May 24 is the Brooklyn Bridge’s birthday, so you know what that means: we’ll be mixing the classic Brooklyn cocktail. This one’s obvious. Each of the boroughs has a cocktail named after it and the Brooklyn, like the Manhattan, has various spinoffs created from the original. The Brooklyn Bridge is also the object of the classic sell a bridge scam, so it’s obviously a fun place. We’ll discuss that a bit before getting to the Brooklyn Cocktail recipe.
The Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge, of course, connects Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River. Proposals to connect the two then-separate cities via a bridge emerged in the early 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1870 that construction actually started. It was a big project, the first fixed crossing of the East River with its deck 127 feet above mean high tide, and a span of 1,596 feet. That would make it the longest suspension bridge in the world and the first steel wire suspension bridge. With the novel design it’s no surprise really that construction took 13 years.
Once the bridge was complete George C. Parker entered the scene. He was the force behind the long-common phrase, “if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you”. A superlative con man, he set up sales offices and forged documents to support his cons. He also spent plenty of time at Ellis Island looking for immigrants with money to invest. Another favorite rube, of course, was a first-time visitor to New York.
Parker became famous for selling all kinds of New York landmarks. His scams ranged from Madison Square Garden to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Statue of Liberty. The Brooklyn Bridge, of course was his greatest. Legend has it he sold it at least twice a week and at one time for $50,000. The new “owner” wouldn’t realize he was the victim of a con until New York police officers would stop the misguided soul from setting up tool booths on the bridge. The law finally caught up with Parker and in 1928 he was sentenced to a life term at Sing Sing Prison. We have no knowledge as to whether he crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to get there.
The Brooklyn Cocktail
The Brooklyn cocktail itself has a long and twisted history. David Wondrich largely describes it in The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails when he explains that numerous versions exist with the only common point being an attempt to rival the more famous Manhattan or Bronx cocktails.
Efforts started in the 1880s with a rum variation on a Manhattan, but that seems to have never left its place of creation. In 1908 a bartender in Manhattan, Jack Grohusko, decided to try with a variation that added Maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon along the lines what was then known as an improved cocktail. Various other formulas tried to become the Brooklyn cocktail but then Prohibition hit.
Once Prohibition ended the borough’s newspaper, Brooklyn Eagle, wondered why there was no Brooklyn cocktail and invited submissions. What was supposed to be Grohusko’s recipe was submitted but came out of Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book. Unfortunately, Craddock had taken the recipe from an intermediary that switched from sweet to dry vermouth, which was not so good for a balanced recipe. Nothing really caught on, and even the Bronx started to taunt Brooklyn over not having a popular namesake cocktail.
It really took until the Cocktail Renaissance starting around 2004 to remedy the situation. Now we have not only the original Brooklyn cocktail recipe of Jack Grohusko that we present, but also spinoffs named after specific neighborhoods such as the Greenpoint and the Red Hook. Here’s the basic, original version.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with cocktail cherry.