November 12 is a twofer – it’s National Happy Hour Day and National French Dip Day – so to celebrate the occasion we’ll be mixing the Italian Rivalry cocktail. That makes it a day of joy for those who enjoy sandwiches and drinks. Near as we can tell includes most of our readers.
The snack to accompany your happy hour drink is obvious, but how we got to the Italian Rivalry may not be quite as clear. We’re not talking about rivalry between the national days that fall on November 12, but we do have to consider an important rivalry that envelopes French dip sandwiches. And since there isn’t a Frenemies cocktail out there the Italian Rivalry will have to do.
The Origin of Happy Hour
You all know about Happy Hour, whether it’s the half price drinks or just an excuse to imbibe at the end of the workday. What you may not realize is where the custom and term came from. It’s not a result of office workers cutting loose, but in fact started with the U.S. Navy around 1914.
American sailors on the U.S.S. Arkansas during the Mexican American War were occupying the harbor in Veracruz. Reporters there were desperate for a story as early battles had used up all the juicy stories. So in 1914 the Washington Times reported that the “Happy Hour” aboard ship included boxing matches, dancing and drinking. Kind of interesting given that liquor had been banned aboard ships since 1899, but who are we to argue?
By the end of World War II the practice was widespread throughout the Navy. In 1959 the Saturday Evening Post reported on Happy Hour for the rest of the population, though the boxing matches were not included or were dealt with promptly by bouncers. The practice, of course, lives on amongst the general population and has been deemed worthy of a National Day.
The French Dip Sandwich Rivalry
For those outside the U.S. who may not be familiar with the French Dip, it has nothing to do with France other than typically using a baguette or other “French” roll. It’s a hot sandwich of thinly sliced roast beef served with a side of beef broth. Usually plain, some folks do add things like cheese or onions.
The rivalry regarding such sandwiches is about who invented it. There are two downtown Los Angeles restaurants that claim the honor: Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet and Philippe the Original.
Both restaurants were established in 1908, and the walk between them is just over a mile. Cole’s says they came up with it shortly after the restaurant opened. Philippe’s claims that owner Philippe Mathieu invented the combo in 1918. This is a controversy that will likely live on without ever being settled. There’s no documentation to be found, and all the physical evidence has long since been eaten.
While we don’t give the nod to one or the other, more stories seem to exist about Philippe’s being the place. Some say a cook or server accidentally dropped a sandwich into a pan of meat drippings. Others say a customer that didn’t want to see drippings go to waste requested that his sandwich be dipped. Others say a cook did it intentionally after a customer complained about stale bread. Cole’s just says it was one of their chefs, Jack Garlinghouse, that created it for a customer with sore gums.
At the end of the day nobody really cares and our Editorial Board takes no sides on whose sandwich is better. Both are equally glorious. Cole’s, however, does have an excellent cocktail program, and The Varnish bar is behind a door in the back.
The Italian Rivalry Cocktail
As far as what to drink on a day like this, pretty much anything fits for Happy Hour. After all, there never has been a specific cocktail for the occasion. But when it comes to the French Dip sandwich rivalry, which really has nothing to do with France, we figure the Italian Rivalry fits the bill.
The Italian Rivalry was developed by Joshua Perez at the now defunct Middle Branch bar that was in Manhattan. The establishment was one the bars created by the late inventor of the Gold Rush cocktail, Sasha Petraske. Mr. Perez devised the cocktail there in 2014.
The Italian Rivalry recipe looks suspiciously like an Old Fashioned for a very simple reason: it is a variation on an Old Fashioned. Rather than using just whiskey it splits the base between bourbon and Cognac, and adds a bit of Italian flair through Amaro Montenegro.
If by some chance you are out of Amaro Montenegro you can substitute another Amaro. We’d consider Meletti as a reasonable substitute. But you can try whatever’s on the shelf – it’s just an accent to the drink that takes the place of the usual bitters.
Italian Rivalry Cocktail
- Mixing glass
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 1 oz Bourbon
- 1 oz Cognac
- ½ oz Amaro Montengro Meletti is a good substitute if you don't have Montenegro, but we encourage you to experiment with whatever you have or fall back to a few dashes of Angostura Bitters if necessary.
- 1 cube Brown sugar The drink works well with about a teaspoon of simple syrup if need be.
- Garnish: Lemon twist and orange twist
- Add sugar cube and Montenegro to an Old Fashioned glass and muddle to break up and dissolve most of the sugar. Alternatively add about a teaspoon of simple syrup.
- Add remaining ingredients to glass.
- Add ice, preferably a single, large cube and stir gently to mix.
- Express lemon and orange twist over drink and add to glass.