Thursday , June 20 2024
A drink much better than it sounds...

Vintage Cocktails: The Sidecar

I have been thinking about Sidecars a lot lately. Hasn't everyone?

Well, apparently yes, they have. In yesterday's mail, amidst all the Christmas catalogs, there arrived fashion designer Trina Turk's new advertising flyer. Trina is recommending the Sidecar for holiday entertaining. I say, "Sure! Let's! I was just thinking the same thing!"

The Sidecar came up frequently during my research into the Whiskey Sour. The Sidecar is a cousin, or at least it's in the same family — the Family Sour: a liquor base with a balance of sweet and sour.

The Sidecar is a Whiskey Sour relation: the relation with the much more intriguing name. Why a sidecar? What does this cocktail have to do with an extra seat attached to a motorcycle?

Perhaps the answer lies in the beginnings of the drink, which were at the end of World War One. It originated maybe in Paris, maybe in London, maybe on a motorcycle. Who knows?

A bartender needed to make an emergency cocktail while commuting. His only transportation — a motorcycle. Hilarity ensued.

One of the first mentions of the Sidecar is in Robert Vermeire's 1922 Cocktails: How To Mix Them, for those of you keeping score at home. The drink was supposedly invented by legendary bartender MacGarry of London's Buck Club, a true visionary not only of mixology but of the need to have only one name as a celebrity.

Here is the trusted recipe:

The Sidecar:
2 oz. of brandy or cognac
3/4 oz. of Cointreau or triple sec
3/4 oz. of fresh lemon juice
lemon wedge

With the lemon wedge, moisten rim of a coupe glass (it looks like an old-style champagne glass). A martini glass will do just as well. Sprinkle wet rim with superfine sugar. A true bartender will only coat half a glass with sugar to give the customer the option – to sugar or not to sugar.

Place the first three ingredients into a cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake well until a frost forms on the shaker. Strain into glass. Start your engines.

I recently visited the Chelsea area of New York City. At the always fun Half-King, a necessary stop on anyone's literary pub crawl since it is partially owned by Sebastian Junger of The Perfect Storm fame, I had the brainstorm to order a Chelsea Sidecar, a variation on our theme that calls for gin rather than brandy. I was confident that the bar would stretch to the occasion, not only because of geography but also because the Sidecar was on their drinks menu.

What resulted was a rather unpleasant gin gimlet. Lime juice and too much of it. There's nothing wrong with a gimlet, but that's for another column.

Moving onto Astoria, Queens, I tried again. That could have been a mistake too. Astoria has its own cocktail, basically a very wet martini with orange bitters. The neighborhood might not have been welcome to the idea of a Sidecar on 31st Avenue and 33rd Street, or 31st Street and 33rd Avenue, or  31st Road and 33rd Street. Astoria can be confusing. You don't want to have too many Sidecars, or you won't find your way out.

We visited the Brick Cafe, a charming little rustic chic Euro restaurant. Far from being defensive about the Astoria Cocktail, the waiter at the cafe was undaunted by the order of the Sidecar. And after the drink arrived, I could see why. It was excellent.  So much so that visions of award ceremonies danced in my head. The Speakeasy's Award for most Unfazed Waiter, and maybe even The Speakeasy Award for Best Cocktail. Awards ceremony season is rapidly approaching. I'd better get to work on that. Just one more cocktail. I'll make it a stylish one on Trina Turk's good advice.


About Kate Shea Kennon

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