June 8 is Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday. For this groundbreaking architect we’ll mix the Guggenheim cocktail in honor of one of his most famous works. Despite our boozy ways we like a low-ABV aperitif on occasion and the Guggenheim fits that bill.
You might think of an esteemed architect as a rather staid character, but he was not. After all, the New York Times interviewed him when he was 89 years old and he said, “A man is a fool if he drinks before he reaches the age of 50, and a fool if he doesn’t afterward”. Wise words, though we’re not so sure about the age of 50 demarcation line. He attributed his great longevity to the Irish whiskey he’d down before dinner each evening.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Our protagonist was born on June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. His family struggled, but his mother gave Frank a set of geometrically shaped blocks that he spent a lot of time with.
By the time he was 19 he wanted to become an architect and entered the University of Wisconsin Madison. He left without getting a degree, but the university eventually granted an honorary doctorate to him in 1955. He was apparently bored with architecture there so he left for Chicago where he worked doing architectural detailing for J.L. Silsbee, who inspired him to develop a mastery of line and accent. Wright soon found better work at a more important firm, but struck out on his own in 1893.
His first independent work was the W.H. Winslow house. It was a sensation, a landmark building, and attracted the attention of other architects. Wright was determined to find a new and appropriate midwestern architecture, and by the time he was 33 he was the acknowledged leader of what’s known as Prairie architecture. He was not a fan of the glass and steel skyscrapers of the International Style, which he called tall boxes. Of Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House, where the only enclosed room is the bathroom abutting the fireplace he said, “There goes Johnson, pissing in the fireplace again.”
Wright went on to design a lot of buildings – houses, apartments, commercial spaces, churches, a Tokyo hotel, and so on. The stock market crash of 1929 hurt business, but as things improved he got a commission – the Fallingwater house – that is probably his most admired work of all time and a state-owned tourist attraction now. Commissions came from all over the world after that.
The Guggenheim Cocktail
Let’s face it, Wright was a maniacal genius with great attention to detail. He was best known for the long, low-slung roofs of the Prairie school. He also believed there was a basic flaw in architecture that had gone unchallenged: that a room was a box formed of corners and wells, ceilings and floors. Wright like to mix things up, taking away walls and corners to let rooms jut into one another.
He was out to destroy the box concept and the Guggenheim museum in New York is perhaps his crowning achievement on that front. There the reinforced concrete spiral ramp as a gallery met his goal of a continuous space for art, one in which the form truly follows the function. It’s a landmark destination for people from around the world and one of eight buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Guggenheim Cocktail first appears in print in Straub’s Manual of Mixed Drinks, published in 1913. This is well before the museum was built. So we figure, without any evidence, that it’s still named after the wealthy mining family that eventually sponsored the museum. That’s close enough for our purposes.
It’s a great low ABV aperitif. Herbal flavors come from the vermouth, mint from the Fernet Branca and a tone of orange from the bitters. Easy to mix from ordinary household supplies and worth a try. If you’re searching for a low-ABV aperitif we’d also recommend the Django Reinhardt cocktail as another good choice.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 2 oz Dry vermouth
- ⅛ oz Fernet Branca
- 1 dash Orange bitters
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.