Washington Cocktail

The Harlem Globetrotters lose to the Washington Generals

Your cocktail calendar entry for: January
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Today we’re mixing the Washington cocktail to celebrate the day the Washington Generals accidentally beat the Harlem Globetrotters.  The Washington Generals, the perennial underdogs destined to lose every game, once hit a game-winning shot.  It was as though Sisyphus planted the boulder on the top of the mountain.  The crowd was shocked, the Globetrotters dismayed.  It was the single victory for the Washington Generals, the only loss for the Globetrotters.

Everyone knows the Harlem Globetrotters as an exhibition team, with their own unique brand of stunt basketball and comedy.  But the games are not entirely fixed.  Their “opponents” do not interfere with the Globetrotters’ shenanigans while on defense but do play a serious game when in possession of the ball.  Some 20 to 30 percent of the game is “real.”  Nonetheless, to the dismay of the crowd, on January 5, 1971 the Globetrotters suffered an infamous defeat.  Since this was, of course, delivered by the Washington Generals we find it appropriate to mix the Washington cocktail.

The Harlem Globetrotters and the Infamous Game

They’re known for stunt routines and comedy, but the Harlem Globetrotters began as a serious basketball team.  They started in 1926 Chicago when players formed the Savoy Big Five.  (With no connection to the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London).   They renamed themselves as the “Globe Trotters” in 1928 and by 1929 they were the “New York Harlem Globe Trotters.”

They were regular participants in the World Professional Basketball Tournament and won it in 1940.  In 1948 the Globetrotters made headlines by beating the Minneapolis Lakers, one of the best white basketball teams out there.  The Globetrotters continued to easily win games because, well, they monopolized the black basketball player talent pool.  They were among the most famous teams in the country and had players like Wilt Chamberlain on their roster.

The Globetrotters were eclipsed in the 1950s when the NBA started recruiting black players.  So they changed their game, working in comic routines.  In 1952 they invited player Louis “Red” Klotz to create a stooge team, the Washington Generals, to accompany them on tours and lose.

Except one time.  It was supposed to be an ordinary day at the office.  But an important Globetrotters’ player, Curly Neal, wasn’t in that game and things went amiss.

The Globetrotters didn’t usually pay much attention to the score.  But suddenly they found themselves down 12 points with two minutes to go.  So they stopped joking around and started to play some serious hoops.  With ten seconds left the Globetrotters were leading 99-98 but it was the Generals’ ball.

You know what happened.  Klotz shot and scored.  The arena went wild.  Meadowlark Lemon took the ball and ran down the court.  The Generals stood aside, but Lemon actually missed his famous hook shot.  Then the buzzer sounded, and it was over.

The Washington Cocktail

Red Klotz, owner/player for Washington Generals and taker of the winning shot remarked afterward that the crowd “looked at us like we killed Santa Claus.”  We’re all in favor of Santa Claus, but think it’s worth celebrating the world’s greatest all time losers’ single win with a drink.  And what could be more appropriate than the Washington cocktail to honor the Washington Generals.

The Washington cocktail recipe comes to us from one of our favorite references, The Savoy Cocktail Book.  It provides no attribution for who invented it, but the ingredient list and proportions suggest it probably came into being sometime in the late 1800s.  If you squint slightly you may see a resemblance to a very early Martini, when vermouth was prominent.  The Washington, however, uses dry rather than the sweet vermouth employed in Martinis at the time.

The recipe as we’ve shown it is quite dry.  If you would like to soften the drink a bit we suggest adding a touch more simple syrup.  Not too much, though, or the drink will become insipid.  We’d start with half a teaspoon.

washington cocktail

Washington Cocktail

An obscure drink from The Savoy Cocktail Book, the Washington cocktail is a relatively low ABV drink. It's important that the dry vermouth base is in good condition - if you're pulling a dusty, previously opened and dusty bottle off the shelf you should replace it first. But when you make it you'll find the dry vermouth is well complemented by a the Cognac, Angostura bitters and a small bit of sweetener.
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  • 2 oz Dry vermouth
  • 1 oz Cognac
  • 2 dash Angostura bitters
  • 2 dash Simple syrup We'd advise starting with 1/2 teaspoon of simple syrup if the original formulation is too dry for your tastes.


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir to chill.
  • Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
  • Drink.
  • Try to whistle Sweet Georgia Brown and watch some Harlem Globetrotters clips.
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