Toward the beginning of the delightful motion picture Auntie Mame (1958), the iconic Rosalind Russell version of course, Mame’s newly adopted nephew attempts to awaken her from a dreadful hangover. Auntie Mame raises her sleeping eye mask, and tells Patrick, “Tell Cook I want a simple breakfast. Just coffee and a Sidecar.”
Her best friend Vera emerges from the bathroom, having slept in the bathtub in her favorite Chanel evening gown. It’s 5 p.m. and Vera, shuttering her eyes from the setting sun, painfully exclaims, “Oh, that moon is so bright!”
It was quite coincidental that my first Sidecar was prepared by a bartender named Patrick. Having practically disappeared along with the Wall Street crash of 1929, I’ve been secretly informed that the Sidecar is making a huge comeback in New York.
Obviously, I don’t mean the state. Since enquiring minds need to know, I’ve been doing a little investigative work, merely out of curiosity, of course.
The traditional Sidecar, a classic cocktail, is made with orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Grand Gala or another triple sec), cognac and lemon juice. The bartender, or mixologist, may be unaware of how to prepare this luscious nectar, so you may need to inform him or her of the recipe. Just make sure they remember to put sugar around the rim of the glass.
Most closely compared to the older Brandy Daisy for its ingredients, the Sidecar is different in the proportion of its components and its presentation. Named directly after the motorcycle attachment, the Sidecar is mentioned in literature as dated as 1907. Believed to have been invented in Paris or London around the end of World War I, the cocktail’s precise origin is uncertain.
Robert Vermeire’s “Cocktails & How to Mix Them” and Harry MacElhone’s “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails” (1922) contain the first recipes for the Sidecar. The invention of the drink is claimed by The Ritz Hotel in Paris. In the 21st century, the Ritz remains possibly the most luxurious and prestigious hotel in the world and the most expensive in Paris.
On Aug. 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al-Fayed ate their last meal in the Imperial Suite (which boasts 20-foot high ceilings and windows facing the Place Vendome) of the Ritz before their fatal automobile accident in the Pont de I’Alma underpass.
Pat MacGarry, a bartender at Buck’s Club in London, is credited in the first editions of MacElhone’s book as the inventor. In subsequent editions, MacElhone names himself.
According to Vermiere, the Sidecar was first created by MacGarry, the famous London bartender of Buck’s Club. And in David A. Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” (1948) the author claims the drink was invented by an American Army captain during World War I in Paris.
Embury further states that the captain was driven to and from a small Parisian bistro in a motorcycle sidecar where the Sidecar cocktail was born. But once you sip this fabulous concoction, you won’t care how or where it originated. The drink became famous in Harry’s Bar, which Ernest Hemingway was known to frequent. He said, “Write drunk; edit sober.”
The “French school” recipe for a Sidecar calls for equal parts Cointreau, cognac and lemon juice. In The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) the “English school” version suggests two parts cognac and one part each of lemon juice and Cointreau.
The Sidecar is a silky smooth, yet cognac-charged refreshment that contains elements that are both sweet and sour. It’s been acclaimed as the only decent drink to leap out of the seemingly endless torture known as Prohibition.
The 24-carat gold color, the balanced sweetness, its jazzy sweet citrus enveloped by the strength of the brandy is heavenly. It seems so innocently suave that a note of caution might be wise before you become hopelessly seduced. They can sneak up on you like a band of Gypsies, and before you know it — you may have thrown all caution and morality to the wind.
Of course it’s open to interpretation, but here’s a recipe I like: First take a cocktail or martini glass and put it in the freezer for at least half an hour. Mix 3/4 ounces of fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1-1/2 ounces cognac or brandy and 3/4 ounces of Grand Marnier or Cointreau.
Remove the chilled glass from the freezer. Rub the rim with lemon juice then dip it in sugar. Shake the primary ingredients with ice, then strain into the chilled glass. Voila tout. Then in French make a toast to the Sidecar — I do love French toast.
A Lemon Drop Martini is so closely related to a Sidecar, that I felt obligated to go ahead and reveal it to you now. It’s like My American Cousin, if you will. The biggest difference is that instead of cognac or brandy, you use vodka. And it is not limited to Cointreau or Grand Marnier. You can use Triple Sec if you prefer.
A Lemon Drop Martini has a very similarly sweet and sour, sugary and lemony flavor, but rather than being of European origin and a timeless classic, it actually became stylish during the 1970s in California. People on the West Coast are quite fond of Lemon Drops, and they are one among the 100 signature martinis at San Francisco’s Top of the Mark, the world famous bar with its panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the penthouse of The Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill.
The cocktail was developed at a long gone San Francisco bar called Henry Africa’s, which is most noted for being the world’s first fern bar. Catering primarily to singles, fern bars were usually decorated with fichus trees, ferns and faux Tiffany lamps.
I particularly remember a fern bar on Dauphin Street in Mobile that featured live music and perhaps had a pressed tin ceiling. The term was quite commonplace in the late 1970s and early 1980s, everywhere.
In 1970 Norman Hobday, an unemployed veteran, opened Henry Africa’s – the legendary birthplace of the lemon drop. Rumor has it that Hobday actually stole the fern bar concept from a new restaurant, Perry’s, which was described in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City as a “meat market.” Sixteen years later, as fern bars were becoming passe, Hobday closed Henry Africa’s. The Lemon Drop Martini, although at first a late 20th century fad, lives on as a popular libation. Try it.
“There’s nothing wrong with sobriety in moderation” – John Candy
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