Friday, February 07, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: The Queens

Years after leaving the city, I still identify myself as a New Yorker. My latent municipal pride extends to highlighting drinks named for the Big Apple’s boroughs. I’ve covered the Manhattan. I’ve showcased the Bronx in its bitters-blessed form, the Income Tax. I paid homage to an array of Brooklyn-inspired cocktails until I was finally able to feature the original.

Yet I’d never honored the borough of my birth. (Sorry, Staten Island. You’re on your own.) Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. Think of it as an EPCOT Center with two airports and a baseball team to which I remain inexplicably devoted. The lapse wasn’t caused by neglect but ignorance; I didn’t even know there was a Queens cocktail. Then I discovered there was, and didn’t want to try it.

The Queens is made with pineapple, the fruit that is, of course, synonymous with the borough. Queens is lousy with them. The impossibly fragrant ones of Bayside, the hearty stripe grown in Jackson Heights, the dense, almost smoky variety found only in darkest Maspeth. For generations pineapples were accepted as currency from Astoria to Flushing. Legend has it that before the epochal Game Six of the 1986 World Series, a towering effigy of Boston Red Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi made entirely of pineapples was erected in the barren auto yards of Willets Point and set ablaze, to be consumed by hordes of Mets fans – rinds, fronds, and all. Neither I nor my gastroenterologist will vouch for this story.

What is known is that the Queens cocktail, like the Bronx, is a perfect martini with fruit juice. It has long been assumed that some uppity barkeep on the wrong side of the East River decided the neighborhood needed a libation of its own and simply swapped the Bronx’s orange for pineapple. Or so said the few articles on this neglected drink.

I consulted Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book and made an alarming discovery. A drink with the same ingredients (calling for a slice of crushed pineapple instead of the juice) does appear in its pages – where it’s listed as the Queen’s Cocktail. As in possessive. As in belonging to Her Majesty. Such is the way of history; first you lose your apostrophes, then your empire. Being affiliated with royalty still doesn’t explain why pineapple is involved. I can only assume Captain James Cook presented one of the fruits at court and when asked what should be done with it replied, “Beats me. Soak it in gin and serve it to the old broad?” (For the purposes of this historical reenactment, Captain Cook is a graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School.)

So the drink in all likelihood has nothing to do with my old stomping grounds, and the combination of pineapple and dry vermouth calls to mind the Algonquin, of which I am not a fan. But something, perhaps this recent article on the evolution of the store where I used to buy my comic books, compelled me to sample the Queens anyway.

While some recipes suggest equal parts, I chose proportions closer to those of the Bronx. Your mileage will most definitely vary, considering the potency of pineapple’s flavor. My immediate reaction was to say if I wanted fruit in my perfect Martini I’d rather have a Bronx, and even then I’d still prefer a Manhattan. It’s not a bad drink; its taste grew on me as it settled. But it wouldn’t occur to me to order one, and I’m from Queens. I could see tinkering with the balance, though, out of perverse loyalty to my birthplace.

Shame about Staten Island not having a drink, though. Did you know the borough was originally called Richmond?

Wait, there’s a Richmond cocktail? Hmm ...

The Queens, or The Queen’s, or The Fuhgeddaboudit

1 ½ oz. gin
1 oz. pineapple juice
¾ oz. sweet vermouth
¾ oz. dry vermouth

Shake. Strain. No garnish.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at