The occasion was a "Pre-Prohibition Cocktail Party" at Keens Steakhouse, as part of the Zagat Vintage Dinner Series, which showcases 19th-century menus at various restaurants around town. Keens was an obvious choice for a venue to make 19th-century cocktails, as it's essentially unchanged since then. As Wondrich, who of course literally wrote the book on 19th-century mixology, told me, "there are only three bars in the city with this level of interior detail": Keens, Bill's Gay Nineties, and McSorley's. Keens started out as the Lambs theatrical club before manager Albert Keen went independent in 1885, and the event was held in the Lambs Room and connecting Lincoln Room there. The Lincoln Room has all kinds of neat Lincoln ephemera, most notably the Ford's Theater program Lincoln was allegedly holding when he was shot.
The Beverage Alcohol Resource guys -- not just DeGroff and Wondrich, but also Andy Seymour, spirits review maven F. Paul Pacult (who has his own series of tasting events at Keens) and Steve Olson -- designed the cocktail menu, and Keens provided their signature mutton, as well as prime rib and house-smoked filet mignon. I also enjoyed the restaurant's recreation of a typical 19th-century saloon's "free lunch" -- black and white bread, with veal tongue, smoked salmon, and venison cold cuts, with plenty of gherkins and onions and mustards for one's sandwich.
The drinks served at stations around the room were varied, but all had pretty intense flavor profiles and were very forward -- I'm not sure if this is a hallmark of pre-Prohibition cocktails, but I kept wanting more and more water as I drank. I started out with a glass of USS Richmond Punch, named for (and served on) the warship that captured New Orleans in 1862. It was much more strongly-flavored than most punches I've had, making it a nicely emphatic start to the evening. I haven't found many recipes for this one, but the one I did find calls for Jamaican rum, brandy, tea, Port, and orange curacao, which certainly makes for an interesting and rich punch. My next taste, equally flavorful, was the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail: two ounces Bols genever, a dash of Lucid absinthe, a dash of Fee's Whisky Barrel Aged bitters, a teaspoon of Luxardo Maraschino, and a quarter-ounce of rich demerara syrup. I followed that up with the Morning Glory Fizz, a small breakfast drink with Scotch (Talisker 10 Year, which I like a lot, but am not sure I could handle first thing in the morning), lemon, lime, simple syrup, and soda. I really liked this one, and am always impressed with good Scotch cocktails, since I tend to find it very hard to mix with. I may try my hand with this one at home, too. I'll also be making the Italian Wine Lemonade, which I think I'll serve in the summertime: a nicely intense lemonade with lemon juice, simple syrup, and water, served with a Port float. (Apparently it was originally served with a sherry float, which sounds intriguing too.) Very refreshing.
And, of course, the evening was capped with Blue Blazers, which were quite eye-catching. After prepping glasses with lemon twists and a small squirt of simple syrup, the ace bartenders took up position and made Blazer after Blazer for the adoring crowd. (That cask-strength Macallan lights up nicely, doesn't it?) As Wondrich has noted, the Blue Blazer is a simple hot Scotch toddy, but it certainly is showy.