet, but I think the Sidecar goes one better: It’s as engrossing and enrapturing as the Great American novel.
When I tended bar at The Royale Food & Spirits in St. Louis, floating in the ether inside that hallowed drinking hall was something called the Birthday Cake Shot. By “floating in the ether,” I mean it was a concoction that wasn’t in our top-secret, behind-the-bar recipe binder or on our official menu — but it was on patrons’ minds all the same, and many of them knew to ask for one on their (or their friends’) birthdays. Hence, we tenders had to have the shot committed to memory.
Except I never quite did. Instead, I often and repeatedly annoyed my fellow bar employees by asking them to remind me what was in it. I resented the Birthday Cake Shot because I was there to make grown-up cocktails, goddamnit. The Birthday Cake Shot wasn’t even a concoction so much as a contraption, because it was one of those where you had to do it by sucking on a slice of lemon at the finish, and maybe lick some sugar beforehand… again, I can’t remember whatever particular gymnastics were involved. Also, there was Frangelico, and somehow the lemon and Frangelico wound up tasting like yellow cake mix when combined on the tongue. Anyway, you get the point — it was one of those shots wherein its puerile overcomplications were taken as clever by the completely blotto.
So when it came time for me to include a Birthday Cake Martini in The Big Book of Martinis for Moms (because, hey, of course a book called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms has to have a birthday-cake martini; I may be a cocktail snob, but I’m not an idiot), I decided that we were gonna do it a little more grown-up-like. Because hey, like it or not, growing up is in fact what a birthday is about.
I can feel another Eric Felten rager coming on — my curious condition wherein I just want to make cocktails from his book, How’s Your Drink? — and as this one coincides with the advent of the new season of Mad Men, I give you the Vieux Carre.
First, please allow me to quote liberally from Felten’s prose regarding the Vieux Carre’s New Orleans origins (New Orligins?):
“Then there’s the Hotel Monteleone‘s Carousel Bar, where the circular bar revolves slowly under a whimsical carnival canopy of carved wood, mirrors, and bare bulbs. The barstools don’t go up and down, thankfully, but the experience can still be a little disorienting; get caught up in a conversation, and the next thing you know, you’re on the other side of the room. Ask bartender Marvin Allen to mix you up a Vieux Carre, a terrific drink invented by the Carousel’s barman in the 1930s, and unknown to most mixologists outside of the Hotel Monteleone.”
There’s a great future in aperitifs and digestifs. I don’t just mean that in a Benjamin-Braddock-searching-for-meaning-in-the-60s-oh-I-get-it-she’s-referencing-The Graduate kind of way. Italian liqueurs are mega-trendy big right now and I say good on it, because they’re relatively cheap (~$20 a bottle, less for vermouths), a little goes a long way, they’re becoming easily available, they have the best ad posters, they were born to make nice in endless kinds of cocktail recipes, and once you start you’ll want to collect them and play with them and come up with neat at-home displays for them like you used to do with your Smurfs.