Today we’re mixing the Taxi cocktail to reflect on the day in 1897 that London became the first city in the world to require that all taxi drivers and cabs be licensed. Besides, London is a great city for bars so it seems appropriate to nod in that direction when hoisting a drink.
In London taxis are known as hackneys or hackney carriages and their history goes all the way back to the 1580s. Back then the aristocrats used private coaches drawn by horses and by 1620 they were considered enough of a danger to pedestrians that an order limiting their number was created. Soon enough there was a system to license coachmen.
But we’re really more interested in the London taxis we know today – the black cabs – when we toast the intrepid drivers with a Taxi cocktail.
London Taxis and Licenses
In 1897 motorized taxis started to appear on the streets of London. Between that and the horse-drawn hackney carriages the requirement of licensing the driver and the vehicle was created in 1897.
Following that, of course, came other specifications. London taxis must have a turning circle of no more than 28 feet. This is because famed Savoy Hotel has a small roundabout in front and that maneuverability is required to navigate it. That’s important to us, as the iconic American Bar at the Savoy is there. That bar is the birthplace of such important classic drinks as the Hanky Panky and the Corpse Reviver No. 2. Naturally, drinkers have got to get in and get out.
But aside from vehicle requirements, becoming a London taxi driver is perhaps the world’s most challenging job training exercise. In an anachronistic fashion, London cab drivers cannot use maps or smartphone navigation. They must rely upon their own memory of the city’s streets and pass a test on “The Knowledge.”
Aspiring London cabbies typically spend around three years driving mopeds around to memorize the 320 main taxi routes and some 25,000 streets and places of interest within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.
After training they face a rigorous test. They are asked to recite from memory the exact routes to and from various places including small and obscure streets. They must also note any points of interest along the route. Let’s just say it usually takes several attempts for the 50% or so that ultimately pass.
This memory feat has not escaped attention. Neuroscientists at University College London in a long term study showed that those who gain the Knowledge have enlarged hippocampi. In other words, their brains developed bigger memory centers as a result of the training. A special breed, indeed.
The Taxi cocktail is a natural for the occasion of London taxi licensing. The name fits, it has a solid provenance and has even been tweaked by famed Japanese bartender Hidetsugo Ueno. Firing on all cylinders, as it were.
The Taxi cocktail was first published in the 1913 classic Jacques Straub’s Manual of Mixed Drinks. Straub himself was at Chicago’s luxurious Blackstone Hotel. What motivated him to invent the Taxi cocktail is unclear. But because the taxi was still considered a novel invention the name would have stuck in customers’ minds, and that’s something bartenders seek.
The drink itself is something of a riff on an equal-parts Martini – the Fitty Fitty Martini we mixed for National Martini Day. But the Taxi cocktail adds small amounts of lime juice and absinthe, flavoring agents that might have helped with the somewhat sketchy gin available at the time.
According to Autoblog, Tokyo-based cocktail writer Nick Coldicott went to Hidetsugu Ueno of Bar High Five to see if the original recipe could be improved. Bar High Five itself is a world-renowned establishment in a Ginza basement, so it’s a good place to start. Ueno-San suggested using lemon rather than lime juice, so you’ve got a choice if lime juice doesn’t rock your boat. We’re agnostic on that, it tastes good either way.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled Nick and Nora glass.
- Pour in the direction of your liver.
- Rinse and repeat.