Friday, February 28, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: Up In Mabel’s Room

The Academy Awards are on Sunday, so why not spotlight another cocktail named after a movie? Even if I’ve already featured one that’s damn near identical.

Up In Mabel’s Room is a 1919 play co-written by Wilson Collison and Otto Harbach, better known as a lyricist (“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”) and mentor to Oscar Hammerstein. You can hear the plot mechanics creaking from the description: a wife divorces her husband upon discovering he’s secretly bought ladies’ unmentionables only to learn they were intended as her anniversary gift, so she sets out to woo him back. It’s like a navy strength episode of Three’s Company.

The stage smash was adapted to the screen twice. The 1926 film starred Marie Prevost, who was for a time Ernst Lubitsch’s leading lady of choice, and Harrison Ford. No, not him. The other Harrison Ford. (Admit it. You didn’t know there was an other Harrison Ford.) Allan Dwan directed the 1944 version, starring Marjorie Reynolds, Jack Oakie and Dennis O’Keefe. Here’s where things turn weird. In addition to being the author of the novel that spawned the Maisie series of comedies, Wilson Collison proved himself to be the laureate of lingerie. He co-wrote another farce revolving around an article of women’s underwear with one of history’s greatest titles: Getting Gertie’s Garter. That play was also filmed twice. The star and director of the 1926 Mabel’s Room reteamed one year later for Garter – and so would Dwan and O’Keefe in 1945.

Both stage and screen incarnations of Mabel’s Room are largely forgotten. The drink deserves a better fate. Its initial appearance came in the Cocktail Guide and Ladies Companion by Broadway producer and bon vivant Crosby Gaige. The recipe, at least as it appeared in the book’s 1944 edition, called for rye, grapefruit juice and honey. In other words, it’s a Brown Derby (aka a De Rigueur) with a different base spirit (rye instead of bourbon). While the Brown Derby still has its adherents – I spotted it on a restaurant’s cocktail list this week – its doppelganger has fallen out of circulation. I rediscovered it thanks to Dark Spirits by A. J. Rathbun. The modern take uses simple syrup in place of honey; while I would never make that substitution in a Brown Derby given bourbon’s inherent sweetness, it works fine with a typically drier rye. In Mabel’s Room the citrus and the sweetener come in generous, equal portions that still allow the grapefruit’s tartness to shine through. Personally I prefer the Brown Derby, but that one doesn’t have any scanties in its scant history.

Up in Mabel’s Room

1 ½ oz. rye
¾ oz. grapefruit juice
¾ oz. simple syrup

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