The Colony Cocktail is Drink of the Day today. It’s all in honor of Repeal Day, a momentous date for any drinker. You see, on December 5, 1933 the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified. Suddenly Prohibition was nothing more than a bad memory. The Volstead Act became moot and the feds started collecting alcohol taxes instead of confiscating booze.
1933 was also a good time to resume drinking. The Great Depression was in full swing and fascism was emerging in Europe. Roosevelt had plenty to worry about and he was right to say “what America needs now is a drink.”
A good Repeal Day cocktail is essential and you may recall it was the Bee’s Knees last year. Today we fill the slot with the Colony cocktail, another appropriate repeal day drink.
The Colony Restaurant
Before we get to the Colony cocktail a little background on the restaurant is in order. It was located in Manhattan at the corner of East 61st St. and Madison Ave., and was revered for almost 50 years before it finally closed in 1971.
In 1922 the restaurant was purchased from its original owner by three employees. The gambling club upstairs set a tone, and Prohibition was in full swing. Gangsters joined and dined with their molls, wealthy men brought their mistresses. A generally shady atmosphere prevailed.
The Colony’s reputation improved when high society types began to step inside, but it remained a den of impropriety throughout Prohibition. Jimmy Walker, New York’s “Nighttime Mayor,” was a regular customer. So regular, in fact, that he reversed 61st street’s one-way direction when the restaurant’s front door was relocated around the corner. That let him get there faster.
During Prohibition the mayor also ensured that the place would not be raided. He was there one night when federal agents raided the place. An old article in Vanity Fair reports that he told them “Gentlemen, don’t ever come back here again. This is my favorite restaurant.” Walker presumably then told one of the owners, “From now on I want to drink my whiskey out of a glass, not a cup.”
The Colony didn’t rely solely on the mayor’s influence. They always kept the booze in the service elevator. If federal agents showed up the liquor would quickly disappear to a higher floor.
The Colony Cocktail
Any place like the Colony restaurant needs a house drink on the masthead. The Colony cocktail was the natural result and was consumed with vigor. It makes good use of grapefruit and Maraschino flavors to mask unpleasant bathtub gin and translates well to modern times.
Who invented it is a bit unclear, but the recipe is often attributed to Marco Hattem, a bartender there at the time. Either way, any place operating openly with a well-regarded bar during Prohibition deserves a place of honor in these pages.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- Add ingredients to your trusty cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Be glad Prohibition ended.