Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (An Old Fashioned in this episode) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 1 Details:

A House and The Man That Never Existed

There was a man in a house. The house existed, the man did not. But, this invisible man left behind the noble Old Fashioned. A classic cocktail. And the house…well, that’s no longer here either. But, the drink. Now THAT legacy will last forever.

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

The building stood ten stories tall, and graced 250 prominent feet of the legendary Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Fifth Avenue is the long time home to some of the most famous and high end restaurants, shops, and hotels in early New York. Today, it’s one of the most expensive shopping districts in the world.

But, back then, in the late 1890s, you could find a good part of Fifth Avenue taken up by a recently opened, but instantly famous hotel. Carefully modeled after another famous house by the same name in London, interest at opening was immediate and overwhelming. The wealthy came. The money flowed in. The papers around the world “oohed” and “awed” at this place of luxury and comfort.  

Featuring limestone mined from Indiana in 100 x 150 foot blocks, and transported over 750 miles by bumpy, jostling, railroad cars through the heartland of America to the financial center of America.

Indiana Limestone has been used in famous buildings throughout all of the United States, including the Empire State Building, The Pentagon, The Biltmore Hotel, and the original Rockefeller Center. And it was used on one in particular, on fifth avenue that contains a bar with a very famous barkeep.  

But, the Holland House, as you might have once heard it called, also contains many other famous oddities. A London Magazine called it’s main staircase, which was carved in Siena Marble and Bronze, “the handsomest staircase of its kind in America.” Not to be outdone, the hotel office was modeled in Italian Renaissance style and also encased in Siena Marble.

On the main floor, a cafe with glass screen, gray marble and yellow bronze oozed with wealth and luxury. Next to that was the 300 person restaurant, which kept the occupants of the 350 room hotel well fed and, most importantly, drunk. The entire experience at the Holland House had been crafted to create memories and experiences for those with enough money to pay for them. 

And in early New York, there was money of all sorts. And people, like now, looking for good conversations, friends, laughter, and to say, “now that was a good night.” 

The latter in particular was due to one very obscure, yet at the same time, very famous barkeep who gave us some of the most delicious and well known drinks today. 

George, as others referred to him, wasn’t likely even his real name. So, we have no idea if people called him George. Tom. Chuck. Or Harry. It’s highly likely that we don’t even know what his name was. And we certainly don’t know very much about him besides that the sensible and well balanced drink recipes he left behind “are especially intended for use in first-class Hotels, Clubs, Buffets, and Barrooms, where, if adopted and concocted according to directions given, they will be entirely satisfactory to the caterer and pleasing to the consumer.”

George, or whoever represents the pseudonym of George, was not wrong. For he, or they, spent all day and night slinging delectable, delicious drinks with ingredients and liquors from all over the world to the wealthy individuals that strolled through the doors of the Holland House in New York seeking comfort, an escape, and a cocktail made to perfection. 

After all, a place with as much flair as this, with its marble and limestone and Louis XV style rooms, needed good cocktails. It needed a place for people to feel at home. Comfortable. Make memories and have great experiences. 

One such cocktail was first documented by George and has become iterated on time and time again through the decades. This drink, which can be made strong with whiskey that bites your throat, or pleasing and sensual with flavored liquors, has reached a near famous status today. Every good cocktail bar has one, well, at least one, on the menu.

Served smoky, served sweet, served red or served as dark as fresh dug dirt, barkeeps everywhere have flexed their creative muscles to stir up fresh takes on this very old drink. 

Back in George’s day, he saw no need to overcomplicate things. And in fact, this drink let the alcohol speak for itself, at least until you had two or three and couldn’t speak clearly anymore. 

The secret in this cocktail lies in a bitters that put Johann on the map. Springing to life in 1824 in Trinidad and Tobago, what could serve as a greater sign of wealth and power than importing flavors of the world to the Holland House for the mere disposable, sipping pleasure of the rich? 

The drink itself was relatively new to market and hadn’t started being sold abroad until almost 1860. By the late 1890’s, when George was slinging out this famous drink, he, among many other barkeeps throughout the American East had helped this bitters rise out of obscurity and take a permanent seat at the table of essential cocktail cabinet drinks.  

What started as a tonic, a digestive aid, if you will, became the perfect post dinner drink. And what could be better than adding a few dashes of this bitters into a crystal cocktail glass, tossing in a couple rocks, and a few other simple ingredients to make a truly unique post dinner aperitif perfect for conversation, company, and good times.

All this. The rise of a once famous hotel – The Holland House – on a still famous street – Fifth Avenue – helping to bring a small bitters company out of obscurity, and usher along a new, old, drink too. From a few simple ingredients and simple directions, in one of the most famous and well respected cocktail bartender guides of all time, George Kappeler brought laugher and joy to many.

“Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; 

add two dashes Angostura bitters, 

a small piece ice, 

a piece lemon-peel, 

one jigger whiskey. 

Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in the glass.”  

The drink has many variations today, songs have been sung about it, cultural references in movies made, and you’ve likely heard its name echoed through the dark corners of a cocktail bar at least once. 

“Barkeep, I’ll take an old fashioned, please.”

A simple drink with a history that is anything but old fashioned.

Anyway, I’ll drink to that.