Friday, November 30, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Stork Club

Swells of all stripes, denizens from every destination demimonde, regularly assembled at the Stork Club. Columnist Walter Winchell, who had his own table there, dubbed the East 53rd Street nightspot “New York’s New Yorkiest place.” The club was the domain of former bootlegger Sherman Billingsley, who started the joint with the not-entirely-secret backing of organized crime figures and bought them out after some minor difficulties including his being kidnapped by their rival Mad Dog Coll. In his history Gangsters & Gold Diggers, Jerome Charyn brands Billingsley “a nebbish from Enid, Oklahoma” and “a snob” who cribbed everything he knew about the nightlife business from legendary hostess Texas Guinan – except for her democratic attitude toward her guests. Billingsley could only abide the rubbing of A-list elbows, and his velvet rope mindset helped to make him a celebrity in his own right; he turns up as a character in the Betty Hutton comedy set in his club as well as the novel The Murder in the Stork Club written by Laura author Vera Caspary, and hosted a TV show in the 1950s.

1946 saw the publication of The Stork Club Bar Book, penned by society journalist, clotheshorse and gourmand Lucius Beebe, who coined the term “cafĂ© society.” I don’t have a copy of Beebe’s book, but reports indicate it includes the recipe for the club’s namesake cocktail and credits it to the Stork’s service captain Eddie Whittmer. I do have Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail, in which he hails chief barman Nathaniel Cook as the drink’s champion.

There’s a hint of the speakeasy about this drink owing simply to the amount of orange juice; during Prohibition, many a bad batch of gin was made palatable with an abundance of citrus. Then again the Bronx cocktail, also heavy on the OJ, predates the Stork Club and Prohibition by many years. There’s also some similarity in terms of ingredients to the Pegu Club.

That big jolt of juice pushes the Stork Club into its own spotlight. It’s a show biz level of excess, the kind of flash Billingsley himself no doubt appreciated. It gives the cocktail a bouncy buoyancy that would play well at brunch. The original recipe called for the juice of half an orange, which is typically read as one ounce. The same recipe also uses gin but I substituted the sweeter and more substantial Old Tom variety, which matched up better with the citrus. Sip this cocktail and you can pretend you’re a Stork Club regular like J. Edgar Hoover, who probably never drank one of these.

The Stork Club

1 ½ oz. gin (Old Tom if it’s available)
1 oz. orange juice
½ oz. Cointreau
¼ oz. lime juice
dash of Angostura bitters

Shake. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist.