Today we’re mixing up the White Lady cocktail as Drink of the Day. February 8, 1923 was the momentous day on which Harry MacElhone purchased the New York Bar in Paris. He quickly renamed it Harry’s New York Bar and proceeded to make it world famous.
It was an era when being named Harry seemed to be a prerequisite to becoming a prominent bartender. We had Harry Craddock. We had Harry Johnson. But Harry MacElhone is the only one with the legacy of a bar that still stands and bears his name. And it’s run by his descendants. For that distinction we’re going to mix up the White Lady. Legend has it that Harry created it. He didn’t. It was probably another Harry, but when legend becomes fact we sometimes like to print the legend.
Nobody’s sure of the exact date, but Harry MacElhone was born in Dundee, Scotland sometime in 1890. But let’s face it, we’re not worried about his early upbringing because he did his best work behind the bar.
In his early 20s Harry went to Paris to work for an American who bought a small bistro at 5 Rue Danou and named it New York Bar. He ended up buying it, but Mr. MacElhone first went to the United States. He worked at the bar of the Elton Hotel in Waterbury, CT and then at the Plaza Bar in New York City.
After World War I ended he set off for London and became a bartender at Ciro’s Club. There the owner asked Harry to travel to Deauville in France to open a second branch of Ciro’s. He did so, but he soon saved enough funds to open his own bar. So in 1923, some ten years after he had worked in the place, he bought the New York Bar in Paris and renamed it Harry’s New York Bar.
The place was already an American-style bar when Harry bought it. Everything from instructions to ask cab drivers for “Sank Roo Doe Noo,” the phonetic spelling of its address, to hot dogs and college banners on the walls made sure of that. Those features remain to this day.
Even before Harry owned it the bar was made famous by high profile clients like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who supposedly once downed 20 Whiskey Sours at the bar. Harry was a smart marketer and created drinks to celebrate or mock world events. Like the Scofflaw cocktail for Prohibition or the Monkey Gland. Harry’s is now one of the oldest bars in operation and certainly one of the world’s most famous.
White Lady Cocktail
You might expect us to select a drink that Harry invented. But as we’ve seen many times when the parties involved are drinking, the history of who invented what is murky.
Popular legend holds that Harry’s was the birthplace of a variety of legendary drinks: the Bloody Mary, the Sidecar, the Boulevardier and the French 75. Those attributions are often untrue. Several attributions didn’t emerge until after his death and Harry himself gave credit for the Sidecar to Buck’s Club in London. In some cases like the Boulevardier he was just the publisher. He is, however, the undisputed creator of the aforementioned Monkey Gland that we mixed for Serge Voronoff’s birthday.
But sometimes when legend becomes fact we like to print the legend, and the White Lady is among those legends. According to David Wondrich’s heavily researched The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, Harry may have created an eponymous drink when he was at Ciro’s. But that White Lady recipe consisted of Brandy, crème de menthe and Cointreau.
The White Lady we know today and refer to is really a quite different – gin, lemon juice and Cointreau – and almost certainly invented in London. The version Harry likely invented isn’t on anyone’s radar these days.
You can look at the White Lady recipe shown here as either a gin-based variation on the Sidecar or a gin-based Whiskey Sour. The distinction largely comes down to whether or not you choose to include egg white to froth it up as commonly done for the Whiskey Sour. It’s your choice, either way is a great drink.
White Lady Cocktail
- Add gin, lemon juice and Cointreau to your trusty shaker.
- If you are a fan of Whiskey Sours and would like to include an egg white froth add the egg white and close the shaker. Shake vigorously, without ice, to emulsify the ingredients. If you are not using egg white proceed straight to ice.
- Add ice to shaker and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled coupe glass.